Surrounding Friday on the track at Hayward Field were teammates Laura Roesler and Claudia Francis. They had each converged as the race neared its end, pushing together for a rather unprecedented 800 meter sweep in the Pac-12 Championships: first-, second- and third-place finishes, all represented by the Oregon green and yellow.
That was the goal, anyway, and so it was that Friday found herself counting up and down through those fateful last strides. Off to her right, the Oregon faithful in the crowd began to roar, clearly recognizing what was about to happen. As the finish line approached, Friday continued her torrid push.
“I kind of just kept pushing the whole time,” she said. “And even those last four steps, I felt like I was still pushing to try to get as close as I could to the front.”
In the corner of her eye, Friday could see Francis approaching close behind on the right, which only motivated her even more. She broke her usual habit and glanced up at the video screen on the scoreboard but couldn’t comprehend anything she saw on it. And so she just kept running, pushing and pushing all the way to the finish line.
A total of five runners — Oregon’s three and two more from Arizona State and Stanford — crossed the line at roughly the same time, and at first it was unclear what the final placings were, whether Oregon had, in fact, finished 1-2-3.
Francis was quite sure she’d lost out on third place in the immediate moments after she finished. After starting out slowly — an intentional move on her part — she’d done her best to kick into high gear at the end. “I stayed back and relaxed,” Francis said. “And then I started to stride, pick it up more.”
On the home stretch, the final 100 meters or so, she too could hear the roar of the crowd. That pushed her to “move even harder.” Her goal was the same as Friday’s — to finish somewhere in the top three and “get enough points for my team.” At one point, Francis was in position to perhaps even win the race outright, and she knew it. But she was also exhausted.
“I was trying to push, but I really didn’t have anything left,” Francis said. “So I was just trying to move. I was trying to do my best.”
As the finish line neared, her “best” brought her within inches of Friday. They crossed at roughly the same time, with Friday ahead by literally .08 seconds. But had Francis beaten out Arizona State’s Shelby Houlihan, or Stanford’s Justine Fedronic? It had been the very essence of a photo finish, and Francis couldn’t be sure.
But she feared the worst.
Roesler had little to fear as she crossed the finish line in first place with a time of 2:05.13. But even if she did, the explosion of the crowd told her everything she needed to know.
1-2-3 was a reality.
“I could just hear the roar, the certain roar of the crowd,” Roesler said. “I knew. I looked up, and it was a sweep.”
Indeed, when the final times came in, Friday followed Roesler in second with a 2:05.34, and Francis’ worst assumptions proved false as her 2:05.42 ranked third (.10 seconds ahead of Houlihan’s 2:05.52). The victory lap around the track would create a walking flag of green and yellow.
“It’s the best thing to be a part of,” Roesler said. “We were all number one, basically.”
About a half hour after the medal presentation, victory lap and cooling down period, the trio took their turns with the media. It was 1-2-3 in this fashion, too, only in a shuffled order.
Friday went first, exclaiming that, “It feels amazing, I’m so proud of our girls and it was really fun … I’m still excited. I don’t feel anything now; I’m just excited.”
She tapped Francis affectionately on the shoulder — the right one, naturally — as she left the media circle and Francis entered. The freshman claimed to be “overwhelmed,” and her wide smile said everything about her happiness.
Playing the role of anchor — as she would on the field hours later in the 4×400 relay — Roesler emphasized the team dynamic of what might otherwise be thought of as an individual race.
“Just stayed relaxed and just really tried to throw down on that last 100,” Roesler said. “And I did, and so did Becca and so did Claudia. And without Becca’s move at 250, I don’t know if it would have worked out like that for me.”
Three competitors, simultaneously wrapped up in their own tired heads and telepathically connected with teammates off to the right and left. 1-2-3 was how they started, and though the bond between them stretched like a rubber band throughout the race’s two grueling laps, 1-2-3 was how they finished.