After a 45-minute delay, the runners were given the green light, and South Tahoe’s defending state champion Connor Henderson lined up for the two-mile.
Henderson paced for the first mile with the rest of the group before he slowly started separating. The senior patiently worked ahead of the pack until he had built a 40-meter lead by the last lap.
“He looked the best I’ve seen him all year,” South Tahoe coach Jake Hurwitz said.
First place looked like a lock, but a sophomore named Abdirahman Mohamad, of Desert Pines, still had something left in the tank.
Mohamad began to close in on Henderson with a last-effort burst of speed that Hurwitz said he’s never seen out of a long-distance runner. By the finish line, Mohamad had caught Henderson. It would be a photo finish.
Henderson had obliterated his personal record by 13 seconds, but the official times were Henderson 9:53.51 and Mohamad 9:53.50.
“The ruling on the field was he caught Connor on the finish line and leaned in for the win,” Hurwitz said. “Connor lost that race by a hundredth of a second. We accepted it, but when I heard the times announced, I just had this gut feeling I needed to go take a look at the picture.”
Horwitz requested to see the finish-line picture, and what he saw was enough to change his mind on Henderson’s second place. Mohamad looked vertical at the finish, Hurwtiz said.
“What I saw was a mistake. They had not correctly gauged when the other runner had passed the finish line,” Hurwitz said.
The coach had 30 minutes to appeal the decision so he hustled to get in a request for a review.
“When I was writing out the appeal, one of the meet officials said ‘the call that was correct’ before we even put in the appeal,” Hurwitz said. “He was saying that the call was correct, and it was just kind of disheartening because it felt like at that point they weren’t even really going to look at it.”
The South Tahoe camp was told the officials would review the appeal Saturday, the following day, so they packed up for the night.
The next morning, Hurwitz checked in on the appeal.
“What I was told was that due to the fact that the call on the field was a judgment call, meaning that an official had to decide because the photo was inconclusive, that a judgment call was made, which honestly I believe should never happen in track. It’s not a subjective sport,” Hurwitz said.
Since the call was a judgment call, it could not be appealed. For an appeal there must be a rule violation or an interference-based objection, Hurwitz said officials told him.
“Meaning we did you the favor of looking at it, but we won’t change the judgment call,” Hurwtiz said.
The results are final, NIAA assistant director Donnie Nelson said.
“The photo was determined by the three most trained people in our state — John Dixon, our Southern large-school track and field meet director; Lynn Mentzer, our Northern large-school meet director; and Betsy Reed, our meet referee — all three are highly trained and experienced in interpreting photo finishes on the Lynx system,” Nelson said in an email.
Hurwitz is still not convinced.
“There was only one camera, and without a second camera there was no way to fact check, but from my point of view it was clear this call was incorrect,” Hurwitz said. “No discredit to the other runner. It was a great race and a phenomenal thing to watch.”
The next day, Henderson also obliterated his one-mile time by 4 seconds. He turned in a 4:34 personal record for second place.
Again Henderson held the lead entering the final lap, and Mohamad charged through the last 100 meters to overtake Henderson.
“(Mohamad) ran a 100-meter backstretch to finish the race that looked like a full on 100-meter sprinter. He just had a kick that I’ve honestly never seen, especially in distance. It was just incredible to watch,” Hurwitz said.
The Saturday race belonged to Mohamad, but Henderson’s personal bests are what meant most to Hurwtiz.
“To do what Connor did, and push as hard as he did, was just, I wouldn’t even say it was disheartening to lose. He seemed in good spirits,” Hurwitz said. “Honestly, I would take 100 of any of those athletes, all 11 who went to state, no matter what place they finished.”