By Christopher Hunt
Marco Bertolotti spread his arms wide when he crossed the finish line. It was a meek celebration for a spectacular victory. The Port Washington junior could have just as easily been spreading his arms to hug the first person that would have him.
Brett Johnson of Ocean City, Doug Smith of Gill-St. Bernards and Shoreham-Wading River’s Bobby Andrews were taking their best shots at each other Saturday at the Hispanic Games with 100 meters left in the boys invitational mile. Before anyone could pick a winner, Bertolotti swooped by on the outside. He didn’t steal the race as much as he snatched it away so that he could earn an automatic bid to the high school mile at the Millrose Games, Jan. 30 at Madison Square Garden.
“I didn’t expect anything until the second half of the last lap,” said Bertolotti, who won the race in 4:15.14. “I told myself with a lap to go that whoever was in front of me, I’d do whatever it takes to pass them.”
It took a breathtaking finishing kick that Bertolotti unleashed in the last 100 meters that took him from fighting in the rear pack for fourth to securing his place on the starting line at MSG.
“It hasn’t even hit me yet,” he said. “It’s like I’m living in a dream.”
Not Bertolotti could believe that he caught the lead pack. Johnson had already earned a spot in the mile at the Millrose Games and was the favorite in the race. Johnson took control early and stubbornly held on to the lead until Smith challenged for the front with three laps remaining. If Johnson would have won the race, the automatic bid would have been wasted since it was decided that the spot wouldn’t be awarded to the second place finisher.
That fact may have fueled a frantic pace at the end but none more dynamic than Bertolotti.
“He’s a kicker. He’s always been a kicker,” Port Washington coach Robin Cooper said. “We knew he had to run 32’s each lap and he was way off. But over the 400 meters he always makes a big move. At the Armory, his last lap is usually a show.”
Speaking of putting on a show, Sheepshead Bay junior John Thomas pulled up the curtain for Act 2 in the 200 meters final. Thomas, running from Lane 6, exploded off the first turn and never put the race in jeopardy afterward. He won in 21.71, which is the second-fastest time in the country this season after Fuqauwn Greene of New Bern (N.C.) ran 21.39 at the Arkansas Invitational Saturday.
“I just went all out,” he said. “Just give it my best and let God do the rest.”
Thomas moved from Jamaica, where he ran for Wolmers Boys, in March of last year, just in time to become of member of Sheepshead Bay’s national championship 4x100 team. Now he holds the country’s fastest times in the 200 and 300 this season.
“He’s a really hard worker,” coach John Padula said. “The one thing he was missing when he came here from Jamaica was strength. He’s worked on that and he’s a lot stronger now.”
Only Clayton Parros of Seton Hall Prep (N.J.) did more to dominate his race than Thomas. Parros stormed through the first lap then cruised through the next 150 meters before showing any signs of fatigue. He won in 47.78, which also turned out to be the second fastest time in the nation. Anthony Hendrix of New Bern (N.C.) won the 400 at the Arkansas Invitational in 47.73 Saturday as well.
“Me and my coaches knew I could run 47 here and I felt great,” he said. “It boosts (my confidence) so much.”
Sheepshead Bay’s Darryl Bradshaw also called his race in the 55 hurdles a confidence boost. He outdueled Trenton Central’s Balston Braithwaite in 7.51. Braithwaite finished second in 7.55. They hugged after the race. The friends have been racing each other since they were both freshman and Braithwaite competed at South Shore in Brooklyn before he moved to New Jersey before the start of last winter season.
“It’s always good to race against someone that you basically grew up with,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw criticized his start . He said he cost himself valuable time by smashing two hurdles with his trail leg. But in the end he still felt encouraged by the race.
“I’m running pretty good right now,” he said. “If I can pull 7.5 out the hat and hit two hurdles like that then I’m doing alright.”
While the building cleared out because of a long day coupled with the threat of a snow storm, the field in the 4x800 didn’t let the competition die. The top eight times in the country this season were set in the race with Morris Hills (N.J.) claiming victory with Vinny Chiusano (1:57.4), Tyler Hendrickson (2:00.4), Lucas Clyne (1:57.9) and Liam Tansey (1:55.4). Morris Hills won in 7:51.07 with Fordham Prep second in 7:52.99. Fordham Prep fielded a squad of Zach Keefer (1:59.1), Harley Griffiths (1:59.1), Carlos Petrovich (1:57.9) and Mike Jennings (1:56.5).
Reach Christopher Hunt at email@example.com.