By 1 p.m. Saturday, the sun's rays on the all-weather track at Jeffco Stadium made it almost too hot to touch.
"The track was so hot that when we got down into our starting position, my fingertips started to burn," Steamboat sprinter Jessica Peters said.
But the burning sensation on her fingertips was nothing compared to the heat the freshman would feel a few minutes later as she headed into the final stretch of the 400-meter event holding a slight lead over the state's best runners.
"I had to give it all I had in that last stretch because I knew some people would be coming up behind me -- fast," she said.
But they wouldn't catch Peters; the Steamboat runner cruised to first place with a time of 57.85 and Steamboat's first state title in recent memory.
Peters was just barely off the pace of 57.75 she set in yesterday's preliminaries to take the top qualifying spot.
"I think it was the wind," Sailor coach Andy Reust said. "But she was only a tenth off of her time yesterday."
Peters took the lead early in the race, but in the final stretch it took everything to hold off late bids by Mullen's Jackie Strum, who finished second at 58.58, and Pueblo South runner Jamie Clark, who took third with a time of 58.64.
"I just told myself to move my arms and to breathe," Peters said, "It was the only thing that I could do because at that point I couldn't feel my legs anymore."
Allison Hawes of Woodland Park was fourth, and last year's defending champion, Isabel Mendoza of Ranum, placed fifth.
The state title highlighted a strong season by Peters. Reust said his freshman runner didn't lose in the 400 all season, and may have fared even better at the state meet if not for a sore shin.
"I knew that she had a shot at winning the title about midway through the season," Reust said. "But you don't know what's going to happen down here -- these kids are the best of the best."
Peters also qualified for Saturday's final in the 200. She collected a seventh place finish in that event with a time of 26.10.
Defending state champion Ashley Owens of Liberty blew past the field in that event winning with a time of 24.42.
Niwot's Griffin Mathew was second (24.72), and Andrea Keliiholoka of Hinkley was third (25.22).
Peters said she was excited to win her first 400 title Saturday, but she doesn't want it to stop there.
"I want to hold this race all four years," Peters said. "I want this race to be mine."
Peters was the only Steamboat athlete to compete Saturday. The track season already had ended for her teammates Ryan Proffitt and Tyler Johnson, who failed to make the finals cut. Steamboat's Tyler O'Leary, Jennifer Hooper, Missy Chotvacs, and Hannah Gary all competed in their events Friday.
"Six of the athletes that competed at state this year were underclassmen," Reust said. "We are only going to get stronger."
To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail email@example.com