Christine London could not believe it. After running out of her lane in the 300-meter hurdles at this spring's Class 3A state championship meet — her final event as a high school runner — she looked up to the scoreboard following the race.
Despite finishing in first place, her name wasn't there. It looked like London's standout career as a hurdler at Howard would end in bitter disappointment.
"The lanes are multicolored, so you have to look at the curves and not the straights because of the way the lanes merge," London said. "It got confusing but at the same time, I've been running the 300 hurdles at states since my freshman year. I thought 'why did I have to pick today to mess up?' I just walked away and thought it was all over."
With a solid lead going into the final turn with three hurdles left, London noticed right away when she veered out of her lane. But she had to finish the race anyway.
"When I ran out of the lane, I ended up having to run farther," London said. "I didn't know why I continued to run and I didn't finish the way I wanted to. But I'm very competitive and I still wanted to finish. Even though I felt down on myself in my mind, my legs still wanted me to win."
From the stands, Lions' coach Tyler Wade was in a perfect spot to watch London's race and teammate Sydney Biniak in the high jump, as both events were going on at the same time. Neither Wade nor his assistant coaches noticed anything out of the ordinary with London's run.
"She had a close finish so we looked at the scoreboard to see what the unofficial results were and Christine's name didn't show up," Wade said. "We figured it was some kind of technical error and we would have to wait for the official results to see what had happened, but we were confident she had won."
Then he saw London walking towards the coaching staff with an unfamiliar look on her normally smiling face.
"Christine came up to us in tears saying she was going to be disqualified because she switched lanes," Wade said. "We were all devastated. Not exactly the way an exceptional athlete like Christine should end her high school career."
After waiting around for an excruciating 45 minutes — and without any notification to report to the official's tent — the announcer began to read the official results over the speaker. In the 300 hurdles, London's name was called as the winner and the entire Howard team erupted in celebration.
"We looked at the rules and running out of the lane is a disqualification," London said. "To this day, when I talk to the coaches, we still don't understand why it happened that way. I talked to my dad and he said, 'maybe there was an official there that really likes you.' "
It was a fitting end to a stellar outdoor season, and overall career, for London who finished with seven state championship gold medals in four years — including a 100-hurdles win earlier in the day at the state meet.
This spring's Columbia Flier/Howard County Times girls outdoor track Athlete of the Year, London dominated the competition. The senior won four gold medals at the county championship (100 and 300 hurdles, 4x100 and 4x200 relays), another four in those same events at the Class 3A East regional meet to go along with a pair of first place finishes at the state meet.
Despite all the individual success, London's main focus this year was team.
She not only wanted to perform well in her final outdoor season, she wanted to have fun with her teammates. London helped Howard pick up county and regional titles, and powered the Lions to within one point of a state crown. The county title was the first for the program since 1992.
Thomas Stone outlasted Howard, 55-54, for the state championship, but London had a blast with the tight-knit group.
"Even though we didn't win, this was the best finish that we've had in a long time," London said. "We had a great year. We only brought seven girls to states, which is the least that we've brought since I've been at Howard. But it was a quality group of girls. Just about everyone scored points for us."
The building of Howard's confident team started this past winter during the indoor season, where the Lions also swept county and regional championships.
"We used to have a lot of arguing and drama, but this year we focused on winning and being the best that we could be," London said. "It all started with indoor counties. We won by a lot there and everybody performed well. In outdoor, we really came together as a group. We wanted to finish it strong because this would be the last time we had this group of girls together."
London has a busy couple of months ahead of her before continuing her career at track and field powerhouse Virginia Tech in the fall. She chose the Hokies over several other Division I programs including Michigan State, Syracuse, Kentucky and South Carolina.