Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
Steamboat Springs Chris Zirkle won his first state championship Friday in the 3,200-meter run with one of the best races I’ve seen. With a mind-boggling pace and a thrilling finish, it was one of the most exciting events of the three-day season ending meet, but far more went into Zirkle’s grand championship than was evident from the stands.
As great as the race appeared, a little bit of background made it even better.
Zirkle finished third in the same event as a junior. After that race, he wasn’t just disappointed, he was furious.
His emotions that day seemed to go beyond competitive and bordered on out of touch. He hadn’t really even been close to winning. When it was over, he was nearly 30 meters back of the winner and 10 behind Telluride’s Ty Williams, who became Zirkle’s great rival at this year’s meet.
Consider that Zirkle hadn’t even made state as a sophomore and placing third in the 3,200 as a junior didn’t seem just OK, it seemed fantastic.
The disappointment came into focus a little better Saturday as he explained he was disappointed not as much in his performance that day as in his training leading up to it.
That’s a complaint that’s easy to make in May, but who follows up on it in December?
Zirkle did, and that’s one reason Friday’s event was an instant classic. It’s why Zirkle was able to break a 24-year-old Class 2A state meet record and clip 15 seconds off his personal best
Williams ran a great race. He didn’t coast, hoping to beat Zirkle at the end. He pushed the pace and tried again to make a move that would crack Zirkle’s resolve. It never worked, and that echoed back to Zirkle’s disappointment from the year before.
It’s hard to put in the miles during winter, which Zirkle did. But to answer the bell again and again when it rings during such an exhausting race? That’s even more difficult.
Instead, after a grueling race in which he and Williams seem to grow stronger with every lap, Zirkle managed to run even faster when it mattered the most, during a 200-meter sprint to the finish line.
Plenty of us face similar challenges every day. How often do we answer the bell in the long term, as Zirkle did with his training, and in the short term, as he did with his race?
I’d guess most of us rarely answer it. That’s why Zirkle’s accomplishments were so profound, his performance so stunning.
His never broke, and that commitment led him to a truly epic level.