Solon senior Olivia Howell had already defended her 1,600-meter title to become a three-peat state champ, but her legs just didn’t quite appear to have the juice in the 800 run less than an hour later.
Battling through the lactic acid on the latter part of her distance double, the Lady Comet standout crossed the midpoint of her race – the 400-meter mark – in 13th with a 1:03.72 split during the Division I championship Saturday evening at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus.
Among the 18 girls in the 800 run, Howell was the only athlete who was competing on tired legs from the 1,600 run. Other than Howell, only Westerville Central junior Kayla Jones had a previous event that day, which was the four-by-200 relay – much easier to recover from than the 1,600 run.
“Honestly, yes,” Howell said about her confidence in recovering in enough time to put down an 800 she won’t soon forget. “I just made sure I got enough sleep, ate the right stuff and warmed up correctly to really come in with a fresh mindset and a good recovery for today.”
Nonetheless, Howell was hoping to be in a better position than 13th at the 400 mark.
“It didn’t really go as planned,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting to be that far back. I was planning on having a faster first lap. So, I came out slow, but I knew I had a good amount left.”
Before Howell would put her kick into overdrive with 250 meters to go and pull off a legendary comeback performance that had the crowd at Jesse O roaring and buzzing in disbelief, the Lady Comet left it all out on the track during her triumphant 1,600 performance 45 minutes earlier.
Leading from start to finish in that race, Howell posted a smoking season-best 4:45.25 to defeat Cincinnati Turpin runner-up senior Samantha Bush, 4:48.06, Hilliard Davidson sophomore Lindsay Stull, 4:49.05, Centerville sophomore Emma Bucher, 4:52.31, and Medina junior Juliette Keller, 4:54.32.
Bush was giving Howell a run for her money, but Howell turned on her jets with 250 meters to go and never looked back.
“I knew I was going to have to be at my best,” said Howell, who won the 2018 title in 4:50.28. “The other girls had such great times going into the state meet. My ultimate goal was to beat the record, and I knew having such great runners coming into the state meet would help me achieve the record. Although I didn’t get it, I’m really happy with the way things turned out.”
Howell won her title with the fifth-best state-meet performance in 45 years of girls track in Ohio. She also owns the second-best state-meet performance, 4:43.25, from 2017, which is only behind Olympian Emily Infeld, of Beaumont, who turned in a state-record 4:41.37 in 2007.
With her 1,600 title on Saturday, Howell joins Beaumont 2004 graduate Maggie Infeld as the only other Division I three-time state champion in that event.
“I kind of felt just as much pressure as a year ago,” Howell said about her repeat and three-peat titles. “Anything can happen in a race. You can’t trust what happened the previous year or the times going into the state meet.
“When I started out the race, I didn’t really want to lead the whole time, but it just sort of ended up happening that way. But I’m happy how the race went. When I started my kick, it was sort of mind over matter. I was pretty tired then, but just the adrenaline and (Bush) coming up on me made me have a reality check. This is my last 1,600, and I really needed to push it and give it my all.”
Once Howell started her kick with the lead, Bush never really had a chance.
Forty-five minutes later, Howell lined up against 17 fresh-legged competitors for the 800 run and, as previously mentioned, was in 13th at the 400-meter mark. Truth be told, Howell was still within 1.68 seconds of Thomas Worthington senior frontrunner Gia Napoleon, but she started to fade some on the first curve of the bell lap.
But with that same kick, Howell began passing people with 250 meters to go.
“I knew I had a good amount left,” she said. “I think the adrenaline got me through, because there was a huge group behind first, second and third, and I knew, once I passed that large group of girls, that I’d be close enough just to have my adrenaline take me to pass the other girls to finish the race.”
In a lifetime best, Howell won the 800 run in 2:08.60, defeating Gahanna Lincoln runner-up senior Madison Martinez, 2:09.11, Worthington’s Napoleon, 2:09.67, Mason junior Maddie Ullom, 2:09.95, and the rest of the 17 fresh-legged competitors in the field.
Howell is just the second Lady Comet to win a state title in the 800 meters. Then-junior Therese Haiss won the 2012 title in 2:08.05, after she had finished state runner-up in the 1,600 run in 4:53.80 that year. On Sunday, Haiss, 23, won the State Street Mile title in 4:19 in Santa Barbara, California.
With her success on Saturday, Howell became the fourth Division I female to win both the 1,600 and 800 runs in the same state meet in Ohio, joining Turpin 1986 graduate Kimberly Betz, Beaumont 2004 graduate Maggie Infeld and Beaumont 2008 graduate Emily Infield. Among those four, Howell posted the fastest 800-meter time.
“I think running the 800 for the first time at states this year is just such a great way to end my high school career,” Howell said. “Just running a different race and ending it in such a good outcome was an amazing way to finish.”
Next to 1979 graduate Julie Stibbe, Howell is the most decorated track and field runner in Lady Comet history. Stibbe won the Class AAA state titles in the 880-yard run and the 1-mile run her freshman year in 1976 and went on to be a four-time state champion in the 880 run.
In addition to track, Howell was a four-time all-Ohioan in Division I cross-country and will continue her running career at the University of Illinois.
Howell said her motivation this season came from her mother, Antoinette Marie Magee-Howell, who died suddenly at the age of 41 in March 2018.
“I mainly ran this track season for my mom,” Howell said. “Unfortunately, she passed away last year. Just knowing that I finished off with a great season just makes me happy, because I ran it for her.”
Along with her individual success, Howell ran on the Lady Comets’ four-by-800 relay, along with freshmen Elizabeth Radis and Jada Freeman and junior Elsa Mabey, who finished 12th at the state meet in 9:21.90.
In the four-by-400 relay, junior Ada Ngozi, freshman Lily Scherer, sophomore Macarah Morgan and Howell finished 12th in 4:00.75.
Individually, Ngozi took 12th in the 300 hurdles in 45.76 seconds.
In the discus throw, junior Maria Leskovec made her state debut with a toss of 104 feet, 7 inches.
And in the seated events, Solon sophomore Kelly Harmody took sixth in the shot put at 9 feet, 1 inch, and ninth in the 100 dash in 36.35 seconds.