Four Champions, One Team

Loveland’s State Championship 4 x 800m Relay Team

Friday, June 3rd, 2002.

When, in sport, the soul of a child, their sinew, their character, their heart, their emotions and their teammates all coalesce and stand forth under the summer sun, it’s something to see. 

Today, Loveland’s 4 x 800 Relay Team competed in the High School State Track Championships at Ohio State University. I had to write about it.

At the start of the race, as the runners filed in, a sea of colors flooded into the Jesse Owens Stadium. Reds, Oranges, Blacks, Golds, Whites, Blues. 16 teams from across the state. Each having made it through Districts, then Regionals, just to get here. 4 runners on each team. The 4 x 800 M relay. 

Runners had already warmed up. Now they were walking from the runners’ area to the starting line. They pumped their legs to stay warm, to stay sharp. Much was on the line. 

Among the contenders were St. Edwards, Miamisburg, Olentangy and Pickerington North. But, in a rarity, three Cincinnati teams came into the meet with the top three times. Mason, St. X and Loveland. This unique story was featured in an article in the morning paper. It’s not every day that the three favorites at a state track event all hail from one city. 

At the top of that list, though, was Loveland. They were the team to beat. In last year’s 4 x 800 state relay, they took 2nd place. This year they were returning three runners from that team; they posted a 7:46 to win the Regionals last week. That meant they carried the burden of favorites. The heavy burden of favorites. How would they handle it?

JP Tew was the lead off runner. He had a critical task. To break free of the pack of 16 runners, create some running room and stake an early lead for Cayden Dyer, in the second leg. 

The race starts off fast. Things look bleak in the early going. The pack must have hopped out faster than anticipated or JP’s nerves may have clogged his wheels. But by the 350m marker, JP is mired in the thick of the pack, in the 8th position. By the 400m marker he is gaining, but still back at 6th. 6th in a crowded pack. Not where he wanted to be. 

Around the bend they go, runners in a thundering pack. Now 300m left in this critical first leg. 

And here, amid the race’s first major challenge, comes the Loveland team’s first spark of a champion’s will. JP finds another gear. He turns on his kick. He quickly reels in the 5th position, then the 4th, then the 3rd, then the 2nd. Yes: in the span of 100 yards JP’s vaults from 5th to 1st and carries his team where they need to be. 

JP takes the final turn with increasing speed. The vaunted Goodrich from St. X, who had edged out JP in the first leg of Regionals, moves up from 3rd to 2nd behind JP. Goodrich seeks to challenge JP’s kick. Not happening. JP motors around the bend and down the final 100m, opening up a 2m lead over Goodrich. JP roars first into the handoff. His job for the team complete: the baton is handed off in first place and Cayden has room to run.

Cayden Dyer, a junior, takes the baton and races into the turn. In pre-race planning, the team figured it could gain some ground with Cayden’s leg. They counted on him for a lead of 10m or so. And gain he did over the first 200m. But the pack is not easily shaken; they start to reel Cayden in. By the 200m marker they are within 5m of Cayden. This was not supposed to happen. Not part of the plan. By the 400m marker Mason and St. Edward’s had closed the gap to about a meter. By the 600m marker, they had overtaken him. 

Cayden was the one runner who was not on last year’s state runner-up team. That team’s near miss of a State title was not in his bloodstream. How would he react?

They are rounding the final bend of the leg now. Loveland is in third – at a point in the race where they needed to be up by 10m or so. A possible disaster in the making.

They take the bend stride for stride. Cayden is not losing ground. But what is he thinking? Is he scared? Is he tensing up? Would he cower?

Not this young man. He would roar – and here is the team’s second instance of a champion’s will. Like a lion crouching, Cayden comes into the final part of the bend, powers into the 2nd lane, and lays down a kick that was nothing short of a thing of bi-pedaled poetry. His long legs turning over, his head tilted back like Eric Lydell in Chariots of Fire, his hair flowing in the wind. He was a force not to be denied.  In the final 100m left in his leg, Cayden opens up the 10m lead his team was counting on from him. 

Mason moves in to second. St. X now fourth.

Cayden hands off to junior Brady Steiner. Brady is a powerful runner, full of fire and fantastic footspeed. He was on the state runner up team last year but suffered a back injury in the early part of the season and struggled on-and-off with it since then. He has learned to run in pain. 

Today he would need to run in pain. But you wouldn’t have known it. 

Knowing Brady’s limitations, knowing that we had a speedster in Ryan Chevalier waiting in the 4th position, the team’s hope from Brady was to stay within 10-15m of the lead coming into the 4th handoff. 

Brady speeds into the first corner. But so, in his wake, speeds a mighty pack of four: with Mason and St. X in that mix. By the 200m marker the lead was down to about 5m. By 400m, Mason reels Brady in. They head into the turn and the pack of 4 now completely swallows Loveland’s lead. 

They boys had planned for this. Brady just needs to hold his own. To hold his ground. To stay with or near the lead pack. By 600m, Brady is now in 4th, but he is with the pack. 

Stride for stride, the mighty pack round the red-rubbered turn. Brady, still in 4th, at some point says to himself: The hell with staying near the pack, I want to be at the front of the pack. At the end of the turn, he takes the outside lane, lane 2, and lays down a mighty kick. This was not in the plan. Brady says: I am adjusting the plan. He reels in St. X, then Mason, both in the final 50m. As he hands off the baton, he is essentially level with St. Edwards. This was the third mark of a champion’s will.

4th and final leg: Ryan Chevalier. Ryan is a Senior. A gifted runner. He will be running next year at Virginia Tech. He ran the final leg for the state runner up team last year. He is money in the bank if he gets the baton within striking distance of the lead pack.

Ryan takes the hand off in the 3rd lane. In his first steps, he slides quickly into lane 1. Trailing St. Edwards now, with Mason right on his heels and St. X 2m back. The runners glide into an elegant gallop. They move through the bend, toward the 100m marker. Nobody making any major moves just yet. Ryan is content to hug the heels of St. Edwards and wait for his moment.

Coming into the second turn there is this vision of elegance. The top 5 teams, the lead pack, still tight together, as though drafting one upon the other. A thing of beauty just to have reached this point in the race. Five teams, separated by just a few steps. They have each trained for months for just such a day. Just so that they would be ready to seize this next 80 seconds with every sinew in their straining frames, with every pulse of spirit in their beating hearts.

We’re in the bend now. 250m marker. A little separation opens up in the pack but Ryan is right on the heels of St. Edwards. 

As the bend ends, so does St. Edward’s last moment in the top spot. At the top of the straightaway – the 300m marker – Ryan slides out into lane two and moves from 3rd gear into 4th. Accelerates past St. Edwards and goes into the top of his kick. Yes. 500m from the finish Ryan enters his kick. Puts 5m of distance between Loveland and St. Edwards and motors down the straightaway. St. X sees Ryan’s move and responds. Moves from 4th toward 2nd

We’re in turn 3 now. 350 m to go. Ryan’s speed steadily increasing like a metronome set to a new cadence. Tick – Tick – Tick … a distance opens up between him and the pack. At this point, one can only step back and admire a finely tuned runner doing what he has trained to do for months and years. This you might say is the 4th championship moment. A young man, counted on by his team to deliver the victory if given the baton within striking distance of the pack, is doing just that: delivering the victory.

By the 600m marker, Ryan has a 10m lead over the pack. St. X is now in second. Heading into the final turn. Will Ryan tire? 

Hardly. The metronome ticks up a few notches faster and the kick is now in high gear. Loveland will win this thing going away.  Ryan roars down the stretch and crosses the line, a mighty champion on a team of champions. St. X grabs second, Mason edges out for third and St. Edward’s finishes fourth.

Congratulations to JP Tew, Cayden Dyer, Brady Steiner, and Ryan Chevalier on a fantastic state championship season. You made your coaches, your families and your school proud. And you left a stirring example of what the human heart can do when fixed upon a goal and bound together tightly with committed teammates.

Top 4 Finishers:

Loveland – 7:45.34

St. X – 7:48.67

Mason – 7:49.71

St. Edward’s – 7:50.00

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