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UPDATED: This article was edited with additional detail and comments. (1/18, 3:15 p.m.)
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The California State Track and Field Championships is more than 100 years old and through all those years, the only relays that were contested at the State Meet were sprint relays like those we're all very familiar with: 4x100 and 4x400.
But this year the distance runners will now have a chance to exchange the baton on the state's biggest stage with the addition of the 4x800-meter relay as an official event for the 2023 CIF-State Meet (May 27-28 at Buchanan High School in Clovis).
The 4x800 relay at State will be held as a final only on Saturday -- Day 2 of the meet -- toward the end of the event schedule between the 200-meter and 3200-meter finals, State Championships meet director Brian Weaver of Buchanan confirmed, noting that the girls race is scheduled for 8:45 p.m., with the boys to follow at 9 p.m.
There will be 19 total entries from across California's 10 sections (breakdown chart below) but getting to those final qualifiers is a question each section has to determine on its own. Some have, while others have meetings on the calendar to figure it out. What is not undecided is the overwhelmingly positive response to the addition by more than a dozen coaches across CA who provided feedback to MileSplit for this article.
"I am a huge proponent of adding the 4x800," said Patrick McCrystle of Bellarmine (CC), whose boys had the fastest 4x8 time of the season last spring. "I also think that along with the DMR, it is the most exciting event in track.
"I also like that in terms of the team championship, it will benefit schools with depth and strong distance programs, unlike the 4x100 and the 4x400, which skew toward sprint-heavy teams. I also think it gives more talented student-athletes a chance to compete at the State Meet."
Another change to the State Meet for 2023 is that nine places, instead of eight, will score toward team totals with the ninth-place finisher getting 1/2 point. Additionally, this year, the State Meet will also award medals to the first nine places in each event as opposed to the top six in recent years.
Athletes are still limited to a total of four events but this provides an opportunity for more distance runners to compete for a State title, coaches said.
"Incorporating the 4x800 relay to highlight mid-distance depth will bring a thrilling new dimension to complement the classic sprint relay events," Westmont (CC) coach Ron Ernst said.
"It is a positive addition in that it allows the middle distance/distance group to figure into the team scoring to a greater degree and build on the 'team' aspect of high school track and field, instead of just chasing a PR," San Luis Obispo coach Adam Basch said. "I personally would have liked to see the DMR added, for this reason, plus the additional reason of bringing the sprint crew and distance crew together in one relay, but we are stoked to run some fast 4x800s this year!"
"I am happy to see the event added to the CIF Championship meet as this is what many other states have been doing for years," Campolindo (NC) coach Chuck Woolridge said. "It is a nice opportunity for schools with robust middle-distance programs and adds another more 'team' oriented event."
For reference, before this season, 42 out of 50 states have the 4x800 as an official event at their state meet. Only three states including California did not contest another relay outside of the 4x100 and 4x400. The NFHS considers the 4x800 as one of its traditional track and field events.
The 4x8 relay is the first addition to the CIF-State Meet event schedule since girls pole vault was added in 1995. It is now an 11th event on the track schedule and 17th event on the meet schedule.
SECTION 4x800m QUALIFIERS INTO THE CIF-STATE MEET
|Section||4x800m Teams Per Gender|
|LOS ANGELES CITY||2|
According to the National High School Track and Field Record Book produced by Jack Shepard, Long Beach Poly (SS) holds the boys national 4x800-meter relay record at 7:28.75 recorded in 2011. That team also went 7:31.69 that year, No. 6 all-time. A boys quartet from Great Oak (SS) ran 7:35.06 in 2016 to rank CA No. 3 and U.S. No. 18 all-time.
JSerra's girls set the CA record last spring with its 8:52.68 at the NSAF Outdoor Nationals in Eugene. The mark set by the team of Anastasia Snodgrass, Georgia Jeanneret, Brooke O'Brien, and Ashlee Gallegos ranks No. 21 all-time. (Greenbelt (MD) Roosevelt holds the national record at 8:43.12 set in 2008.) Of note, only Gallegos, now at USC, is not back for the Lions.
"As you can imagine, the girls and I are very excited about the addition of the 4x800 to the State Meet!" JSerra coach Chase Frazier wrote in an email seeking comment on the topic. "I think this is a great opportunity for the distance boys and girls from around the state to have another opportunity to run at the California state final."
We caught up with the JSerrra quartet following their 9:06.45 winning performance at Arcadia last April, a CA top-13 performance all-time.
JSerra's CA-record run last June at the NSAF Outdoor Nationals in Oregon ranked No. 2 in the U.S. last spring.
62nd Mt. SAC Relays1st F
Arcadia Invitational3rd F
62nd Mt. SAC Relays2nd F
Arcadia Invitational4th F
TVL Relays1st F
Arcadia Invitational6th F
62nd Mt. SAC Relays3rd F
Arcadia Invitational7th F
Arcadia Invitational8th F
Coach McCrystle's boys of Bellarmine ran the fastest 4x8 last spring with their 7:45.79 winning effort at the Arcadia Invitational. That time ranked 20th nationally in 2022.
Arcadia Invitational1st F
Arcadia Invitational2nd F
62nd Mt. SAC Relays1st F
62nd Mt. SAC Relays2nd F
Arcadia Invitational3rd F
Arcadia Invitational5th F
Arcadia Invitational6th F
Corona Relays1st F
Arcadia Invitational1st F
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AT THE SECTION LEVEL
So, how will this work?
Some sections have it figured out and others have meetings on the calendar. Here's a sampling of what we know so far:
* Southern Section - Top 12 verified marks from in-season meets advance to the Masters Meet where the event will slot in the schedule between the 200m and 3200m. The top four per gender will advance to State.
* Central Coast - Eight league winners plus the next 10 fastest times will advance to compete at the section finals with two teams in each lane and a one-turn stagger. The top two advance to State.
* Central - Top 18 verified times per division advance to those meets with each division winner plus the next 14 fastest teams regardless of division will advance to CS Masters with the top two teams advancing to State.
* North Coast - The event will be contested at all levels of the post-season with league winners advancing to area meets and area winners competing at the Meet of Champions with the top two per gender advancing, said Greg Fogg of Maria Carrillo, a member of the NCS track and field advisory board. The NCS has run the 4x8 as an exhibition on the Friday of its two-day MOC slotted between the 200m and 3200m toward the end of the schedule. He said "final confirmation" will come at the next NCS board meeting scheduled for Jan. 26.
That may be the path the San Diego Section takes, said Canyon Crest Academy coach Andrew Corman.
"Currently, per CIFSDS rules, this would have to be contested at League Finals, Section Prelims, and Section Finals," Corman said. "This matter is currently being discussed with the different conferences and our advisory committee will be discussing it on Jan 20."
The Sac-Joaquin Section will address the topic of the 4x800m relay at a meeting later this month, per assistant commissioner Will DeBoard.
The Northern Section will discuss it on Feb. 7, said Scott Fairley, the coach at West Valley (NS), section championships meet director, and Northern Section CIF Track Chairman.
"The Northern Section contested the 4x800 as an exhibition event at our NSCIF Finals for four years back in the early 2000's when the State CIF talked about adding the event to the State Meet schedule," Fairley wrote in an email seeking feedback on the topic. "However, that was ended when the state decided not to add the event to the state schedule. Now, all of a sudden, the event is back.
"When we contested the event as an exhibition race, we added it to the beginning of the meet, before the 4x100. However, when it was an exhibition event, most of the athletes who ran were younger runners or runners who had not qualified for an event at the section finals. That spot in the order may not work now, since the 1600 would occur shortly after the 4x800.
"With schools in the Northern Section generally being smaller than the rest of the state, I don't believe we have enough athletes to add the 4x800 to Wednesday dual or center meets. We may be able to add the event to the league championships, so teams can qualify for our divisional and section meets."
MORE FROM THE COACHES
(Most comments were provided by email and have been edited only for style)
Bob Leetch, Redondo Union (SS) - As a head track and cross country coach it is cool to see a relay that will reflect a team's depth at a mid distance event. This is long overdue.
The California State meet is one of the only true championship events in the nation that is a one division championship in a sport that can bring the top athletes together in a single event. Adding the 4x800 adds balance to an event that is heavily weighted toward sprints and jumps.
Chase Frazier, JSerra (SS) - We have always had the two relays for the sprinters, now to add a distance relay will be a great addition to the meet. This will also be an opportunity for the boys and girls to run faster 4x800 team times. Typically the 4x800 opportunities are limited throughout the season without the chance to run the 4x800 in championship season when everybody is at their best!
From the Southern Section perspective, this is great because it is so competitive to qualify for State out of the SS and I feel like so much talent gets left at home for the State Meet. This addition gives those distance runners a chance to extend their season all the way to the State final.
As a coach I have always put a big emphasis on the relays because I love the team aspect, and sharing in records and wins as a team is always so special.
Paul Farnsworth, Half Moon Bay (CC) - What the 4x800 does for smaller programs is open an event for athletes that may not otherwise qualify for their section meet as an individual. Qualifying out of a strong league to the section meet can be challenging, as we all know. We have all sent athletes to our respective section meets on relays alone. The 4x800 provides us another avenue for a non-individual athlete to advance.
For me, I have a bunch of kids that won't advance in the open 800 or even the 1600. They may get really close. We may get one through. But, with the 4x800, I can possibly advance three others as well. I like that possibility. I am intrigued to see how this unfolds.
Jason Oswalt, Amador Valley (NC) - I wonder how the inclusion of the 4x800m relay will affect the results of the 4x400m relay?
There is a lot of overlap between who might run on each of those relays and due to their close proximity to each other in the schedule that would be hard to do now. Even if teams decide to double athletes in both of those relays, the athlete would have to be really strong to run well in the 4x400m relay. Teams will make choices based on which relay is stronger, so the best teams may be as fast as ever, but the depth of the field will be compromised. It will be interesting to see how coaches choose to allocate their athletes and how it all plays out.
Kevin Selby, Nevada Union (SJ) - The addition of the 4x800 is very exciting! The best slot in the competition schedule is before the 4x400 at the trials. This builds in time for the sprinters to recover from the 200 before running the 4x400. The North Coast Section has run an exhibition 4x800 at the championships for years in this slot. This is a very positive addition to the schedule.
Andrew Corman, Canyon Crest Academy (SD) - I think it is definitely a positive addition to the sport. As many other states across the U.S. already have this relay contested, I am glad we are doing this as well. It allows more opportunities for hard working kids to get into the bigger postseason meets.
I do believe that relays, such as the 4x800, will benefit and give advantages to the larger schools in a section, but overall, I feel that it is definitely a positive addition. I know my athletes are excited about this opportunity and I am excited to see it play out at the state level.
Scott Fairley, West Valley (NS)/Northern Section CIF Track Chairman - As for whether adding the event is good for the sport or not, I guess we will have to wait and see. Relays are always popular for athletes and spectators, so adding a relay should be exciting. Adding the 4x800 seems to be tailor-made for the strong cross country schools. Huge programs will have the depth to add another relay, but schools with lower numbers will struggle to field a distance relay unless athletes drop one of their individual distance races.
Dave Unterholzner, Bella Vista HS (SJ) - I think it would eventually be a positive addition to the sport. High school track in California is sprint dominated (100, 200, 400, both hurdles, both relays, LJ, TJ, HJ, PV) - all speed/power oriented. Adding a 4x800 would showcase more kids beyond the 400 meters. I think it is also a good way to get more kids to the State Meet. In California we don't have our State Meet divided into divisions based on school size, so we need to find ways to get more kids involved. Always better for the sport when more kids are involved at all levels.
Mike Cummings, Valley Center HS (SD)/San Diego Section Meet Director - At a meeting in the fall, it was discussed. Right now the State Meet is skewed in favor of the sprints, so it's not surprising. I've already changed to the 4x8 for the (Valley Center) Jaguar Invitational and I know meets like the (Rancho Bernardo) Bronco, Mt. Carmel (Sundevil) and Torrey Pines Falcon plan to add it.
Chuck Woolridge, Campolindo (NC) - I do have concerns however, about continuing to add events and divisions to California track & field as the burden to provide these opportunities for athletes continues to fall upon the same small group of folks willing to donate their time and expertise. We need our governing bodies to consider how these additions impact the already overworked and under compensated people who actually conduct competition.
Hank Lawson, former Lynbrook (CC) coach, webmaster, and timer - All I can say is, it's about time! Now, what do we have to do to get the DMR added as well?
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Photos by Daniel Hernandez, Jeffrey Parenti, and Raymond Tran
Albert Caruana is a championship coach in the Bay Area and a regular contributor to MileSplit.
California MileSplit State Editor Jeffrey Parenti, and associate editors Steve Brand, Mark Gardner, and Melody Karpinski contributed to this article.