Taylor Clayton and Brandon Rivera both left Austin in 2013 disappointed after missing out on medals in their state debuts.
Rivera finished fourth in the 800. Clayton brought home fifth in the 3200 and sixth in the 1600.
But instead of sulking over the missed opportunity, the Decatur duo used it as fuel for the 365 days of workouts and training. Saturday the two unleashed that pent-up frustration and motivation to capture gold medals.
Both let out similar expressions of joy and satisfaction upon crossing the finish line with titles.
“I was pretty emotional,” Rivera said. “I was so pumped. Happiness overfilled me. I was ecstatic.”
For much of Rivera’s race Saturday, it looked like the brutal training he put his body through over the past year would not be enough. Taylor’s Mylik Kerley built a several-second lead on Rivera and the rest of the field.
But the veteran Rivera waited him out – and in the final 300 meters walked Kerley down. He made the pass with 100 meters to go, and with a clear track ahead of him, Rivera took a look behind him as he cruised to the finish.
Clayton’s title also came with some drama – and after more disappointment. On Friday, he led the 3200 for the first seven laps, only to watch his chief rival, Sanger’s Jacob Perry, run away from him with 300 meters to go.
As Clayton put it, he settled for second but found a little extra fire for Saturday.
“I had a bad taste in my mouth coming out of the two-mile,” he said. “I got embarrassed in front of everybody, and I didn’t want to go out like that. I’ve worked too hard for it. I didn’t want a bad taste in my mouth. I wanted nothing less than a gold medal around my neck.”
Clayton again jumped out to the lead in the 1600 and led entering the final 200. When Perry tried to make a move, Clayton refused to let him get by, staying to the inside and drawing on every ounce of energy he had to stay in front of him.
The Decatur Eagle even began to move toward the outside lanes to keep Perry’s purple singlet behind him.
“I could see his shadow, and I knew if I could keep going out a little bit that he couldn’t get around me,” Clayton said. “They can’t disqualify you for that. I just used strategy and speed.”
Both Rivera and Clayton needed strategy and speed to make it to the front. But their refusal to give up is what made them champions.