Four runners finished in front of Garden City Community College’s Denim Rogers in the 1,000-meter run, the final event of the men’s heptathlon at the NJCAA Indoor Championships on Saturday.
But all eyes were glued to Rogers and Paradise Valley’s (Ariz.) Connor Williamson, who battled through the first six events of the heptathlon and were neck-and-neck in the 1,000 in a race for the NJCAA title.
Williamson had passed Rogers in the event's standings in the pole vault, the event just prior to the 1,000, and then passed him heading into the final lap of the 1,000.
Rogers, using his last wind, caught up on the backside, and then pulled away just enough to beat Williamson by more than the needed half-second to win the NJCAA title, 5,465 points to 5,461 — both runners broke the NJCAA pentathlon scoring record in the process.
But Rogers didn’t know his last-lap effort was enough for the title.
“I didn’t know how far behind me he was, but I knew he was right there,” Rogers said.
He had to wait for the final results to appear on the scoreboard at Texas Tech Sports Performance Center in Lubbock, Texas, and as an exhausted Rogers was leaving the track, he found out the good news.
“They were walking me off the track and they put the score up, and you could just hear everybody screaming,” Rogers said. “That’s when I knew I had won it. I just wanted to cry. It was so awesome.”
Rogers had led the multis for much of the heptathlon, before the penultimate event, the pole vault, during which Rogers had to also compete in the open 60-meter hurdles. He took sixth in the hurdles, and then came back in the pole vault and broke his personal record twice, clearing 14 feet, 5-0.25 inches. But Williamson was far and away the best in the event, clearing 16-0.75, and took over the points lead in the overall points, setting up the showdown in the 1,000.
“We knew we had a faster 1,000 time than he did,” Rogers said. “At the same time, we knew he was going to come after me.”
And Williamson did, pushing Rogers the entire way. But Rogers had just enough to win it.
“It was probably the best performance I’ve ever seen in my life,” GCCC head coach Doug Marshall said. “Guts. A lot of heart. Determination. I’d say it was a really gutsy performance putting it together like that, especially at the end.”
It’s the type of close race Rogers could not have imagined.
“It was the best multi I have ever competed in or even seen,” Rogers said.
The stadium seemed to recognize the gravity of the race, as well.
“You could just feel how intense the entire stadium was. It was unimaginable. People don’t get into the multi like that, and I think I just fed off that,” Rogers said.