CLOVIS — Hughson High’s Joseph Lighthall once felt like he didn’t belong at the CIF Track and Field Championships.
“I had imposter syndrome last year,” said the Huskies’ husky 800-meter runner. “Not this year.”
Lighthall did more than just prove he belonged; he proved he was the best in California with a thrilling victory Saturday at the 103rd renewal of the most prestigious state championship meet in the nation.
Lighthall’s plan was to take the lead at the cut-in and then get out and in front and stay there.
He executed it perfectly.
Lighthall was in the lead before the runners got to the backstretch and then he used his powerful frame to pull away from the pack. With 300 meters left in the race, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Lighthall — massive for a middle-distance runner — was ahead by 10 meters. But heading into the homestretch, Lighthall couldn’t help but peek.
“I looked over my shoulder and I thought, ‘Oh, crap,’” said Lighthall.
That’s because Ambodai Ligons of Cathedral High (Los Angeles) was closing the gap — fast.
As the crowd began to roar, anticipating an exciting finish, Lighthall leaned toward the tape — a bit too early, perhaps — and staggered across the finish line, one stride ahead of Ligons, in 1 minute, 52.06 seconds, three-tenths of a second faster than the runner-up.
Unable to regain his balance, Lighthall tumbled to the ground, but it hardly mattered to the BYU-bound senior. He laid there in the fading sunlight, chest heaving, and raised his arms in triumph, the first Sac-Joaquin Section runner to capture state gold in the 800 since Golden Valley’s James Levine in 1997.
“I thought Ligons was going to catch him, but he found one last bit of energy,” said his coach, Joel Bernard. “He is super athletic.”
In addition to being the greatest 800-meter runner in school history, Lighthall also holds the school record in the 200- and 400-meter dashes. In addition, he was captain of the Huskies’ soccer team, and can dunk a basketball with two hands.
That strength and athleticism paid dividends, allowing him to muscle his way to the early lead, chewing up ground with his massive stride.
“Thirty seconds after the race is over, your body just hits a friggin’ brick wall,” Lighthall said after the race, hobbling about the Buchanan High’s Veterans Memorial Stadium in his Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy socks. “So awful.”
And, yet, so good.