Garcia one of USA’s best at Down Under Games

Photo Credit: Down Under Games

IHS senior harrier scores two top-four finishes

Not overly eager to face a 12-hour flight back to the States, Elco Garcia, Jr., concluded an extended Fourth of July weekend he’ll never forget with an outstanding performance in the Gold Coast Airport 5.7K Fun Run – one of the ‘undercard’ events prior to the 41st Gold Coast Marathon which attracted over 5,500 entrants – Saturday, July 6, in Queensland, Australia.

Running in the Men’s 15-17 age division after competing successfully in the 2019 Down Under Games’ Gold Coast Cross-Country Classic three days before, Garcia clocked 19 minutes even to place third out of 124 in his class and first amongst DUG-entered Team USA harriers.  More impressively, the Ignacio High senior ranked third out of all male entrants (numbering a reported 1,038) and fourth overall (out of 2,753).

“That race, I just felt really good,” Garcia recalled.  “I could feel the elevation change, like, really; my breathing was so good in that one.”

Queensland Athletics ‘Q-Squad’ member Lachlan Cornelius, part of the 15-17s, was the overall winner in 18:38, followed by Australian Jennifer Blundell (18:55), entered in the Women’s 25-29 class.  Oscar Cornelius, also a ‘Q-Squad’ selection and another Men’s 15-17 runner, placed third in 18:58 while countryman Will Morris, a Men’s 18-20 inclusion, crossed the finish line almost in stride with Garcia but was just a fraction slower and settled for fifth.

“It was really fun, getting to compete against kids from around that area.  They had a small team there, but they were really good,” said Garcia.  “I was pretty sure most of them placed top-ten … and I kind of used them as my target to follow and pace myself, which I think helped me a lot.”

Photographed later alongside Garcia, Coloradan Baylie Koonce, now a senior at Parker-based 4A Ponderosa, was the leading Games-entered U.S. female, as she clocked 22:34 and placed fourth in the Women’s 15-17 division, 12th out of a reported 1,715 ladies and 81st overall.

In the Classic’s All-American 5K feature Garcia had blazed to the front and remained there en route to earning second in the Men’s U-16 class – and second overall – by clocking 17:33 flat and closing to within two ticks of champion Colby Sandoval (17:31.60), from Lubbock, Texas’ Christ the King Cathedral School.

The third-place hopeful was nowhere close, trailing Garcia by nearly 39 seconds.

“There wasn’t too much competition, if I’m being honest,” said Garcia, asked how the field compared to a CHSAA cross-country race.  “There was the one other boy right around my pace … it was mostly me and him leading the pack the first mile, then afterwards taking off.  And that was it, you know?  It just came down to who had the stronger kick and I feel like he kicked much faster than I did.”

“The second race was much different,” he added.  “I beat him by, like, 52 seconds.”

Sandoval’s and Garcia’s times in the All-American 5K at Pizzey Park, located in the Gold Coast suburb of Miami, would have been plenty to rank 1-2 in the Men’s 17+ class as well; that winner clocked 18:21.90.  (For the record, Koonce’s 21:04.30 landed her second in both the Women’s 17+ section and the overall women’s standings.)

“Honestly it was such a good experience, besides the plane rides,” joked Garcia.  “I had lots of fun.  Right after track season I took a week off, but I got right into training so I was prepared for this – and it just made me more excited for cross-country season!”

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