Charging up the final hill, Taylor Clayton saw the finish line and the realization of a dream in front of him. On his heels, the Decatur senior could feel Burkburnett’s Kody Anderson closing fast.
Clayton held Anderson off, winning the footrace in the closing meters to tear through the tape and capture the Class 3A individual gold medal Saturday. Clayton finished the 5K course at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock in 16 minutes and 0.08 seconds.
He finished less than a half-second ahead of Anderson.
“I knew I could out-sprint him,” Clayton said.
Clayton and Anderson raced against each other last year. This was their first head-to-head battle this year.
It was the second straight year for Clayton to medal at the meet. He took bronze in 2012. But it was this gold medal he’s long craved.
“This is what you work for,” Clayton said after holding his baby cousin and congratulating fellow finishers near the finish line. “Every runner comes into this sport wanting to win the individual title.”
Clayton is Decatur’s first individual champion since 1999 when Savannah Matzinger won the 3A girls title.
“I told him I saw this coming four years ago, but you’re the one that put in the work to do it,” said Decatur coach David Park. “He worked and never wavered. He imagined this day and I’m so glad he got it.”
From the starting gun, Clayton showed he was the class of the field. He jumped out to an early lead pushing the pace. By the 700-meter mark, he owned a full second lead on rival Jacob Perry of Sanger. Perry fell back, unable to stay with Clayton, and finished 10th.
“I had to take out fast. I wanted to break them early,” Clayton said. “I wanted to go out at 4:35 for the first mile and run 5-flat the final two. I did exactly what I wanted except for cruising at the end. I didn’t get to cruise.”
Anderson didn’t give Clayton that luxury. While Clayton dropped early challengers, Anderson moved through the pack to get himself in position to make a late charge.
“I was staying back a bit [early] and then started to move up after the second mile,” Anderson said.
Clayton said he saw Anderson on one of the turns and knew he had to keep pushing. Clayton found just enough to hold him off and record the biggest win of his career.
With Clayton leading the way, Decatur finished eighth as a team with 188 points. Lytle and Alvarado finished tied with 105 points. Lytle took the crown with its sixth-place runner finishing before Alvarado’s.
Decatur’s Brandon Rivera finished 48th in 17:45.29. He finished a step ahead and spot ahead of Tyler Wilson. Austin Poole took 78th in 18:22.14. Parker Cullop crossed the finish line as Decatur’s fifth runner in 18:22.88 for 80th.
Joaquin Aldape finished 84th in 18:31.94, and Riley Keller 88th in 18:40.55.