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Bates races to 5A title by 43 seconds after top competitor collapses
At the one-mile mark of the Colorado 5A girls’ cross country championships, two things were apparent that Heather Bates hadn’t expected.
Her balky knee was feeling fine and Cherry Creek’s Jordyn Colter, the defending state champion, was still in sight.
“Going into this race, I kind of thought that I couldn’t even think about running with (Colter) because she is so fast,” Bates said.
At the two-mile mark — at the top of Norris-Penrose Event Center’s course’s most prominent feature, Hodgson Hill — Bates finally passed Colter and moved into first place. Bates had no way of knowing that Colter would drop out of the race shortly afterward and be taken to the hospital for observation (a representative from Memorial said Colter was no longer listed as a patient as of 8:45 p.m. Saturday).
What Bates did know was that there were a lot of other runners who wanted to switch places with her.
“I looked over my shoulder once and I saw a big pack of girls and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’d better not die. There’s a bunch of girls waiting to pass me,’” Bates said. “I tried to stay calm and finish strong.”
As she has done all season, Bates found another gear and easily outdistanced a talented 5A field. Her time of 18:16.5 was 43.4 seconds better than the second-place mark of Legacy’s Emma Gee. Fairview’s Isabelle Kennedy was third at 19:04.3.
With a half mile remaining, the crowds on both sides of the course grew. Few were expecting to see Bates running alone and in the lead.
“I heard people saying, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s in the lead,’ and I was like, ‘I can’t believe it either,’ Bates laughed. “I got into the stadium and I was like, ‘Is this really happening?’”
It did really happen. Bates won the 5A championship.
Her effort helped Pine Creek to third place in the team standings, just nine points behind first-place Monarch and two behind second-place Fort Collins.
“When there’s only nine points separating the top three teams, we ran well,” Pine Creek coach Max Oliver said.
Katherine Sered, Gabrielle Sered and Kaleigh Kroeker ran as a pack, taking 27th, 28th and 29th respectively.
“When you have a runner like Heather, coaching is pretty easy. You just point her in the right direction and say ‘go,’” Oliver said.
Making that all the more remarkable is that, after finishing 10th at state as a freshman, she hadn’t competed at state the past two years as injuries and illnesses sidelined her. After winning the 3,200-meter run at the state track championships, however, it was clear that she was ready to take her place among the state’s elite distance runners.
Saturday, she did just that.