The Big Meet: The FinalsSaturday, 9 AM.
As soon as we arrived at the track, we started looking for the list for the 100 meter finals. At first, one of his coaches told him he made it, but that turned out to be incorrect. Eli was ninth.
That was a letdown, especially after he was told that he had made it, but the standing broad jump started in 15 minutes, so there was no time to think about it.
I've always enjoyed watching Eli do the standing broad jump because he is so graceful. His balance is so dead-on that he always lands cleanly, and his jumping ability is ridiculous.
Having said that, he was again competing mostly against kids who were quite a bit taller than he was. I fully expect this to be a temporary thing, because I'm over 6 feet, and we did a hand measurement a couple of years ago (which is freakily accurate, apparently) that indicated he would eventually be about 6'2".
Of course, that wouldn't help him now.
There were about 40 kids in this event, and Eli was scheduled to jump about halfway through. One kid his size jumped decently, but all the other leaders were relatively huge. They had no technique whatsoever, and managed to jump a long ways because of their leg length.
The leading jump was almost 7 feet. That doesn't sound very far, but stretch out a tape measure in your living room and try to make that jump from a standing position. It's not easy for a grown-up, and I couldn't believe that fifth and sixth grade boys were jumping that far.
Eli's jumps were so precise and flowing that if they gave style points, he would've won easily. Still, his 6'8" jump put him in second place.
With lots of tall kids still to jump.
"What do you think?" He asked. "Can I hold on for the top six?" He'd score two points that way.
"I'm not sure," I said. "That was a great jump, but there are some skyscrapers lined up back there." I laughed.
"Seriously," he said. "Those tall kids just lean and then throw their feet out so that they don't land on their face."
"Start thinking about the 50," I said (it started in thirty minutes). "There's nothing more you can do here. Good job."
"I'm going to go get my spikes," he said. He'd jumped in regular shoes, but had a pair of track shoes for the running events. He wandered off toward his team tent.
About 15 minutes later, I walked onto the infield and he came over.
"I think if I get a great start, I might have a chance," he said.
"I know you're going to run faster than you've ever run before," I said. "That's the best feeling ever. That's what you want."
"Plus," he said, "if I can just beat two kids, I'll get sixth and score points!"
"Keep your head still," I said. "Don't stop running before the finish line. And have a great time." I hugged him and walked back across the track and into the stands.
In truth, he had no chance to win. The other kids were bigger and faster. But there were almost no fifth-graders in the finals of any event, so just getting there was quite a moment. There were several hundred people at the meet, and everyone would be watching this race.
When they lined up, I noticed two things. One, lane eight was empty, which meant he only needed to beat one another runner to score points. Two, the kid next to him (unlike all the others) was his size.
I saw Eli and this kid sizing each other up. Clearly, there were two races here, and the one I cared about was taking place in lanes six and seven.
Eli got an excellent start, but so did his instant rival, and as they tore down the track, they were dead even. At about 30 yards, they took a look at each other, still running at top speed.
With seven kids in a race lasting seven seconds, it was visual chaos. They were so close at the finish that I couldn't tell who won the "mini-championship." There was also a big kid in one of the lower lanes who looked like he might have finished behind Eli.
"He got me," Eli said when we met up, a little discouraged.
"Dude, that was unbelievable," I said. "I have NEVER seen you run like that."
"But I moved my head," he said.
"Eh, stuff happens," I said. "You still crushed it. How did it feel to be running that fast?"
"It felt great," he said, brightening. "But I really wanted to beat that kid."
"Maybe you did," I said. "And if not, it doesn't take away from how you ran."
We saw the kid Eli had raced against standing at the concession stand with his mother. He was beaming, and I heard him say, "I can't believe I beat him!"
Which was okay. Track is track. If you get down there sooner, you earned it. Eli walked up to him and said "Good race," and they chatted for a little while. "Nice kid," he said when he walked back over. "And freaking fast!"
We had just sat down in the stands when they started announcing the standing broad jump results. "Oh, no," Eli said as they announced the winner, then second, then third. "I'm dead."
He wasn't, though, because then they announced him in fifth place.
"Four points!" he said, high-fiving me. And with that, the day was golden. Not even a snafu with the results in the 50, which delayed them past the end of the meet, could dampen his spirits. He'd scored points. In track terms, he was a made man.
When I picked him up from school on Tuesday (we still didn't know the results of the 50), he bounded up to me. "Guess what?" he asked.
"FIFTH!" he said, laughing.
"No way!" I said.
"Way," he said. "I did outlean that kid, and I beat somebody else, too. Another four points."
"Eight points," I said. "I guess it was a good decision to put you on the scoring team." He laughed.
"Ready to go play hockey?" I asked.
"Let's GO!" he said.