COLUMBIA — Friendly competition never hurt anyone. In fact, for two sprinters on the Rock Bridge track team, it provides the motivation behind each performance.
Seniors Chris Walton and Quinn Gray compete in the 200-meter dash. They practice together, train together, and at the Rock Bridge Invitational on Saturday they competed in the same heat of the 200-meter dash.
They’re so in synch with each other that before the race, Walton and Gray jumped into the starting blocks at the same time and made the same movements at the same time as they prepared for the race.
When the gun went off, the two runners in bright yellow Bruins uniforms stood out from the rest of the competitors immediately. They surged ahead of the other runners and battled each other for first place. Gray was on Walton’s heels, and as they approached the finish line, their speed picked up.
Walton won in 22.5 seconds. Gray was right behind in 22.67. Walton and Gray said they tied in the 200 earlier this season.
“I felt pretty good,” Walton said. “My time was good even with the wind, I was actually surprised.” He ran one second slower than his personal best of 21.5 seconds, which he ran on a calm day without wind.
With the district meet only seven days away, Gray and Walton wanted to show their coach what they were capable of achieving. They kept each other on pace, and when Walton pushed ahead Gray pushed harder to keep up.
“Chris pushes me in practice and in meets,” Gray said. “We train at the same level and run at equal competition. In practice we run together, and it helps us get better because it forces us to work harder since neither of us wants to lose.”
When they’re not competing against each other in the 200, they compete together on the 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relays. The level of competitiveness in each of the sprinters makes them stronger and faster runners.
“In practice we run hard and try to see who gets the better times,” Walton said. "And in meets, we don’t lose each other during the race. It just goes to show that we can’t slack off because we push each other.”
According to Walton, Gray beat him once in the past two years. After edging Gray in today’s meet, Walton is expecting Gray to show up to at the district meet with more motivation to beat him.
But motivation comes from more than just victories. For Walton, track provides motivation to keep his good grades and to be disciplined. His father, a volunteer for the Bruins track team, ran track at Missouri Baptist, and his father's career could also motivate Walton.
Walton hopes to qualify for the sectional in the 100 and 200 at the district meet. This summer, he will run with the St. Louis Blues track club. Last season, he ran on the group's 4x100-meter relay team that won nationals. He plans to continue running track for a college in the south, but is using this summer as a tool to drop his times to make his decision.
Gray will attend the University of Colorado in the fall as a member of the honors college. While he is set academically, running track is still something he has to look into once he gets settled into college life. For now, his main focus is doing well at districts and advancing onto the state meet before graduating. Last year, Gray and Walton’s relay was second at the state meet.
Gray and Walton remain friendly despite their competition. They have known each other since eighth grade track, when they first raced against each other at Jefferson Junior High. They have run together since their sophomore years in high schools. They became better friends their senior season, and as the final days of their high school track careers near, they are working hard together to do well in the postseason.
“It’s really good that they have each other,” Rock Bridge coach Neal Blackburn said. “Without the other one, it would be difficult to improve and make the gains they have. If one has a good day and the other doesn’t, they pick up each other’s spirits and they really spread that cooperation through the team.”