It was the third leg of the boy’s 4x800-meter relay, and Hickman senior Tim Cornell could feel the excitement — or was it butterflies? — in his stomach. Cornell, a distance star for the past three years at Hickman, has been hampered this season by injuries.
Tuesday’s 800-meter run was his first of the season. It looked to be a tough race, too.
Hickman hosted Rock Bridge, Mexico, Jefferson City, Helias and Rolla in the Hickman Relays on Tuesday. Teams had the chance to compete in non-traditional events such as the sprint and distance medley relays, as well as the 1,600 medley relay.
But the 4x800 is a part of every track meet, including state. The Kewpies finished sixth in the event last year.
The 4x800 on Tuesday was an important race — it was another step back to state for Hickman.
As Cornell waited for the baton, the race was neck-and-neck. The Hickman and Jefferson City third-leg runners came into the exchange zone almost in unison.
It was anyone’s race.
But Cornell said he wanted his first 800 of the season to be a first-place finish.
Immediately after grabbing the baton, his long, even strides overwhelmed the Jefferson City runner. Cornell quickly moved into first place on his own, and after one lap, he had built a 25-meter lead.
One lap later, Cornell had lengthened his lead, and he won by nearly 50 meters.
Hickman won the first boys’ track event of the day with a time of 8:23, which would have placed 14th at last year’s state tournament.
“We’re always looking toward state,” Cornell said. “I’ve been banged up this year, but I just love being out on the track.”
On Tuesday, the athletes needed a lot of love for the track to get through the meet. Their thin nylon shorts and tank tops offered little resistance to the 20-mph winds and cold rain. Temperatures hovered around 45 degrees throughout the meet.
Everyone was held back by the wind.
Well, almost everyone.
JaBarbara Jennings, who just this past weekend won the long jump at the Kansas Relays with a personal-best jump of 18 feet, 5 1/2 inches, was next in line.
Maybe it was her presence, the quiet way she stepped up to the line, leaned forward and then back on her heels, and stared straight ahead.
Maybe it was the silence that surrounded the pit, as everyone turned to watch the champion take a jump.
But whatever it was, everything, even the wind, seemed to stop as Jennings prepared to jump. For an instant, the sun peeked through the clouds.
Then, the sound of an engine backfiring in the neighborhood next to the track disturbed the silence.
It was an appropriate noise for Jennings, as she herself took off down the runway.
The jump was 18-0 1/2. Not her best, but a jump that would have placed third in last year’s state meet.
“It was an OK jump,” her coach, Stewart Johnson, said.
The OK jump was enough for Jennings to win the long jump Tuesday.
The Hickman jumpers, who had finished by the time Jennings took off down the runway, had been affected by the wind.
Stuart Denson and Cedrick Alvis both scratched two of their jumps.
Alvis said the weather and wind had played a role.
“It’s pretty cold out here,” he said. “It’s not what you think of when you think of a typical track meet.”
He recovered in his last jump to land a 19-6 jump and win the event.
Alvis said he was trying to avoid another scratch.
“I was just trying my best not to go over that little white line,” he said.