On Monday afternoon, inside a shot put circle at the Virginia Beach Sports Center, Austin Gallant reached the pinnacle of his athletic misery. The Battlefield senior, who was primed to help the Bobcats contend for a Class 6 state indoor title with mighty contributions in the 300 (35.40), 500 (1:05.59), 4x400, and possibly even the shot put, decided that bad things had to stop happening to him, and like the fictional Gordon Pibb in "A Dodgeball Story," decided that it was time to get angry.
Gallant was known as a pretty good shot-putter. Although he had never cleared 50 feet, he had enjoyed top-25 statewide status in this and all of his other events at one point or another.
That was until last summer, when the rising junior tore his right hamstring, just months after his season prematurely ended because of COVID, which also negated the opportunity for Gallant to participate in his first decathlon at the AAU level Now gimpy and sedentary, Gallant searched for alternative outlets to recuperate.
He worked hard to recover, and struggled through the uncertainty of having a track season this winter, before Prince William County elected to allow their high schools to compete this indoor season, with an early 2021 start.
Gallant saved his hamstring from further injury by discontinuing the 55 meters, an event in which he had posted a best of 6.78 as a sophomore last winter. But he was unable to reach new bests in the 300 and 500 through the first five meets of indoors, and possibly in an overcompensation with training, managed to tear his left hamstring (the other one) just two weeks before districts.
Now unable to run at all, Gallant had to commit to put all of his energy into the shot put. And with one throw remaining in the Class 6 finals, the Bobcat sat in third place, at 49 feet, four inches less than his best throw. The six points would be good for Battlefield, but going through another meet without a best performance would be intensely disappointing.
It was then that Gallant had his Pibb moment.
As if possessed, Gallant, who was unable to do the customary spin and release because of the hamstring tear, reached his elbow back and pushed the 8-kg. ball out of the circle. Far out of the circle - farther than he ever had pushed the metal orb before. When the ball landed, it had traveled 53 feet and 10 inches, good enough to eclipse his best throw by four-and-a-half feet and also to surpass Madison's Nicholas Cloud (53-6.75) , who had also reached a nearly three-foot PR.
It was the most outstanding and unlikely performance of the day at the Virginia Beach Sports Center.
"It felt a lot different just going to States for one (event)," said Gallant, who may have a future as a college decathlete. "I was really nervous and didn't want to foul," Speaking of the final throw which gave him the championship, he added, "I just launched one."
Just being at the state meet was a feat in itself. Gallant could not grasp the concept of just leaning back and pushing the ball without the benefit of putting his legs into the toss. At the Region 6B meet, he managed to uncoil a 41-6 effort, which remarkably was good enough for second place, and a ticket to compete one more time.
Said Battlefield throwing coach Mike Fronckel, "it bought us two more weeks." With the newfound time, Fronckel had his athlete in daily therapy, adding intensity on an incremental basis, and doing whatever was necessary to get Gallant to the meet and in working order.
And the task toward throwing normally turned out to be progressive. Gallant admitted to "taking a nap" just before the preliminary round, and needing all three throws to "wake up" and get his technique in check.
Once in the finals, his adrenalin kicked in and Gallant's pep turned into something else.
"Everything made me angry." Fully loaded with ire, he took out a season's worth of frustration on one throw - and won.
Around The Field
Inside the blue oval, Hayfield vaulter Christian Di Nicolantonio jogged back and forth on the straightaway, alternating a series of high knees with hip rotations, stretching and pickups. For the Hawk jumper, his own leg injury had been causing problems over the past three weeks, and the prospect of topping his 14-foot best leap would require a mixture of patience with peak performance at the right moment.
Di Nicolantonio waited as a number of the other vaulters cleared 12-6. But at 13 feet, his competitors started banging the bar with a hip, a knee, a shoe, and the young man with the black warmups, black bag and a sack mostly filled with his neighbors poles, began to unravel from his suit and get settled on the runway. He missed his first attempt, but cleared 13-6, which was enough to win, muscled over 14-3 on his next vault, before bowing out at 14-6. However, his winning vault of 14-3 was enough to top Robinson's Mike Karicher by 15 inches, and tally 10 points on the board for Hayfield.
Said Di Nicolantonio, who trains with the D.C. Vault team, "I did the best I could do with what I had. I used my regular pole 15' 165 (lb.) for the first two jumps, and then switched to 15' 170, which I have never used, at 14-6 because I wasn't able to get the push up because of my leg."
Other Class 6 Boys Field Event Winners
High Jump - Antonie Emil - W.T. Woodson 6-2
Triple Jump - Brian DiBassinga - Battlefield 46-6.75
Long Jump - Aaron Moon - Lake Braddock 21-9.25