Scotts Valley native Conor Gilliam brought home a gold medal after a strong performance at the USA Track & Field National Junior Olympic Championships in Jacksonville.
He won the boys’ 13-14-year-old 800-meter run in 2-minutes, 6.24-seconds and earned All-American status on July 28 at the University of North Florida.
“It was pretty fun and it was really competitive,” he said. “There’s a lot of good people there and they all wanted to be All-American.”
The Monte Vista Christian School eighth-grader competed against a field of 104 entries in the 800 trials in order to make it to the finals. Gilliam, who competes for the Los Gatos Track Club, won his heat and he was the fastest qualifier in 2:06.81.
“For three years, Conor has dreamt of becoming an All-American and wearing the famous All-American hat,” said Gilliam’s dad, Ryan, in an email sent to this publication. “With determination and hard work, he now has two of them.”
Gilliam also earned All-American honors in the 1,500, finishing seventh out of a field of 96 in a personal best of 4:26.89.
“It meant a lot. It took a lot of training and to finally get that, it’s made me really happy,” he said.
Gilliam and his teammates at Los Gatos Track Club, which is the former home to Scotts Valley High senior Jeremy Kain, have been training since December.
Gilliam said he stayed on top of things like running five miles a day, six days a week, and stuck to eating a healthy diet.
In Jacksonville, Gilliam competed not just against some of the best runners in the country but also the hot and humid weather conditions. Temperatures reached as high as 104 degrees on the day of the finals.
But due to an unhealthy heat index, the race was postponed from 2pm to 7pm until it cooled down to 95 degrees. Gilliam said he made sure to stay hydrated throughout the day and brought along a cooling towel that helped him tremendously.
The first half of the race was run at a slow pace as Gilliam stayed in the third and fourth position through the first 600 meters. His coaches told him to stay in the middle of the pack for the first lap before slowly making his way up.
Gilliam moved into second place on the final turn with 200 meters to go. Then he began his sprint with 150 meters to go, catching and passing the leader in the final 40 meters to hold on for gold.
“I had to pray and I asked God to help me,” he said. “I just really wanted to win.”