The CIF State Track and Field Championships brings to an end the high school sports year in California, but it's more than just closure.
It's the climax of a gradual weeding-out process, from the league to the section to the masters competitions, that leaves only the best athletes still on the stage. They'll gather today and Saturday at Buchanan High's Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis, knowing only the elite are left.
Few prep sports events in California hold an almost mystical appeal. The State Meet contains truckloads of it. Only the top three finishers in each event in this section, plus anyone who hit a qualifying time or mark, are motoring down Highway 99 this week.
And when they arrive, greatness always is a possibility. Consider 2008 when Riverbank High senior German Fernandez put together one of the greatest distance-running performances ever seen by an American high school athlete.
Fernandez, an Oklahoma State sophomore who's recovering from an injury, won the state 1,600 and 3,200 meters within about a two-hour time span at Cerritos College in Norwalk. Better still, he set state records in both races and, in the 3,200, broke the national high school record. The crowd chanted his name, "German! German!" by meet's end.
Then there is three-time Olympic discus thrower and reigning American record holder Suzy Powell, the Downey High graduate whose career took flight with her three straight state championships (1992-94).
The valley also boasts state-meet champions who went on to win Olympic gold medals: Modesto's Wilbur "Moose" Thompson, Tulare's Bob Mathias, Delano's Leamon King, Lemoore's Tommie Smith and Kingsburg's Rafer Johnson. Thompson, the 1937 state champion in the shot put and the football throw, seized Olympic gold in the shot in '48.
Other Californians who achieved the feat were Florence Griffith-Joyner and Valerie Brisco-Hooks.
Meanwhile, the 10 Stanislaus District qualifiers — among a field of more than 800 — will pursue their own goals.
Leading the district list is Oakdale High senior Jaci Powell, Suzy's niece, whose amazing triple jump — she went 38 feet, 7 inches, topping her previous best by more than two feet — leaves her the district's only Section Masters champion. Powell also advances in the long jump.
Buhach Colony junior Rebecca Hammar also will compete in two events, courtesy of her twin seconds in the discus and the shot put. She took third in the discus at state last year.
The only Modesto entry is Beyer junior Sean Gomes, who rallied in the final stretch for a second last week in the 800. Oakdale senior Tim House also picked up a second with a school-record toss in the discus. Livingston senior Albert Millan also is state-bound after his second in the shot.
Millan, ranked fifth in the shot (59-6), and Powell, ranked eighth in the triple jump, appear to be the district's top hopefuls to reach Saturday's finals. Millan placed 10th at state last year.
Others state qualifiers are Hughson sophomore Becky Hobby in the 1,600, Atwater tandem John Guerrero in the 800 and Kyle Maxwell in the pole vault, Pitman's Markus Sanders in the discus and Manteca's Vincent Herrera in the 1,600. Hobby, third last week, was timed in 5:02.14, topping her PR by more than nine seconds.
Today's program features preliminaries as all athletes shoot for a finish in the top nine, which earns a berth for Saturday's finals. The only event without a preliminary is the 3,200. Field events begin at 3 p.m. and lane events get under way at 5.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.