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Puumala picks up first medal

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON - East Marshall senior Melinda Puumala, left, clears the final hurdle alongside Unity Christian’s Mikayla Turek during the Class 2A 400-meter hurdle race on day two of the Iowa Co-Ed State Track and Field Championships at Drake Stadium on Friday. Puumala finished second for her first state medal.

DES MOINES — It was a dreary, rainy and chilly early afternoon when the Class 2A girls took the track for the 400-meter hurdle finals on Friday at the Iowa Co-Ed State Track and Field meet, just how East Marshall senior Melinda Puumala likes it.

Puumala didn’t just succeed in conditions that other runner, particularly hurdlers, would dread, she absolutely crushed her race by running a time of 1 minute, 4.06 seconds, to finish second and earn her first state medal of her Mustang career.

At the start of day two of the state meet it was raining hard, causing the start of the day to be delayed by an hour, but half an hour before Puumala’s race the rain slowed to a steady shower, and she said she took that as a sign that this was her race.

“I wasn’t excited initially because I like it a little rainy, a little bit on the chilly side, and then this morning I had to wait an hour and last night it was downpouring and hailing, so it was just like a flood,” she said. “We came to run and it started to ease up a little bit and I thought, ‘well this is nice weather.'”

Puumala’s time was over a second faster than her previous best of 1:05.17, which was also an East Marshall school record, but that doesn’t quite explain how good of a time it was. The only girl in 2A to beat that time was Mikayla Turek from Unity Christian, who ran right beside Puumala in the final heat for a 1:03.89. The third-place finisher in 2A was Ellie Rickertsen from Northeast, who ran a 1:06.54, nearly 2.5 seconds behind the lead group.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

That was the biggest spread between second place and third in all four classes, and only two other girls ran a faster time than either Puumala or Turek among the 96 total 400 hurdle qualifiers in the state.

“It was mind boggling. I’m flabbergasted,” Puumala said. “I didn’t realize it was going to be that kind of a time until I finished, and I didn’t look up initially because I fell down because of my asthma. Then afterwards I looked it and it was just, I don’t have any words really.”

It was a foregone conclusion that the race would come down to Puumala and Turek, as they entered as the top two qualifiers from the state-qualifying meets.

Still, Puumala said running with a girl the quality of Turek definitely brought the best out of her.

“I knew it was going to have to be Mikayla Turek that I was going to have to beat, I knew that from the get-go,” she said. “Coach Taylor was telling me, ‘if she passes you it’s going to be really hard to make up that time,’ which it was. I heard her hitting a hurdle and it sparked in my head, ‘oh crap, I really have to go.’ Normally if I’m a weird distance away I will stutter a little bit before going over, but I strode to it and I think that helped my time a lot.”

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

Just like her qualification for the 100 finals on Thursday, before her run in the 400 hurdles Puumala had to compartmentalize some disappointment. Earlier in the day, when the rain was really coming down, Puumala just missed out on qualifying for the 100 hurdle finals by finishing one spot out in ninth place with an 11.74, just seven thousandths of a second away from a guaranteed third medal.

“My coaches and my uncle told me I just missed it and I just said, ‘you’re kidding, right?'” Puumala said of finding out she didn’t make the 100 hurdle final. “Once again my heart was down in my stomach, but luckily I had a little more time to get over it and once I got over it I ran pretty well.”

Before this weekend Puumala’s highest placing had been 14th in the high jump as a junior, now she is officially a state silver medalist and she has cut more than four seconds off the previous Mustang school record in the 400 hurdles, putting up a number that will be tough to beat in the near or distant future.

“I am very proud of myself,” she said. “I am really happy that my teammates have also come to support me, I saw on Snapchat that they were posting all over when I made the finals, and then today I’ve been getting a bunch of, ‘good luck, good job’ wishes. I am really happy I get to represent my school at the state meet.”

Puumala’s not done wearing the Mustang colors at the state meet either, as she will go for her second medal of her career in the 100, a race she has yet to lose.

“I’m going all out, the only thing to go for now is a state title,” she said. “I already have a runner-up underneath my belt, I’m exactly one tenth of a second behind first and I’m seeded fourth right now, so I think I have a really strong finish in the 100-meter dash. If I can keep with that I think I have a really good shot.”