NEW MADISON – Austin Bruner posted a simple message on his Twitter account Friday night: a broken heart.
The Tri-Village junior had just seen his dreams slip away as he finished sixth in the 100 meter dash and then false started in the 200 meter dash at the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III regional track and field meet in Troy. His season-long goal of making the state meet had vanished.
“It was just literally broken hearted,” Bruner said. “Like I didn’t know what to think or feel. I just went and hung out under the tent for a little bit, got my feelings together.”
But less than 24 hours later, Bruner posted a new message on Twitter. It was another heart, but this time it was complete along with a running man and a dash symbol. Bruner’s dreams had been resurrected.
The OHSAA instituted a new rule for the 2018 track and field season that allows 18 runners to qualify for the state meet in each running event, up from the previous standard of 16. Because he had one of the fastest times in the state outside of the top four finishers in each region, Bruner earned the right to compete in Columbus.
However, neither Bruner or his coach, Scott Warren, were aware of the new rule. A congratulatory text from Ansonia track and field coach Craig Riethman Saturday evening provoked a string of frantic calls and text messages between Bruner, his dad and his coaches as they tried to confirm the news.
“I had no clue what it was so I was calling my dad, (Scott Warren) and Christy (Sarver) and trying to figure out what it was,” the Tri-Village junior said. “It probably took about 30 minutes to find everything and just confirm what it actually was. Everybody was calling each other. It was pretty crazy.”
They discovered Bruner’s season wasn’t finished as they had thought, and that he would run in the Division III boys 100 meter dash state semifinals at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Bruner said.
Though he was the last 100 meter runner to earn a spot in the state competition, Bruner is entering this weekend’s competition expecting to show he belongs among the fastest runners in Ohio.
“First. All time. Every time,” he said of his goals. “I still feel like I can go out there and impress people, do my best like I’ve been doing all season.”
Throughout the season Bruner has shown he’s among the fastest in the state and being in the race gives him a chance to prove that, Warren said.
“I felt all along that he should be there,” the Tri-Village coach said. “Didn’t matter which event. But he is one of the fastest in the state. On any given day the outcome can be different in that race.”
All of the competitors in the 100 meters enter the state meet with a qualifying time of 10.74 seconds to 11.15 seconds. Bruner’s mark of 11.15 is tied with two other runners for 16th fastest in the 18-runner field, but he’s less than half a second behind the pace setter.
“If you look at the spread between the fastest mark and then I guess you’d have to call it the slowest mark, that’s a blink. You can’t blink in the 100 meters,” Warren said. “His key is to get out of the blocks with the rest of them because the first 50 meters they will be even, but the last 50 meters is where I think he will have an advantage. But he has to be with them the first 50 meters.”
Bruner said his starts out of the blocks aren’t the best. He’s worked with Riethman, the person who initially informed him of his state qualification, to improve that aspect of his runs.
“I just know that I’m not going to be the fastest guy coming out of the blocks, but as long as I’m right there, just right there, as strong as I can be, I know that I’ll be pretty well off for the rest of it,” the Tri-Village junior said.
Bruner, the first Tri-Village track and field athlete to qualify for state since 2013 – the year Clayton Murphy won the 1,600 meter state championship – thinks the atmosphere of Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium will bring out the best in him and help push him toward his best possible performance.
“I’m pumped for it. I’m pumped,” he said. “I only know it will make me better. I just get goosebumps thinking about it.”
Whether Bruner leaves Columbus with a full heart or another broken heart is to be determined, but his coach is confident that he’ll have a strong showing.
“I always bet on Austin because I just know how strong he is in whichever race he’s running,” Warren said.