By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
PHILADELPHIA -- Thomas Madden had lofty goals heading into the high school boys 3,000-meter run at the prestigious Penn Relays.
Madden, a Skyline junior, was determined to have a better showing in his second shot at the national showcase meet on Friday. That meant a time in the 8 minute, 20-something second range. That, and a top-five finish.
Done and done.
Madden hit the mark with his time of 8:25.54. As for a top-five finish, Madden did a lot better than that as he won the race with a strong closing kick.
"I didn't expect to win, honestly," Madden said in a phone interview after the race. "With three laps to go, I saw my opening and I took it."
With a 22-runner field entered for the race, Madden was determined not to get boxed in and shut out of a charge at the front. So when he saw the gap with around three laps to go, Madden slipped through to pursue race leader Sam Parsons of Wilmington, Del.
Madden caught Parsons with a little more than two laps to go, but the race wasn't over yet. Parsons stayed close, and passed him right back in the final lap. Madden took the lead again with about 600 meters to go, but again Parsons was there to nudge ahead.
From there, Madden regrouped for a final burst and once more took the lead with about 200 meters to go.
"I knew Parsons was right there and Dustin [Wilson] was closing up, too, so I just kicked as hard as I could," Madden said.
That kick was the difference, as Madden held on for nearly a five-second victory. Philadelphia's Wilson finished second in 8:30.18, while Parsons took third in 8:31.52.
Skyline distance coach Mike Tanner didn't make the trip to Philadelphia, but monitored Madden's race on the Internet. Tanner was confident Madden would have a much better showing than last year, when he ran in the 8:44 range.
"Our goal was 8:20s," Tanner said. "We were hoping for 8:28, 8:29. If he finished in the top five or so, we would have been happy.
"To win like that, wow -- I'm just dumbfounded."
For Madden, who won the Group AA state cross country championship this school year and finished second in the Group AA state 3,200 during last year's outdoor track season, Friday's victory might rank as his best ever.
"This is pretty big," Madden said. "It's up there. If it's not my favorite [win], it's right up there."