On the Saturday of the 2017 state track meet, the 5A Girls 3200 was worth the price of admission for the entire weekend.
It was strictly non-violent, but it could scarcely have been more spellbinding if stones, clubs, and daggers had been involved.
For seven laps, Brie Oakley and Lauren Gregory went at each other. Neither gave so much as an inch. Both were equally and fully committed to the win. And both were maintaining a pace that promised to blister and scorch the existing Colorado record for the 3200.
On the final lap, however, Oakley tapped into a well that possibly neither of the pair knew she had. Oakley kept pressing harder and harder as Gregory's ability to respond withered on the vine.
Oakley would go on to win in 10:09.26. Gregory finished second, still beating the previous 3200 record, with a time of 10:16.43. You could read the bitter disappointment all over Gregory's countenance. She didn't make the trip to Lakewood to finish second.
It seemed Gregory, who had owned distance events around the state until Oakley's emergence to a whole new level in the spring of 2016, was fated ever after to finish second to Oakley.
Gregory did win Sunday's 800, but that one didn't really register. Oakley was sixth in that race, and she was probably there more to accumulate points for the Grandview machine than to showcase her skills. Nobody ever harbored the confusion of imagining the 800 was Oakley's top race.
So, Gregory's win in the 800 counted, after a fashion, but it failed to chase down any frustrations. Gregory ranked as at least a co-favorite to win the 800, after all, and the her stiffest competition never was expected to come from Oakley.
That left one race for redemption--the 1600. The 1600 marked the final opportunity for Gregory and Oakley to square off as friendly rivals on a Colorado high school track.
The race bore ample resemblance to the 3200 of the previous day. Both Oakley and Gregory separated from the field early, leaving little question about who the first and second place finishers would be, but not a hint of a clue as to the order. Oakley took her customary place in front, but Gregory remained doggedly on her heels.
It remained that way until the final 150 meters.
Toward the end of the final turn, Gregory pulled up alongside Oakley. Oakley responded, digging a little deeper--wearing the expense of every stride on her face. Stubbornly, Oakley picked up the pace, refusing to yield to the challenge.
This time, however, Gregory had more pickup than Oakley. Blessed with superior natural speed, Gregory pressed that advantage all the way down the finish straight.
The gap she opened was not large, but it was a gap. Though barely enough, it was decisive. Gregory's finish time registered as 4:50.77, Oakley's as 4:51.01.
The significance of Gregory's triumph was not lost on anyone who watched the spectacle. And few more exciting races have ever been run on Colorado soil.