Eli 11.9 and the Big Track MeetTwenty-two schools.
Eli 11.9 had finished 5th in two events last year in the 5th-6th grade division, and he had high hopes for this year.
"I'm nervous," he said in the car as we parked near the stadium.
"Nervous?" I asked. "Sprints are the one event where you don't have to be nervous. The gun goes off, you run like your shorts are on fire, and you lean at the tape. It's blissfully uncomplicated."
"The standing broad jump isn't complicated, either," he said. "Just lean forward and jump, baby!"
"Plus," I said, "you're not really fully invested here."
"Not really," he said.
"It's not like you spent months preparing for the meet," I said. "You went to three Saturday practices. So just go out there, run as fast as you can, and take what you get."
"I can do that," he said.
Eli was in four events: 50 meters, 100 meters, 4x100 relay, and the standing broad jump. No one his age had beaten him last year, so in theory, he should have a good chance in all of them.
Ironically, though, he was still young, even in the 5th/6th grade division. He was still 11 (birthday July 31), and with so many people holding their kids back before starting school, there were plenty of 5th graders who were older.
It was brutally hot last year, but we caught a break this time, and it was cool (but slightly windy). For the sprints, that wind was a tailwind.
His first event was the 50 prelims, an event where he had run 8.1 last year (into a headwind). I knew he was much faster than last year, but I didn't have a handle on how much faster. I expected him to win his heat fairly comfortably, though.
I couldn't believe it, but he was third in his heat. And he was flying. I walked over toward the finish line, and when he saw me, he said, "7.26."
Insane. And he was third!
That's when I knew that there were some new sheriffs in town.
Just before he ran in the 100 prelims, the P.A. announcer called his name out for the 50 finals. I figured it was going to be close, and it was, because he was in Lane 2 for the Finals, which meant he qualified either fifth or sixth. In the 50, that meant he probably made it by less than .05 seconds.
He ran well in the 100, finishing second in his heat, and we headed for home. It was already 8:45, and he needed to get good rest for the morning. I thought he was a lock for the 100 Finals, the way he'd run, and we'd find out in the morning.
"Well," I said, "we were at the track for four and a half hours to see you compete for twenty-one seconds."
He laughed. "I think it might have been twenty-TWO seconds," he said.
After day one, his team had zero points. The girls in his grade are absolutely beastly at track--they dominated the meet--but except for Eli and one other kid, the boys are the opposite.
When we returned to the track at 9 a.m., we checked the board and he'd made the 100 Finals. He was in Lane 8, though, so he was one of the last two to qualify.
I was a little bummed for him. I'd been hoping that he'd have a huge meet, since he'd done so well last year against older kids. No one understood anything about hockey at his school, and it would have been nice for him to get some recognition from his peers.
It wasn't looking good, though.
His best event was the standing broad jump, and he'd jumped 6'8" last year for 5th. Now he was regularly jumping 7'0" in practice, and he was consistent, so maybe he'd break through there.
First up, though, was the 4x100 relay. There was one other fast kid on the relay, plus two other kids who were decent, so they had a chance. Eli was running anchor.
There were two heats in the relay with no Finals, so it was all time-based. The first three legs went well, and when Eli got the baton, off a terrific pass, he was basically tied for first with two other kids.
He proceeded to run faster than I've ever seen him run before. And got smoked.
The kid that beat him had a gear that Eli just didn't have. No one else did, either, because this same kid later won the 100 in a lark. Based on how easily the kid won the 100, Eli ran the race of his life to stay as close as he did.
He still finished second in the heat, though, and they finished third overall (by .02 of a second).
"Points," he said, raising his fist and smiling when he saw me after the race.
"Dude, you were flying," I said.
"That other kid was a BEAST," he said, laughing.
The standing broad jump was next.