Hans Frank-Holzner doesn't like being second. Fortunately for him, he has a team that shares that distaste and as the Comets took to the track they ran an inspired race that many wish they could relive.
Runners kick their legs before a race. It seems awkward to see them standing like a flamingo and shaking their legs as if they'd fallen asleep. But when you're a spectator, you don't ask questions for those running. Mostly out of fear that they might ask you to show them how it's done. So as a hoard of young men huddled near a goal post at Perham High School for the sub-section meet few were watching them kick their legs. The meet would prove to be Hillcrest's top leg kickers toughest test of the season. Two strong teams pulled in runners from other fields to challenge the Comet's undefeated relay team.
When the huddle broke and the runners transitioned their ritualistic leg kicking to the track, Hans Frank-Holzner set himself at the starting line. Hans is Hillcrest's fastest runner. His splits in the 800m are consistently 2-3 seconds faster than his teammates'. It seems natural to place Hans as the anchor for the relay team. But who know why runners do what they do. Sometimes the mystery is a dissonance that draws greater attention, and the Comets have consistently resolved their meets with gold medals on their necks.
When the gun sounded, starting the race, Hans darted to the lead and answered a few questions on why he runs the lead. He hates being second. Hans pushed the pack through the first lap, taunting the other teams as they chased down Hillcrest's strongest runner.
As Holzner rounded the final bend a black jersey slipped to the outside and was neck and neck with Hans. The black jersey belonged to Perham, who pulled together a team that hasn't run together all season. They boast the top times in Perham's 400m and 800m individual competitors. Perham wanted the top prize in the sub-section home meet, and the 800m was one rung they sought to grab in their climb in earning the title. With Perham's coach barking seemingly obvious orders for the new baton carrier to run fast, Luke Bowman picked up his pace.
Bowman's clip was impressive. After Holzner gave his all on the track, clearly one of the top competitors at Thursdays meet, Perham was inching ahead. Bowman set a quickened pace, looking ahead at a black jersey that was almost pulling him along as he rounded the first corner a second time. Bowman impressed fans as he cut Perham's lead on the third turn, pushing an impressive final 200m where Perham's coach was muted by the cross-field wind. Bowman didn't need barking. He has an effortless stride and hardly looked winded as he kicked his final 100m before passing the baton to Toby Simonsen.
As Simonsen took the baton Hillcrest held a shrinking 10m lead. Simonsen loves distance. He's a grind it out kind of runner. Around the first turn Perham caught Toby and was working to pass. But Toby doesn't get pushed around. Holding his ground, Toby kept the pace and stayed ahead of Perham's yellow headband wearing team.
As Simonsen reached his final 100m he had built on Bowman's lead, reaching teammate Tommy Thompson for the final leg of the race with a substantial 30m lead. Perham's coach wasn't happy. He was ready to run the race next to his team like a neighborhood dog if he had to. When Perham's anchor grabbed the baton their coach stopped. The anchor got the message and he flew for 300m before reaching Tommy Thompson. The lead Hillcrest built was gone and Thompson was rounding the third corner peering over the infield to see a finish line that might be the first Hillcrest would cross in second place all season.
After the first lap Tommy was a few feet behind Perham, but Tommy wasn't winded. The 800m is a race of strategy, and the Comets came to play.
Where most teams will place their fastest runners at the end of the race, Hillcrest places theirs first. Hans Holzner's time from the race was 2:04. Holzner likes to build a substantial lead, and he doesn't like being second. He's a leader. Behind Holzner, Luke Bowman, Toby Simonsen, and Tommy Thompson are grinders. Some make running look effortless, like Bowman who seems to glide on the track. Simonsen knows how to work, and his grind-it-out approach to the 800m is consistent and hard to beat with natural talent. Bowman's time was 2:09 and Simonsen turned in a 2:08 performance. The handoffs were flawless, like a band of brothers who sense each other's presence.
As Tommy crossed the starting line and looked across the infield he saw a Perham runner hitting a wall. With Holzner's pace, Perham felt like they were playing catch-up the entire race. Thanks to Bowman and Simonsen, Perham couldn't out maneuver Hillcrest on the track. Perham worked in the first 400m to close the gap created by Holzner, and built upon by Bowman and Simonsen. Even though Thompson was passed 300m into his leg, he kept close enough to Perham to watch the runner hit his wall.
Thompson started his kick with 200m, easily gliding by Perham. On the final straight away Thompson had push left in his tank. The final 50m were purely pleasure for Hillcrest. There was no competition now. Now it was running for the love of it. When Thompson crossed the line coach Seth Kinrade sprinted from the infield to huddle his team. According to the stop watch Hillcrest set a new school record, but the official photo finish results wouldn't be in for a few minutes.
With smiles and high fives the team hugged parents and talked strategy with teachers who ventured to the meet. When the time was read it revealed a new school record holder. The undefeated 2016 4X800m relay team held the record by mere 100ths of seconds. But a new record is a new record and the team was excited to extend their season to Thursdays Section meet in Moorhead Thursday.