Jason Gómez cruised through his test before falling to the floor of Buchanan High School’s Veterans Memorial Stadium at Saturday’s 100th California Track and Field Championships.
Moises Medrano stumbled and fell yards from his race, but recovered in time to pick up a medal.
And, Jacqueline Duarte served notice she’s ready for the nation’s biggest stage for high school track and field competitors.
The three played important roles in a show that began with long jumper Malcolm Clemons, a sophomore at Berkeley’s St. Mary’s High, wowing the crowd with leaps consistently over 24 feet and ending with a top mark of 25-feet, 1-inch; then continued when Davis High senior Sondre Guttormsen flirted with an 18-1 pole vault try and settled for a winning height of 17-10.
In between, the show belonged to Gómez and 25 other individual champions on a hot evening. There were also four relay events.
Jason Gómez: ‘I was so hungry for this race’
Gómez – a senior at Westmont High School in Campbell near San José – was the only Latino competitor to win a gold medal in the running events (Liberty High’s Daniel Viviros won the shot put).
However, it wasn’t easy.
First, he had to hold off defending champion Jett Charvet and a field that bunched up during the 2-lap race.
“I’ve never wanted anything more in my life,” said Gómez, who is headed to Notre Dame de Namur University. “I’ve never trained harder than I have this season.”
Gómez relinquished the lead at the end of the first lap to Charvet, regained it, then gave the lead up with 200 yards left before surging to the front.
As he crossed the finish line in 1 minute, 50.21 seconds, Gómez embraced the sky with his arms before dropping to the ground.
“Just so happened to come out that I was the man of the day,” said Gómez, who figures he can shave another four seconds off his 800-meter time.
Gómez was relieved he got through Friday’s qualifying.
“I was nervous for the trails,” he said. “I kind of compare it to a high school student trying to get into their dream college.
“You’re almost there. You’ve put all this work in, and now it’s just that one step and then you’re there for what you’ve worked for.”
Gómez said that once you get into the finals, the runners “can relax.”
Not much, however,
Gómez said he had to get used to having the 14-runner field bunched up so close for most of the race. Normally, he said, there’s only one or two competitors at his side.
Gómez, who finished fourth last year, resorted to using a sports psychologist to improve.
“It helped me kind of change my mindset. Last season, I was very expectation focused,” he said. “I kind of learned that expectations can kind of kill you. Just learn to forgive myself when I do have a bad race, and value when I have a good one and realize if you match your PR, it’s still a great day.
“If you don’t get a PR, that’s OK.”
Juan Zárate-Sánchez, a Davis High junior, was fifth in 1:52.02.
Moises Medrano: ‘I didn’t want that to be the end of the race’
Medrano – a highly regarded runner who burst onto the national scene when he made up a large gap, took the final-lap lead and shattered AAU Junior 1,500-meter record in 4:07.07 – picked up a third-place medal in the 800-meter race last year.
This time, he figured his training was better suited for the 1,600-meter distance.
The Highland High senior, who will run for Cal next season, stayed with the leaders throughout the race and even had the lead at one point. However, when he tried to keep up with a finishing kick by eventual winner Liam Anderson of Redwood (Marín County) and runner-up Justin Hazell of El Camino Real, he ran into trouble.
“That last 100 (meters), people made their move and I tried to go with them but physically I pushed my upper body too much and my stride couldn’t keep up, and I couldn’t keep control,” said Medrano after the race. “It was all downhill from there.”
Medrano managed to get up quickly and finish in sixth with a time of 4:13.65.
Anderson, a junior, won in 4:09.31; followed by Hazell in 4:09.63.
Medrano said the entire race “was normal” and felt like Friday’s qualifying heat.
“There was a relief that I got up so fast,” he said. “I only saw two people pass me, so I knew I had a good chance to medal. I just finished.
“I was just upset with myself that I went out like that, but at least I came home with a medal.”
Jacqueline Duarte: ‘I was going for a Top 5, at least’
As hard as it is to believe, Duarte didn’t take up running until a year ago. She was more into soccer, and discovered a love for running at a summer cross country camp.
She came into her first state meet with the 12th-best seeded time, and behind two other freshmen.
In the early stages of the 1,600-meter final, Duarte was closer to last place than to first.
But, that was part of the plan.
“Today was a strategic day,” said Duarte, who moved from soccer to running. “I was going for a top five, at least. And top three is even better. I knew throughout the whole race that I had to be within striking position.”
Duarte’s final-lap time was the fastest in the field, which allowed her to pass several runners and finish with a personal-best 4:44.87.
Was she surprised?
“Yes, I’m very surprised about this. I’m extremely excited and thankful for this experience,” said Duarte, who placed 21st as the top freshman finisher at the 2017 state cross country meet in Division I.
Duarte said she started the track season “off a bit shaky, and my time was in the 5:20s.”
Her times have steadily dropped.
“Mainly, the training hasn’t been too extreme to keep my legs fresh,” said Duarte. “That was our main strategy for this race because we knew that I had to use all my energy.”
For now, Duarte is celebrating her third-place medal. But, she is looking forward to three more years at state and getting a first.