By Christopher Hunt
NEW YORK – Cardozo’s Ahtyana Johnson laid sprawled long the floor in a corridor behind the track. She had nothing left.
Johnson was a hero for even getting on the track at all. She spent Thursday night and most of Friday morning tired and sick with a stomach virus. She looked drained even in the stands at Madison Square Garden before the race.
But with Medgar Evers leading in the PSAL girls 4x400 and Cardozo running out of real estate as Shakele Seaton rounded the final curve, adrenaline took over for Johnson. In desperation, Johnson made a dramatic last push that seemed to teleport her to Seaton's shoulder and her last lean gave the Judges an emotional win.
“We had a goal,” Johnson said. “When you have a refuse to lose mentality, nothing else really matters.”
Lateisha Philson, Chamique Francis, Alexis Mapson and Johnson finished in 3:53.19. Medgar Evers finished in 3:53.21 and led for every step before the one that Johnson took to win it.
Johnson never doubted that she would run, even after she was throwing up all night and even the morning of the race. Her father, Gus Johnson, didn’t only know that Johnson would run but he knew that Cardozo would win. He had t-shirts printed with a picture of the relay on the front with the words “4x400 Champs” and their names on the sleeve.
“I know Ahty, that’s my best friend and my sister,” Francis said. “I knew she would do it for us. “
Medgars Evers gained the advantage mostly with strategy. It started the relay with Nyanka Moise-Joseph, one of the strongest legs and then used Kadecia Baird on the second leg to hold off Francis. Her job was to put Cardozo in front for Mapson but Francis couldn’t get around Baird. But then Mapson kept just close enough to Rachel Leeke on the third leg to give Johnson a chance.
“I have to give credit to Medgar Evers,” Cardozo coach Gail Emmanuel said. “They ran the perfect order today. No matter who we put out there they matched us leg for leg. But Ahtyana, she’s just really tough. She didn’t’ panic. I was surprised. Anty was really in bad shape earlier.”
Of any New York City athlete at the Millrose Games, it was hard to steal the spotlight from Phyllis Francis. The Catherine McAuley is an 800-meter runner. She has never been known for her races at 400 meters. That was until now.
Francis took the track with three professional quarter-miler -- two of which have run in Olympics -- and did more than held her own. She finished third in 55.82 seconds, the fifth-fastest scholastic time in the country this season on a track that is typically impossible to run fast on. But Francis didn’t fold when the field pushed her to the back. She slipped by Mary Wineberg with two laps left and even pressed three-time Olympian Aliann Pompey of Guyana before the bell lap.
“I was really nervous but I was excited at the same time,” she said. “It was fast.”
Francis, the NSIC national 800 champ, had only been invited a week ago. She said she was both estatic and nervous but only her usual poise showed.
“The 400 is not really my race so I was nervous about that,” she said. “But I just wanted to try it and see how I did.”
Reach Christopher Hunt at email@example.com.