Michael Kelly/Recorder staff Amsterdam's Izaiah Brown competes in the 400-meter dash at state qualifiers last month in Albany.
By MICHAEL KELLY
In coming in third place in the 400-meter dash and anchoring his 4x400-meter relay team to a fifth-place finish Sunday at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor championships, junior Izaiah Brown only brightened his star.
In his second visit to the national stage for a high school track and field event, the Amsterdam High School product won his heat of the 400-meter dash and had an official split of 45.16 seconds in anchoring his relay team's race in Greensboro, N.C.
"That," said AHS boys head coach Kevin Wilary, "was like watching a man running with boys."
Brown had received the baton in eighth place and passed three runners in his loop. Still, when he got to the finish line, he said he had no idea his time was going to be so fast.
"I honestly figured they'd messed up," Brown said was his first reaction to hearing his time.
Then, there was some celebrating.
"I was jumping up and down, hugging everyone," he said.
In a 2014 season in which Brown often struggled to find adequate competition, the junior's splits from 4x400-meter relays -- races in which he occasionally trails a runner or two at his start -- have come to define his improvement.
Brown's latest supercharged split -- the second-fastest split in Sunday's relay was 46.62 seconds -- seemingly upstaged the victory in the race from New Jersey's Union Catholic and stunned at least one of his teammates.
Once the race was complete, the announcer at North Carolina A&T State University told the crowd Brown's split. But AHS junior Andrew Druziak said he thought the announcer had said Brown's split was 45.60 seconds -- which, while impressive, did not surprise Druziak since Brown previously had a hand-recorded time in that neighborhood.
Then, Druziak heard the correct time was actually 45.16 seconds.
"And, I was like: 'Wait, what?'" Druziak said.
When the time was confirmed for Druziak, the junior said his jaw dropped.
"And, then, I was like: 'Wow,'" he said.
Wilary, too, was taken aback with the remarkable time.
"I was shocked to see it," he said. "I wouldn't have been surprised to see it in the high 45s because we knew that's something he could do."
Then, fumbling a bit, Wilary spat out that Brown is only 17 years old and that he could not believe an AHS athlete had just dominated on a national stage.
"It doesn't make sense," said Wilary. "These things just don't happen. ... Almost taking a second off the split of what he did at the state meet the week before -- that's just talent and his pure, God-given gift."
Meanwhile, Brown's time in the open 400-meter dash was good enough that the junior came out of the second heat to finish in third place in the overall event. Josephus Lyles, a sophomore from Virginia's T.C. Williams, won the event with a time of 46.23 seconds.
In his own heat, Brown -- New York's champion in the 400-meter dash in 2013 and 2014 -- produced a personal-record time of 46.61 seconds and easily outpaced Taylor McLaughlin, a junior from Union Catholic, who finished in second place with a time of 46.94 seconds.
While Brown could not directly compete against Lyles or the other runners in the fastest heat, the Amsterdam junior made quick work of the competition in his heat. Brown worked his way out to a slight lead through the first 200 meters, increased his margin during the next 100 and never had a serious challenge in the final 100, as the AHS junior topped McLaughlin with several meters to spare.
Brown said he was not disappointed he was unable to compete in his individual event's fastest heat. While there had been a thought to allow Brown into the championship heat based off his previous splits in relay races, the AHS junior said he had no problem with being left out of the fastest heat in favor of runners that had each posted better qualifying marks during the season in the open event.
Instead, Brown -- who finished in ninth place at the 2013 NBNO championships -- just focused on the positive from his solo race.
"My main goal was to break the curse of the 47s, and I did that," he said.
After posting his old PR of 47.20 at the 2013 state championships, Brown was unable to top that mark in 2014 until Sunday. The junior failed to find the competition necessary to push him to a time better than in the high 47s, as Brown won nearly all of his 400-meter dashes in 2014 with a margin of a few seconds.
With Sunday's time in the 400-meter dash, Brown broke his own all-time, area-best mark in the event, but last year's time of 47.20 seconds will continue to stand -- for now -- as Section II's fastest ever, as the NBNO championships are not an officially sanctioned high school event.
But Brown has one more season to again go after his own records. With the way the junior improved in 2014, his coach said he expects 2015 to be even better for Brown.
"He's gone out all year and shown people that he's continuing to get better," said Wilary. "He's not peaking."
Then, referring to Brown's split of 45.16 seconds, Wilary added: "But how much better can you get than that?"
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