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2011 State Track and Field Meet
June 29, 2011By Tom Witherspoon of VYPE MAGAZINE - Central Kansas
The mile run is unlikely ever to be exhumed from high school competition's tomb of non-metric events, even though its rich tradition nearly defines track and field in the prep ranks.
Yes, the mile defines high school track and field, for this reason: Not before and not thereafter has a high school kid broken the U.S. open record in a track and field event when Jim Ryun accomplished the unthinkable as a senior at Wichita East High School in 1965. He broke the U.S. open mile record - a boy among men.
Fourteen years later, the unthinkable would happen again: Ryun's record mile run at the Kansas state track and field meet, 3:58.3, still the fastest mile ever run in a competition of just high school participants, was set in stone when the event was discontinued in exchange for the 1,600-meter run.
Today, the mile is an occasional novelty event at premier American meets or a soccer training tool to gauge fitness or a late elementary school physical education corollary to "king of the mountain" at kindergarten recess. If a fifth grader runs the mile under seven minutes, he's a stud. From the top of the mound, he throws proverbial dirt clods at the others. Then in middle school, he realizes he'll never run it again. The 1,600-meter run takes over.
Yes, there are still some serious moments for the mile. At one of those tradition-rich open meets, the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., Alan Webb of Virginia broke Ryun's 36-year-old high school record in 2001. For all the scientific advances in training over the decades since Ryun, his record lasted longer than Babe Ruth's single-season home run record and came up one year short of the length of time Roger Maris, Ruth's replacement, resided on top. Substances exist which help a person hit a ball farther, but none known which give a person more guts when their legs and lungs are burning and the final straightaway still stretches out in front.
The mile is an early and ongoing test of personhood. It is the most basic measurement for Americans attempting to test their physical fortitude. Once an athlete can no longer complete the run in six minutes, he knows he has lost his edge. The overweight non-athlete trying to shed pounds demarcates 10 minutes as a wall to be broken down. Moms who walk in the evenings for exercise shoot for splits under 15 minutes. Marathoners are broken down by their mile pace - 26 continuous five-minute miles make most eyes curl into the back of one's head. How can he run that many in a row when I cannot run a single five-minute mile?
No matter that the mile is the most easily digestible unit for measuring long distance - one thousand paces according to the Romans. The mile has been eliminated from high school competition, last run at the Kansas state track and field championships in 1978, 13 years after Ryun culminated the greatest individual high school track and field season in American history. In 1965, he ran five mile-runs under four minutes, the most for any prepster ever.
In addition to having five of the six fastest miles ever run by a high schooler, Ryun's adjusted 1,600-meter time for the mile he ran in 1965 at the state track meet (3:56.7) is over 16 seconds faster than the meet's fastest 1,600-meter ever, run by Shawnee Mission South's Steve Smith in 1980, the second year of the metric-ized event.
Photo by Phil Zivnuska
LADY VAULTERS Carroll's Cara Detmer and El Dorado's Jamie House won state titles by vaulting 12 feet. They posted the state's best vaults during the regular season, well over 12 feet, raising the girls competition to new levels of competition since its inception in 2000.
IT IS INTERESTING that in Kansas, 1,600-meter times have slowed since it replaced the slightly longer mile. In addition to Smith's state meet record of 4:13.6 standing firm since the second year of the event's inception, no boys runner at the state track meet has even broken 4:20 since Wichita Heights' Ryan Wilson in 2002 (4:19.39).
Maybe the times would be better if the mile hadn't been ousted. The mile? Hm, yeah, that sounds cool, I want do it, the kids would say. Few kids, or adults, can say how many meters are in a mile, so they just fudge it, run 1,600 meters and call it good. High school track coaches who remember the mile slip sometimes and call their 1,600-meter runners milers. It's easier to say.
"Most people still think of it as being the mile," says Ron Koppenhaver, former El Dorado track and cross country coach who retired after this season following 24 years with the Wildcats. "Runners just call it the mile even though it's not the mile."
Sixteen-hundred meter runner stumbles off the tongue like gobbledygook, and distance runner is blah. Miler just sounds cooler.
Naturally, the Kansas Relays is one of the premier events that continues to include the mile on its annual registry. The Memorial Stadium track is still 440 yards round. But the KU Relays mile is an invite-only men's event, a double-whammy excluding any high school boy from measuring himself up against the greatest of all-time in official competition.
"When you run the 1,600 [at Memorial Stadium]," says Koppenhaver, who sent his third girls distance runner (Molly Milbourn) to KU in his final season this year, "you start a little bit further up, actually not running quite a full four laps. Runners don't even notice the difference."
So why not use the unique nature of the track, suited for the mile, to market the event and have kids run the full four laps at the Relays?
In Wichita and the greater area, there is no shortage of potential milers in Ryun's wake. Three of the six 1,600-meter runs at this year's 101st Kansas state track meet in Class 6A, 5A and 4A girls and boys were won by Wichita area runners. Valley Center's Morgan Wedekind, Carroll's David Thor and Mulvane's Evan Landes swept the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter runs, what used to be the mile and two-mile.
El Dorado's Milbourn, .04 seconds off from sweeping the 1,600 and 3,200 in addition to the 800-meter at Class 4A state track in 2010, won the 3,200 in 2011, and Wichita North's Amber Eichkorn also won the Class 6A 3,200. Milbourn and Eichkorn placed second in the 1,600.
Girls distance running has been very deep the last three years in the area. Their names have become common in the high school ranks. Since 2009, ten of the twelve 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs at girls Class 5A and Class 4A state have been won by Milbourn, Wedekind and Kapaun's Mackenzie Maki. Milbourn, Wedekind, Maki and Eichkorn have combined to win seven of the last nine cross-country state championships in Class 6A, 5A and 4A.
Distance depth in the area is real. The Carroll boys have won three of the last four team cross country titles in Class 5A. The Carroll girls backed up their cross country title in the fall with a state track title, earning 32 of their 79.5 team points in distance races, and 62 of their team points by way of three of their state cross-country medalists, Kristen Powell, Katherine Dillard and Kaelyn Balch.
Dillard placed second in the 800-meter and third in the 400-meter. Powell placed first in the 300-meter hurdles and second in the 100-meter hurdles. Both ran legs on the state championship 4x800-meter relay and the third-place 4x400 relay.
Such versatility between speed, athleticism and endurance by the Carroll girls in such diverse track events offers support for mileing as a "sport," as Ryun calls it while campaigning for its resurrection through sponsor Adidas. Traditionally, the 400-meter dash is the final event on the track and considered a sprint, but when an 800-meter or mile is run at an incredible speed, say in the vicinity of four minutes, it is most assuredly a sprint, just by a different type of body from the sprinter's.
The x-factor is will. How long can you run hard and can you run as hard as you can the final lap?
"Endurance is the main thing," says Koppenhaver when asked what is the talent of running the mile, "and being willing to train really hard to develop that endurance, having a very high pain threshold, and learning even though they're really hurting, they can keep running fast."
Koppenhaver maintained a high pain threshold for himself in his final year of coaching, ailed by a bone marrow disease called mysofelioma. At his final home track meet this spring, Koppenhaver told the Wichita Eagle he stuck it out through the 2010-11 cross country and track seasons because his senior distance runners had one more year. "If my health was there, I wouldn't have retired," he told VYPE.
El Dorado's track team has leaned on its distance runners for points in recent years. Anchored by senior Casey Nightengale, the El Dorado 4x800-meter boys relay team won its second consecutive state championship at this year's state meet. Milbourn, also a senior running her final races at state track this year, won her fifth state championship in the distance runs.
In the past six seasons, El Dorado track and field and cross country managed to find the kind of success other programs at the school have struggled to achieve. Milbourn, and distance runner Laura Nightengale before her, led the girls track and field team to six consecutive top-eight team finishes at state track dating back to 2006, placing in the top four the last four seasons.
Milbourn will run for KU starting this fall, just as Nightengale did before her. After a promising start as a freshman at KU, Nightengale is no longer running after a suffering a series of stress fractures, but her success at El Dorado from 2006 to 2008 has continued these last three years through Milbourn, who took the baton from her mentor.
"Someone else comes along and says I want to be like [the previous runner]," says Koppenhaver of the continued success El Dorado has had, "and when they graduated, someone comes along. Others having success gave them confidence that they could do it also."
Nightengale helped to account for 18 of 25 team points in 2006, then 26 of 30 points, and finally 21 of 53 team points when the El Dorado girls team placed second in 2008, the year Milbourn arrived as a freshman, quickly contributing to 12 team points. In the subsequent three seasons at state track, Milbourn would contribute 80 total points in three state track meets to El Dorado's team totals, at least half the team's points each year.
Milbourn, following a not uncommon progression in girl athletes, slightly lost speed in the 1,600-meter and 800-meter from her junior year to senior year but got faster in the 3,200. "This year, she just didn't have quite as much speed as she had last year," says Koppenhaver, "but still ended up close. Her endurance keeps getting better all the time." Milbourn's strength at KU will be the long distance races, a far cry from the mile, the 5K and 10K and cross-country distances. But those who follow her progress in college will most easily comprehend her ability in terms of mile splits.
"I'm hoping that they'll still be able to come up with continued success," says Koppenhaver of the El Dorado track program. He says he will continue to spend as much time around the program as his health allows. "It'll be a little tougher next year - the first time on the girls side we won't have an elite runner."
The area's depth of elite girls runners is safe with Wedekind, Eichkorn and Balch, but El Dorado's recent run may end with Koppenhaver's retirement. Their average team finish at state track over the last five seasons is matched in Class 4A only by Baldwin, also a distance-running haven and the two-time defending state champ.
El Dorado's loss of senior Jamie House, who completed a four-year sweep at the state track meet in the Class 4A pole vault competition, will also hurt the Wildcats. House will continue to compete alongside her high school teammate, Milbourn, for KU track and field next year. She is the state's first four-time winner in the pole vault at the state meet since girls began contesting in the event in 2000.
House holds the Class 4A record, 12 feet, reaching that height in 2010 and 2011. During the 2010 and 2011 regular seasons, she vaulted over 12 feet, though she did not reach the state record of 12-7 set by Hesston's Christi Lehman in 2001. House vaulted 12-5 1/2 this season, bested in the state only by Carroll's Cara Detmer (opening photo), who vaulted 12-6. Detmer matched the Class 5A state meet record with a 12-foot vault.
For an event that was considered before 2000 not fit for girls due to their inability to vault very high, the progression by the two girls to vault consistently at 12 feet or higher has brought the field event to a new level of competition. Seeing the rising popularity of pole vaulting, shown by the growth of street vault competitions like the one held in El Dorado's downtown the last three years, Ryun probably wishes his "sport" could gain such traction again.
Photo by Phil Zivnuska
DISTANCE LEGACY Only Baldwin, the two-time defending team champ, has matched the El Dorado girls track team in average state placement (3.6) over the last five seasons. El Dorado has leaned on the success of its distance runners, chiefly Molly Milbourn, who helped account for 92 team points over her four state track meets.
Photo by Phil Zivnuska
WEDEKIND'S TIME After a quiet performance as a freshman at the state track meet, Valley Center sophomore Morgan Wedekind backed up her two state cross country titles by winning the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter at the Class 5A state track meet.
Photo by Phil Zivnuska
FISHER OF MIEN Joe Fisher appeared ready for the big-time on camera with Cox Kansas 22 after his performance in the sprints at the state track meet. Smiling wide, Fisher broke down his performance with composure and clarity after running a 21.59-second 200-meter dash and 10.6-second 100-meter.
VALLEY CENTER IS another athletic program, like El Dorado, which has struggled in high-profile sports. Both schools have multiple 0-9 football seasons in recent years.
But, also like El Dorado, Valley Center is in the midst of prolific success on the track. Though the Hornets have not finished well in the team standings like El Dorado, two individual athletes have starred.
Morgan Wedekind, a sophomore, won the 2011 Class 5A state 3,200-meter run by nearly 13 seconds and 1,600-meter run by nearly 10 seconds, adding to her two cross country state titles. In 2010, Wedekind placed third in the 1,600, didn't medal in the 800 and placed third in the 4x800-meter relay with her sisters, Karlee, then a senior, and Madison.
Madison and Morgan, both sophomores, took separate paths this spring. Madison led the surging Valley Center soccer program to a third-place finish in Class 5A state soccer with 10 goals and eight assists on the season. Morgan focused on track, showing herself to be the same top distance runner as she had been in cross country.
Joe Fisher is the second Hornet who became a buzz-saw on the track. Fisher blasted out of the blocks and into the spotlight as a junior in 2010, running a hand-timed 10.28-second 100-meter dash at his home meet on the same weekend as the Kansas Relays.
Following his 10.67-second 100-meter at the 2010 state meet, the fastest of any sprinter in any class, he was sure to compete in the Kansas Relays in 2011. A showdown materialized between Fisher and Olathe North's Adonis Saunders, who had sat out the 2010 season after running the fastest 100 at the 2009 state meet in 10.91 seconds.
Both had the fastest times in the state entering the Relays. Both ran even faster in April inside Memorial Stadium. Saunders edged out Fisher, crossing the finish line in 10.59 seconds to Fisher's 10.6.
It was the only sprints showdown of the 2011 track season, we thought. Fisher, in Class 5A, and Saunders, in Class 6A, wouldn't meet again at the state meet over Memorial Day weekend.
That fact remained true. The classifications were not liquidated so we could see a re-match. But Fisher, Saunders and a sprinter in Class 4A who had been forgotten made a splash on the track into the late afternoon hours of the state track meet.
The 2011 state competition was the fastest in history since 1979 when the meet went metric, which was perfect for the sprints, which were parsed into neat multiples of 100. Though the mile was forever lost, the 100, 200 and 400 replaced the onerous yardage markers of 100, 220 and 440.
The track on Saturday of the 2011 state meet was aided by wind. During the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, the meter registered between 1.5 and 3.4 meters per second. Anything above two meters per second does not count in the record books.
But a slight wind at the back can't be all that accounted for the speed of Fisher, Saunders and Trinity Academy's Morgan Burns at the 2011 state track meet. Never before had three sprinters posted times so fast at the same state meet in the 100 and 200.
Burns, who had been denied a single gold medal at the 2010 meet after winning two in the 100 and 200 as a sophomore in 2009, started off the speed display in the Class 4A 100-meter dash, setting a 4A meet record of 10.66 seconds. Fisher, who had placed ahead of Burns in both the 100 and 200 while in Class 4A the previous year, ran 10.6 in the Class 5A race. Then Saunders raced in Class 6A, finishing in 10.61.
All but Saunders' time were in wind conditions under two meters per second, though Saunders' was no fluke created by a strong flute of air at his back. He had proven himself capable of an even better time at the KU Relays (10.59) with a wind right at two meters per second behind him.
No single state meet had ever had three 100-meter dash times of 10.66 seconds or faster.
The show wasn't over. Following the early-afternoon 100-meter dash, the same three sprinters posted 200-meter dash times. Burns went first and would lead all three with a time of 21.58 seconds, shattering the meet record by .31 seconds though it wouldn't count because of a 3.4 meters per second registry on the wind meter.
Slightly less aided by the wind, Fisher ran one-hundredth of a second slower than Burns in a time of 21.59. Saunders won Class 6A with an unaided time of 21.68.
"Every year I'm just amazed by how fast the times are getting," said J.K. Kornelson, longtime former Wichita State track and field coach, on the Cox Kansas 22 telecast of the event. Kornelson noted that the flags atop Cessna Stadium were not waving. He said he wished he could have sent the times to his friends in Texas and California, places which boast a bevy of speedsters every year. The speed on the track was awesome, even to a veteran coach of the Division I college level.
It's because the talent on the track is Division I level. Following his 200-meter victory, Fisher anticipated going "crazy fast" in the coming years on the Auburn track team running the 4x100-meter relay in the SEC. One wonders what leg of the relay he'll run for Auburn. Fisher leaps out of the blocks. Running in the middle lane in the 200 at the state meet, he had passed everyone before reaching the turn.
In the post-race television interview, Fisher was one of the few athletes who looked ready for the big-time on camera, taking even, composed breaths and showing the toothy, on-screen smile of an actor. Under six feet tall, his traps nearly rise to his earlobes.
"My time's been more efficient, more consistent [in the 200 this year]," Fisher said, "and even though I didn't end up with the fastest time of the day, I'll take the victory."
Forgive him, it was a fast day. Burns and Saunders are Division I football talents, headed to rival schools. Saunders will play football for KU, Burns basketball school of choice growing up as a kid; Burns will play for Kansas State.
Burns delivered his post-race answers in choppy groups of five or six words. He was tired after three sprints that day. "I wanted to win really bad... I've been here three years... and always come in second. I dug down deep and ran as hard as I could," completing a sweep of the sprints and putting himself in league with two of Kansas' track greats with his outstanding times in the 100, 200 and 400.
In 2003, Riley County's Jordy Nelson and St. Thomas Aquinas' Drew Morano were the last athletes before Burns to run a sub-11-second 100-meter, sub-22-second 200 and sub-49 400 in the same state meet. Burns ran a 48.66-second 400-meter to win a third Class 4A gold.
Morano would go on to set the 400-meter school record at Colorado State. After an outstanding college career at wideout for Kansas State, Nelson would win a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers earlier this year.
The sprints at the Kansas state track meet have never been faster than they were this year. With the graduation of Fisher, Saunders and Burns, who knows when the Cessna Stadium track will be so fast again. But the performance of that group can be matched or bested. The 100 and 200 will be run as long as there is track and field, and athletes are only getting bigger, stronger and faster.
On the other hand, Ryun's run of the mile is permanent, the iconic definition of Kansas' oldest high school tournament, an image that will be eternally appropriate for the cover of the Kansas state track record book, because his feat is of historic proportions, a performance that will never be broken.
Photo by Jeff Tuttle
FAST TRIFECTA After being closed out from a single gold medal at the 2010 state track meet, Burns swept the Class 4A sprints, posting a sub-11 100-meter, sub-22 200 and sub-49 400, the first to do so since 2003.