The 2008 USATF Region III Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships were running at full throttle Saturday at South Pointe High School. Running events lasted all day and into the evening hours. Field events ran smoothly throughout the day with the shot put wrapping up the four-day event's busiest day.
Day 3 also marked the most active day for Herald-area athletes as they strived to qualify for the USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships in Omaha, Neb., later this month. A pair of pole vaulters and a long distance runner already punched their tickets to head west.
Kimberleigh Riggs and Mariah Lawrence qualified in the pole vault. Fort Mill's Drew Marshall won the youth boys 3,000-meter run.
Riggs is a 16-year-old Northwestern student. She matched her personal best with an 11-foot, 6-inch vault to win the intermediate girls division.
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Lawrence cleared 7 feet to finish second in the youth girls division for 13- and 14-year-olds.
Marshall ran 10:08.72 to win by three seconds.
Riggs' face was sunburned by late afternoon -- not a surprise since she spent most of the morning using a 13-foot pole to soar over a cross bar more than 11 feet closer to the sun's rays.
She is excited about going to Omaha. Her parents, Carrie and Brian Riggs, are proud. They were planning for the trip already, hoping Kimberleigh would make it.
"We've made plans financially for it. We will definitely fly," Brian Riggs said, taking time away from his duties at a track-side concession stand. He looked in to driving but did some math and decided he didn't want to spend the estimated $700 just to keep the gas tank filled.
Riggs came into the competition seeded No. 1 and didn't disappoint. As it turned out, the three qualifiers from Region III are the same three from the state meet held three weeks ago at Winthrop.
Riggs already knows everything she needs to know about Omaha. "I know it's in Nebraska," she said laughing. Her father was quick to add that the College Baseball World Series is held there. "Oh yeah!" she said.
She will take four poles with her to the nationals. She has just started working with a 14-footer but isn't yet sure she'll use it in Omaha.
The 200-meter dash took on some added appeal with Van Wyck native Shawn Crawford's return to the Olympics to defend his gold medal in the event. Fuquan Greene of New Bern, N.C., ran the preliminaries' fastest time at 21.46 seconds. Greene is ranked 41st nationally this year with a 21.22.
Crawford finished second in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., on July 6 with a time of 19.86.
A pair of South Pointe sprinters competed in 200m prelims. Garrick Mackey and Dominique Fergerson ran 23.50 and 23.59, respectively, for A-Head-A-U Track Club. Both finished fifth in their heats.
The top eight finishers advance to the finals. Mackey was 19th. Fergerson finished 20th.
The rising sophomores also ran in the 100m. Mackey ran 11.41 and Fergerson 11.49. Mackey was ninth overall, just .02 seconds shy of advancing to today's finals.
South Pointe and A-Head-A-U coach Bob Jenkins refers to the two as his "bullets." He says they are going to be two of the best sprinters to ever come out of this area.
"This is tough competition," Mackey said after his 200m race. "It feels good to run on my home track. But it doesn't feel so good to finish where I did."
Brittany Ajayi from Bowie, Md., advanced to the 200m finals in the sub-bantam girls division. This is her second year running the 200 and she posted the fifth-fastest time, 32.18.
Bantam boys sprinter Austin Connor of Columbia will run in today's finals. He finished fourth overall in his division with a time of 28.17.
Cameron Hudson of Charlotte advanced in the youth boys 200m prelims with a time of 23.35.
Several Region III records were established Saturday. Gordon Dudley, an 11-year-old from Marietta, Ga., set a new mark in the mini javelin. His throw of 40.57 meters (133 feet) broke the record set last year by Morgan Tanasijevich (40.52).
There is a connection between the two. They both belong to Walton Youth Track Club. Charles Brown is the throwing coach. He has enjoyed great results with his youngsters. Tanasijevich went to nationals last year. In 2006, Nana Motooka won it all in the mini javelin.
"Gordon has a chance to place very high," Brown said.
The stands and grounds around the track facility at South Pointe were packed with spectators. Among them was Curtis Frye, coach of cross country and track and field at South Carolina.
"I don't think he's just out here enjoying the day," Jenkins said.
The championships enter their final day today.
"The competition across the board has been great. Valerie Beesley and Kathy Koziel have done all the grunt work and behind the scenes work to put this all together. The track and cross country family in this area has done a super job," Jenkins said.