Less than 200m away from the finish line in his last race of his high school career, Keffri Neal surprised himself on his way to a second gold medal at the B.C. High School Track and Field Championships Saturday in Burnaby.
On the back stretch of the men’s 800m final, the Fleetwood Park runner wasn’t able to overtake front runners Matthew Swanson of North Vancouver’s Sutherland Secondary, and fellow Surrey athlete Sean Keane of White Rock Christian Academy.
But heading into the final turn, the Grade 12 student overtook his two rivals, and hung on for the win in the men’s 800m event.
“Coming down the straight, I found something,” said Neal. “It was enough to win the race. It definitely felt good to beat those guys. They’re really good runners, so it’s always nice to win the race.”
Neal earlier won the 1,500m race, his time of 3:50.16 tying the provincial record set by Ryan Hayden of Vancouver College in 2000. Neal ran that race less than two hours before competing in the 800m, making the double-gold performance that much sweeter. It also earned him the Most Inspirational Athlete award.
“It feels great. In Grade 8 and 9, I didn’t even make provincials,” he said. “I didn’t make the 800 final in Grade 10, then won a silver medal last year. So a double-gold this year feels awesome.”
Neal won the race in 1:52.28, less than a second better than the runner-up Keane and Swanson.
After taking an early lead in the 800m final, Neal was passed on the outside by Swanson, who picked up the pace and held the lead for the next 200m. Keane also overtook Neal, who was suddenly playing catch-up.
“I was going to try to go sub-55 in the first lap, and with 300 (metres) to go try to kick in front of them. But Matthew came out of nowhere, and I couldn’t find the strength to pass him on the back stretch. I did on the front stretch.”
Over the next few weeks, Neal will concentrate on running 800m races prior to heading south of the border in late August to attend the University of Kentucky on a track scholarship.
He chose the Levington school over several other major U.S. universities.
“Kansas, Arkansas, Penn State,” he said, listing some of the offers he turned down. “And a bunch of other places I eliminated without even looking.
“I went to for a visit to Kentucky, and I enjoyed everything. The facility, the school, the people, the track team. It was a great environment, it helped me pick that school.”