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Running the final race of his storied high school athletic career, Canby senior Tommy O’Neil made sure it was one that he, his teammates, coaches and many of the spectators would never forget, winning the 800 meter at the Oregon State Track and Field Championships Saturday — and smashing a 40-year school record in the process.
The 800 has long been the running star’s signature event — he came within milliseconds of breaking the Canby High School record at that distance just last month. And on Saturday, sporting specs and pounding the hallowed turf at Oregon’s legendary Hayward Field, he proved he was one of the best in the state on the sport’s biggest high school stage.
O’Neil’s time of 1:52.71 toppled a Canby school record that had stood for more than four decades: the 1:53.40 mark set by Mark Corson in 1979.
“I knew I had one last chance to make history,” O’Neil told the Current. “I was four one-hundreds of a second off the high school record so I knew I would have to give it a go to get it. I wanted to leave a legacy that would last for years and that was the last piece to end my résumé.”
And without the historic performance, it’s very unlikely O’Neil would have won the event. Second-place finisher Parker Waugh, of Barlow, also set a blistering pace with his time of 1:53.12. After his victory, O’Neil was overcome by emotion.
“After I got tripped at the Oregon Relays and missed my shot to show the world who I am, I knew I was going to come back stronger than ever and prove to everyone that I have what it takes to become a champion,” the senior said.
Led by O’Neil and a surprise one-two performance in the triple jump, the Canby Cougars found themselves in an unexpected fourth-place overall finish at the OSAA state finals Saturday.
The Cougs got off to a good start in the field events on the strength of a fourth-place finish in the high jump by senior Koby Kessler, 6-02, while senior Drew Pierson contributed an eighth-place finish in the long jump Friday with a mark of 20-9.75.
In the triple jump, junior Treyson Wakefield overcame fouls on his first two tries, sneaking into the finals with a mark of 41-9.5 on his third attempt. From there, the junior never looked back, turning in not one but two 44-foot jumps, including his winning effort of 44-9.5 on his final attempt.
Pierson went over 43 feet twice in the prelims, then also produced his best effort of the day on his fifth jump, reaching 44-1.5 to snag second place for the Cougars. Both leapers soared over the previous school record of 43-8.75, set by Jeff Hart in 2006.
Canby’s fifth state qualifier, junior speedster Omar Villanueva, narrowly missed the qualifying mark for the 200-meter finals Saturday, turning in a time of 22.89 in the Friday prelims, which was good for seventh place in his heat.
Overall, the Cougars earned 34 points, just one point behind fellow TRL team Tualatin in third place and six behind another league foe, second-place Tigard (40). Central Catholic claimed the boys team title with 55 points.
It was an impressive showing for Canby amid much larger schools, and a testament to the hard work the team’s athletes and coaches have put in over the past few seasons. With only five athletes competing, the boys hadn’t even considered competing in the team results.
“It was amazing and totally shocking when we found out that we were competing for a top spot,” O’Neil said. “With only four athletes in the finals, we didn’t think about team results at all.”
But, when all was said and done, the Cougars had skyrocketed from second-to-last place in districts to the fourth-best team in the state.
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