As six elite athletes lined up for the boys 100-meter dash Saturday at the 44th annual Great Southwest Track and Field Classic, nearly everyone in the stands at the University of New Mexico track and soccer complex turned cameras or cell phones toward the track.
For indeed, this was no ordinary running event.
This was New Mexico’s introduction to track sensation Matthew Boling. It was in March that the teenager from Houston ran a blistering, but wind-aided 9.98-second time that thrust him into the national track consciousness.
Boling, his mop of blond hair flopping as he picked up speed, trailed early in the 100, as Taylor Banks out of Florida burst out early.
“He was next to me, so when he got out, I was like, ‘Oh man, he’s got a start, I need to get my start like that,'” Boling said. “He had a really good first 60.”
So good, in fact, that Banks held the lead as the duo sped past the midpoint.
“My start needs work,” Boling said. “I really have closing speed. Every race you see, I’m even until the 50 then my last 40 is the best part of my race. Taylor got off really well. A really explosive guy. We were neck and neck.”
Then an audible gasp could be heard throughout the stadium as Banks suddenly pulled up, grabbed his leg, then went down in a pile about 35 meters from the finish.
“I was closing on him so when he went down, we were even,” Boling said. “I kind of heard him, too. I thought he pulled up but I didn’t know he went down. He’s definitely the best competition so far, a good runner. It happened so late in the race so I was already focused.”
Boling cruised to the finish alone with a time of 10.15 seconds, 0.19 seconds ahead of Kennedy Lightner of Arkansas. It was 0.16 seconds shy of the meet record.
“It felt good,” Boling said of the run. “My second-best legal time of the season. I haven’t run the 100 in like a month so I’m happy with it.”
Following the race, Boling and several of the other competitors checked in on Banks.
“We’re praying for him,” he said.
Boling finished a standout meet by winning the long jump at 25 feet, ½ inch, despite hitting one legal jump in his three attempts.
And he saved his effort for last, anchoring a quartet of speedsters that set a meet record in the 4×100 relay in a time of 39.05.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to train together,” Boling said. “If we were at the same high school, we would have easily gone 38 or below.”
Several local athletes fared well in their attempts against elite competition.
Rising junior Sandia sprinter Adriana Tatum got a first-hand look at Briana Williams, who scorched the field with a meet-record 11.02 in the girls 100.
“They’re freakin’ awesome,” she said of the field. “I feel very humbled and honored just to be able to run with them. That somebody sees me as competing with the top dogs, a little girl from New Mexico, it’s very humbling. It was very nerve-racking. It was very scary going up against those top athletes. But overall, after it finished, I thought that was really cool that I was able to partake in that.”
Not only did she partake, she held her own by finishing fourth with a personal-best 11.58.
“Not bad, I’m glad I was able to even get in there so I was very surprised,” Tatum said, adding that it was great to watch Williams, who also set a record in the 200. “It’s awesome. You’re going to see that woman go very far. She’s an amazing athlete. It’s an honor running against someone like her and so that I can slowly get up that level.”
Recent Taos graduate Jonah Vigil turned in a personal best in the 200, going 46.43, but he had the misfortune of competing against Missouri’s Justin Robinson, who set a meet record in 44.84.
“It felt really good” Vigil said after his second-place finish. “I was glad I had some comp. I wanted to place this year because last year, I took fifth.”
It quickly became apparent that Robinson was off to a special run, Vigil said.
“He’s just a good athlete,” he said. “I knew he was going to win. I just wanted to come in strong behind him.”
Checking out the locals, particularly Tatum, was one of the draws for Naomi Maestas, a track coach at Madison Middle School and the wife of Matadors track coach Dominic Maestas.
“We also wanted to see that Matthew Boling from Texas,” she said. “We wanted to watch him. It was pretty good to watch him run. You don’t get to see kids like that run all the time. And we were excited to see our own Adriana Tatum. She did amazing.”
Having an event like this is quite a treat, Maestas said.
“I love it,” she said. “I wish more of our New Mexico kids would get involved in it and not shy away from it. It’s only going help them improve and go get better, to be able to see competition. They don’t ever get to see that here in New Mexico.”
Jan’Taijah Ford of Florida set a meet record in the 400 in 51.57, while Williams ran 22.88 in the 200.