By Paul Meadors
What was supposed to be an event celebrated by local track superstars Hannah Waller and Mikaela Smith and the city of Clovis, the 100th CIF State Track and Field Championship, resulted in triumph, followed by heartbreak at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
First, the triumph: Buchanan’s Waller, the state leader in the 400 and overwhelming favorite, smoked her California competitors and cruised to a time of 43.13, a new section-record and No. 6 currently in the nation. Combining speed and power Waller separated herself quickly, making runners next to her look like they were churning in wet cement, earning state gold.
Then the heartbreak: Clovis North’s Smith, a two-time defending champ in the 800 and the darling of the Central Section track community, the one who trained all season for a third gold, the one who was so mentally and physically prepared she thought she could not be beaten, fell just 15 feet into the race basked in controversy.
Starting from lane three, Smith got tangled up with another runner and fell to the ground after only five strides and into a state of disbelief. Controversy still looms over the unusual spill.
“I was getting elbowed from multiple people. The next thing I felt was someone’s spike going into my Achilles and then an elbow against my back,” a still-emotional Smith said about an hour after the race. “It was painful.”
She said her entire shoe was filled with blood and that an official said to get it cleaned up before the race could restart.
Hope began to fill Veteran’s Memorial Stadium as Smith started running quick sprints in the infield grass amidst cries from the crowd of “Let her run!” After her heel was attended to and wrapped by a trainer she was told the unthinkable by a state official: she had been officially disqualified for impeding another runner’s progress.
Walking alone across the infield area in front of over 8,000 people, Smith collapsed to her knees.
“I literally thought I was dreaming,” said Smith. “It was surreal, my body just went numb and I toppled over.”
A difficult episode for Smith to be sure, but not a tragedy, at least in the Greek sense of the word.
Mythical characters from ancient Greece always had a fatal character flaw. Smith, on the other hand, had only moments earlier hugged a fellow competitor who had herself been disqualified for a false start.
Heartbreaking? No doubt about it. Gut-wrenching? Yes. A tragedy in the grand scheme of a young person’s life? Not in the eyes of Mikaela Smith, who will continue to run at USC.
“Everything happens for a reason. I’m blessed to have everyone behind my back. I have super-awesome friends, family, fans, coaches and future teammates who came to the meet to watch me, which meant a lot,” said Smith with close friend Destiny Smith standing by her side arm-in-arm. “Right now it’s tough but a picture will show.”
As agonizing as it was to watch Smith’s ordeal unfold, it was just as thrilling to witness Waller’s domination of her 400 event. Talk about being locked in; Waller felt as if she had an out-of-body experience.
“It felt like it was a different part of me that I haven’t seen before and it finally came out today,” said the Buchanan junior.
After two years of falling short of state gold Waller can proudly say she’s the first Buchanan athlete to win gold. And when she lays her head down on her pillow after her triumphant win what will be her thought: “I’m a state champion.”
For more details, read The Roundup’s full story on the CIF Track and Field championships in print. Our print version hits the stands on Wednesday, June 17.