PHILADELPHIA – When Tyrone Walker decided to go for broke in the Championship of America 4x800 with 300 meters left there may have been 49,000 people at Franklin Field who thought the move came too early.
The people that mattered most -- Walker’s three Westfield teammates and his coach – all trusted that he was doing the right thing.
“I wasn’t worried,” Westfield coach Kelly Deegan said. “I have confidence in him. If he thinks that’s the time to go then that’s OK.”
Westfield (Chantilly, Va.) ran US#1 7:39.73 and more importantly won the race on Saturday during the primetime session of the Penn Relays. Max Chambers (1:57.6), Jeff Edmondson (1:56.4), Nathan Kiley (1:51.3) and Walker (1:54.4) couldn’t afford one bad step against Kingston College of Jamaica, which finished second in 7:40.52.
Westfield ran the top time in qualifying on Friday but ran nine seconds better in the final.
The first big moment came in the final 200 of the third leg, when Kiley flew by two Jamaican runners to give Westfield its first lead. Kiley’s 1:51.3 split was the fastest in the race.
He turned the baton over to Walker but Kingston’s Sanj Powell quickly moved the front. Walker tucked in behind and waited for his cue.
“That’s my plan every time I run,” Walker said. “Always take it at 300. I try to keep a constant pace for the first 400 so I can have enough for the kick. There was nothing that told me (to go), it just where I knew I wanted to kick.”
The new question became: Who had more to give, Walker or Powell? As Walker drove for home, Powell drew even and tried to go around him. The two kept moving at the same speed and Walker wasn’t about to give up his precious lead.
“I was sort of praying in my head ‘Please don’t let him catch me,’” Walker said. “I would have dove across the finish line if it’s what I had to do to keep the lead.”
It was a six-second improvement for Westfield, which placed fifth at New Balance Nationals Indoor in March.
The team is already looking ahead to New Balance Outdoors with the idea of contending for the national title in June.
“I don’t think we ever had it close in our dreams to win this honestly,” Kiley said. “With the crowd here, a lot of them were rooting for Jamaica and a lot were cheering for the U.S. There was not only race competition, it (felt) like representing our country.”
The Jamaican crowd still had lots to cheer about, even though the U.S. professionals won all six of their matchups with Jamaica.
In the boys 4x400 Championship of America, Carribean schools swept the top six places, led by Munro College of Jamaica (3:11.91). Lodge of Barbados was third, the only non-Jamaican team. U.S. entrants Gardena Serra (Calif.) and Trenton Central (N.J.) were both disqualified.
Earlier, in the 4x100, Wolmer’s Boys (Jamaica) went 40.34 and led a 1-2-3 sweep for the island nation. The huge Jamaican presence in the stadium included prime minister Portia Simpson Miller, who sat in the grandstand and also took part in a ceremony on the Franklin Field infield.
Jamaica’s high school excellence extended to the field events, too. Clive Pullen of Jamaica College won the long jump with 24-3, edging Anthony Averett of Woodbury (N.J.), who went 24-0.25. Christoff Bryan of Wolmer’s won the high jump with a clearance at 6-11.50.
The U.S. got victories from Michael Jensen of Appoquinimink (Middletown, Del.), who went 16-4.75 and PR’d by more than a foot.
And in the triple jump, Anaquan Peterson of Lakeland (Suffolk, Va.) took the title with a wind-aided mark of 50 feet even.
Eric Futch, one of Pennsylvania's top high school athletes, also had a big day. In the morning, he won the 400 hurdles in a US#1 time of 51.77. And later, he split 48.5 to help Penn Wood win the Philadelphia Area boys 4x400 title.