A cartoonish slingshot kind of a move around the backstretch in the last race of the day gave the crowd a chance to see what Mayuen Akok is all about.
The Roosevelt senior won the 300-meter hurdles earlier on Saturday at O’Harra Stadium but it was not the sort of emotionally fulfilling kind of performance he had hoped to deliver.
A conversation with coaches ensued, and then came the 1,600 relay with Akok on the anchor leg.
Enter the backstretch and going from five strides behind to five strides ahead in the space of 20 meters. You just don’t make that kind of a move at that point on a 400-meter finishing leg unless you know it’s going to be permanent.
“He was pretty upset with that 300, and we had a pretty heated discussion trying to get him fired up about the four-by-four,” Roosevelt track coach Jason Wagoner said. “He’s a kid where, if you put a stick in his hand, he’s going to put us in a position to win it.”
It put the finishing flourish on a team title for the Rider boys and provided the final minutes of what was ultimately a rewarding afternoon for Akok, who is going to the University of South Dakota next year.
“I was blessed to be here today with a great coaching staff and great people,” Akok said. “In the hurdle race, I just tried to stay focused and be the first one over that first hurdle.”
It was a photo finish with Akok four-hundredths of a second ahead of Bennett Fierro of Rapid City Stevens. Some subtle stumbles made the final 100 meters far more interesting than Akok would have preferred.
A relative of the late Manute Bol, Akok met the NBA player — and later Sudanese activist — several times. His own family, from South Soudan, was living in war-torn Kenya and left for Sioux Falls before he was born.
On Saturday, he was pointing skyward in gratitude, not in frustration, after completing the 1,600 relay. He then fell to the track. His teammates had to help him up and supported him at the shoulder on both sides while migrating toward the awards stand at the middle of the field.
“It was a great finish for him,” Wagoner said. “I was proud of him to be able to do what he did. There was probably more frustration fueling that than anything else.”
Did the O’Harra Stadium crowd see the next great middle-distance runner this weekend when Lincoln’s Jasmyne Cooper, a freshman, won both the 800 and the 1,600?
Only a cynic would say no to that after Cooper turned in a 2:12.72 to win the Class AA girls 800 on Friday, then edged Kendra Dykstra of Rapid City Stevens to also take the 1,600 on Saturday. She essentially clinched a most valuable performer award in AA in the process.
“I was really scared about running those races,” Cooper said. “I was a little nervous.”
On the back straightaway of the last lap in the 1,600, Dykstra overtook Cooper momentarily. Normally it signifies the land of no return for the one being passed, but Cooper re-loaded, came back and took the lead again.
“I’m not going to lose this race,” Cooper remembered thinking when Dykstra took the lead.
And she didn’t. Cooper clearly is a much bigger fan of winning races than she is talking about winning races, but in this instance her actions were shouting on her behalf.
“We don’t want to put pressure on her, but she’s got the potential to be one of those great runners you talk about,” Lincoln coach Jim Jarovski said. “She’s someone who just loves being out there competing. She plays three sports — I just see her getting better from here on out.”
It’s not the first time the Patriots have seen their young standout’s “I’m not going to lose this race” mentality kick in.
“The one thing I’ve learned from Jasmyne is that she’s the ultimate competitor,” Jarovski said. “She hates to lose. When she does lose — like at Howard Wood this year — she’s very upset with herself. The experience of Howard Wood really helped her today. She is learning how to run against talented runners now.”
There are all varieties of victories at a track meet involving three classes and six distinct team competitions. Some records are set because nothing less is going to win a race, and some records set because an athlete is healthy and at the height of their powers for two days.
The latter would describe Freeman sprinter Brennan Schmidt’s last high school meet.
In the preliminaries of the 400 on Friday, Schmidt turned in a 47.54, breaking an all-time state record — not just a meet record — set by Larry Miller in 1982. It was one of the oldest surviving high school marks and had endured more than three decades of gifted South Dakota runners taking aim at it. A Holy Grail of sorts. Ironically, Miller ran for Freeman Academy when he set the record, so a mark that survived 33 years is going to stay in a town of around 1,300.
“I did a 48.6 in the first meet of the year, and it had been on my radar since then,” said Schmidt, who will run next year at USD. “I chased it all year. And to get it at state in the last meet at the end of my career is definitely special. To have that record around for so long, then to keep it in Freeman, is pretty cool.”
Schmidt might have been able to squeeze out an MVP award based on breaking a long-time record, but there were other accomplishments. He also won the 100 and 200, with an impressive anchor leg on Freeman’s first-place 1,600 relay team.
Four races, four wins. Sometimes things go the way you want them to go.
“The last few years we’ve had the potential to win a state title, but it just didn’t seem to work out,” Schmidt said. “I’ve battled injuries before and we’ve had a lot of others who were hurt in the past. This year everything just worked. I think the chemistry on the team was incredible and I think that contributed to our success.”