By KEVIN THOMPSON
One of the most indelible images from last spring's state track meet occurred just seconds after the finish of the boys 2A 1600-meter race.
There was Stanton County's Eric Ruth, clearly the race winner, 10 meters beyond the finish line, hands on knees, bent at the waist, head cocked to look at the giant stadium scoreboard.
The times are posted.
Ruth pumps his right fist into the sky, and a smile defining exuberance to the 10th power radiates across his face.
The 4:24.60 atop the screen didn't just represent his second gold medal of the meet; it meant that he had just broken the 28-year old school record by 1.1 seconds and beat his personal best by nearly eight seconds.
His double-gold performance — he defended his title in the 3200-meter run the day before — and his silver-medal finish in the 800 meters later that Saturday was an individual performance worthy of the Garden City Telegram's 10th best area sports story of 2010.
It was the senior's comments following the win that summarized his attitude toward winning an individual gold.
Right after the 1600-meter race, Ruth told the Telegram, "It just goes to show you that a lot of hard work, dedication, great coaches and teammates can pay off. I've made so many friends, lasting ones, that have been a big part of this for me."
It's that unselfish praise for his supporters that epitomized Ruth's approach to his success. It was their help in both of his wins that was all part of the great plan to propel him to the top of the medal stand.
"We had everything planned for the splits that I needed to run (to get the school record)," he said a couple of weeks later, after it all soaked in. "I knew if we ran the race according to play, I had a chance to get my goal."
The "we" to whom he was referring were his coaches. Those coaches had also been his supporters since his freshman year when he failed to break even the 6:00 mark.
Ruth trailed early in that race, took the lead midway into the second lap, then broke away at the start of the third lap.
"I was at the 600-meter mark and kept thinking somebody has to be right behind me, but nobody was there," he summarized. From there it was him, his coaches and his split times that kept him on pace to set the school record.
"It was the most exciting thing," he said of realizing his goals. "It was everything I hoped it would be. A great feeling; a satisfying feeling."
It was also a school record, something Ruth had set as one of his main goals. And he cut it close.
"I was running out of races," he joked.
It had to be quite the positive feeling, especially in the heat and humidity of the state track meet. Ruth, as most distance runners, prefers cool and dry conditions.
"The biggest worry I had was the weather. It was totally different from what we had run in all spring. It was just really, really hot," he said.
Ruth also repeated as champion of the 3200 meters by clocking in with a personal best 9:50.85.
That was nearly six seconds better than the runner-up and a far cry different from the photo-finish that won it for him the year before.
The heat and humidity affected every runner in that race.
"Halfway through the race I slowed down, but I slowed down less than the other guys. I could feel my form going at the end," he said.
Regardless of how he finished this time, it was more relieving than a photo-finish, he added.
The silver in the 800 meters, though a runner-up by 1.01 seconds, was his personal best.
For his stellar season and state meet, Ruth was named the area's track and field athlete of the year.
And now, with the state track meet behind him, as well as winning the state cross country title last fall, the Stanton County standout has his sights set on completing another goal, graduating from the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where he just completed his first semester.
For the goal-oriented Ruth, it's just the next phase of his life.
After running like the wind, he is now soaring with the Falcons.
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