Aspen senior breaks own state record, three-peats as 400-meter champion
LAKEWOOD — If your lead is only a step on Sunday Abarca midway through a 400-meter race, you’ve already lost. Like any predator, Abarca’s closing speed is what makes him so lethal on the track.
“I knew his plan. I knew how he runs that race and he really turns it on right at that 200 mark,” Aspen High School assistant track coach Kiffor Berg said. “I can see the change in pace for him right there at that point. As soon as he turned it on I knew he had it. The last 100 of the 400 is heart. Your brain is telling you, ‘No, no, shut it down,’ and you have to get past that.”
Berg called the 400 the “most grueling” of the track events due to the intensity required for the entirety of the race, and it takes more than a little foot speed to win. But Abarca, an AHS senior, made it look all too easy for the past three years.
Sunday at Jeffco Stadium, Abarca left everything on the track in his final high school race, blowing by his competition over the final 100 meters to win the Class 3A boys’ 400-meter title for the third consecutive year. His time of 48.12 seconds set a new meet record in the classification, breaking his own record of 48.54 seconds that he set as a junior.
It was his second state title of the weekend after also winning the 200-meter title Saturday.
“There might have been (pressure). I just came out here to run my race. I knew what to do, and I went out and did it,” Abarca said. “I’ve been working hard all year. My coaches have been pushing me. It’s good to see that we came this far.”
Midway through the 400, Abarca trailed a couple of runners and his quest for a three-peat looked in peril. This, however, was far from reality. Neck and neck entering the final straightaway, Abarca took the lead and was oblivious to how big it became by the time he crossed the finish line.
Weld Central’s Jonathan Rodriguez finished second in 48.90 and Manitou Springs’ Jared Keul third in 49.74, neither able to match Abarca’s single-minded mindset to finish.
“It’s all you can ask for is for somebody to go out and try hard,” AHS head track coach James Aldridge said. “I’m happy we were able to complete the task — that’s the icing on the cake. Some people got the gift of turning it on and turning it off. He’s one of them. I think it’s been his style of running.”
Abarca entered the final day of the state track and field meet looking for the rare Triple Crown for sprinters. After winning the 200 on Saturday, he took second in the 100-meter dash Sunday morning despite running a personal best time of 10.80 seconds. Sierra’s Dante Thomas took the win in 10.71 seconds even though he began the race as only the fourth seed.
Instead of wallowing in what could have been, Abarca quickly put the defeat behind him and turned his attention toward the next task at hand. This, apparently, is another one of his trademarks.
“He lifts his head up gracefully and he just takes it and it’s awesome. He teaches me to do that, too, and it’s great,” said Abarca’s girlfriend, Morgan Ash, a Basalt High School junior who also was competing in the state track meet this weekend. “He’s taught me that honestly it’s going to take hard work. He’s put that in my mind and I think he’s put that in a lot of people’s mind in his four years of high school and running. He’s done great things on the track, but also mentally for other people. He has a big heart and that’s going to carry him a long way.”
Ash was the first person to greet Abarca after the 400-meter podium presentation. Soon they were joined by teammates, coaches and parents, a final celebration of one of Aspen’s most decorated athletes. He finishes his high school career with four state titles, two of which came this weekend.
“I don’t have words to describe it,” said Abarca’s mother, Anita. “When Sunday puts his mind into something, he wants to be the best.”
Often quiet and always humble, Abarca wanted to give thanks to his parents and coaches for all their help and support over his high school career.
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International visitors have traditionally accounted for 10 to 20 percent of Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits in recent past seasons. Travel fears and restrictions tied to the coronavirus are expected to wipe out most of that market for 2020-21.