There was one Virginian who arose to the occasion to advance to the World Junior Championships. That athlete was none other than Richard Smith as he took home the gold in the 800 meter run. Smith faced very stiff competition in the 800 field which faced him up against some familiar rivals such as high schoolers Will Fitts of Texas and Paul Cross of Florida, who were two pre-race favoritesin the 800 meter races at the Nike Indoor Classic in early March and adidas Outdoor Championships in mid June. However, Smith defeated both en route to national titles at both meets. Another familiar foe for Smith in the race was Lake Braddock graduate and University of Tennesee freshmen Frank Francois. At last year's Group AAA State Meet, it was Smith and Francois who finished 2-3 behind Alan Webb in the 800 as Webb broke the state record with Smith (1:52) overtaking Francois (1:53) for second. Ironicall, rivals then, the two will be teammates next fall as Smith recently decided he will become a Volunteer as well in Knoxville with Francois.
Despite the fact the field Smith was facing would be tough to beat, Smith came into the meet as the man to meet and made that clear in Friday's preliminaries as he posted the fastest time of the two heats with a swift 1:50.90 clocking. His heat included both Fitts (1:51.31) and Francois (1:51.62). Cross won the second heat in 1:52.14. Smith's time in the preliminaries wasn't that far off his personal best time. The question was would he have enough in the tank to even go faster in Saturday's finals coming off the 1:50 on Friday. Yes, he did have enough in the tank on Saturday, more than enough, as he smoked an incredible 1:48.94 in the finals to win with future teammate Francois right behind him at 1:48.99. In typical Smith fashion, he sat behind early race leader Will Fitts and took off in the last portion of the race. Smith commented after his race (from the USATF), "I race well with (Will) Fitts. He has taken it out fast every time, and today was no different. I just sat behind and kicked." Smith has beaten the best juniors our country has to offer, its now time for him to make his trip to Jamaica and see how well he fares on the world stage.
The second highest Virginian finisher at Junior Nationals was William & Mary bound Matt Keally of Ocean Lakes in the 5000 meter run. Keally, a sub 9 3200 meter run, opted out of the two mile run at the adidas Outdoor Championships in Raleigh last weekend to focus on the 5000 at Junior Nationals and the preparation sure seemed to pay off. Keally had a remarkable race as he crushed his previous best at the distance by a whopping 18 seconds with his fifth place finishing time of 14:36.23.
The Oakton High School track program will surely miss these two equally as middle distance track stars Phil Gaeta and Keira Carlstrom concluded their high school track careers in Palo Alto. Both Gaeta and Carlstrom competed in the 1500 meter run at Juniors Nationals. Gaeta advanced to junior men's finals on Saturday as he earned the last available qualifying spot 3:58.19. He came back the next day for the finals to finish 12th with a respectable time of 3:59.80. Carlstrom likewise, made it out of the junior women's preliminaries on Friday as she took third in the second heat with a time of 4:34.76. She then finished an admirable 11th place in the finals on Saturday with a time of 4:35.92.