Note: This recap appears in the Tuesday, June 4 newspaper on Page A6.
COLUMBUS — After countless miles put in on the track, Athens senior Tony Tonkovich was down to his final lap in a Bulldog uniform.
Tonkovich was running in the Division I 1600 meter run on Saturday in the 2019 OHSAA State Track and Field Championships inside Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. He was 15th out of 18 runners, and had some work to do.
No worries though, as Tonkovich had plenty of kick left.
Tonkovich made a final push to the finish line, capping his Athens career with all-Ohio honors.
Tonkovich moved all the way up to seventh place, posting a time of 4:17.87.
The top eight earn a spot on the podium, and that’s exactly where Tonkovich ended his high school career.
“Seventh place, I’m happy with it, getting on the podium,” Tonkovich said.
Tonkovich had a time of 3:18.44 after three laps, better than only three other runners. He said he was in a similar situation a week ago in the regional meet before rebounding to finish second.
Tonkovich cited his background as an 800-meter runner that allowed him to finish so fast.
“I knew I had speed compared to these other runners,” he said. “I really trusted my kick for those last laps. I knew I had something left to be able to pass a few people.”
The final hundred yards was a blur of runners sprinting and lunging toward the finish line.
Tonkovich had done enough. He said he had a feeling he passed enough runners on his way to the finish line.
“I was kind of counting and I knew that I wasn’t for sure what place I was at but I knew I was around 11th, that area,” Tonkovich said. “I knew I was passing a few people. I thought I was eighth place when I finished, but I looked over and saw the scoreboard over there and I was seventh.”
Tonkovich ran the final 400 meters in 59.43 seconds. That was better than 10 other runners in the field, and it made all the difference.
Beavercreek senior Riley Buchholz won the state title with a time of 4:14.11. Olentangy Orange senior Andrew Schroff was second at 4:15.71.
The result gave Tonkovich his first all-Ohio medal in track and field. He previously ran in the Division II 800 meter run as a sophomore.
Being able to accomplish the feat competing against the best in the state in Division I meant even more for Tonkovich, who gave Athens an all-Ohio track and field athlete for the seventh season in a row.
“Two years ago when I was here in the 800, we were D-II back then,” he said. “It was nice being a state qualifier, but D-I, you’re at the top of the stage. Just makes it a whole lot better feeling I think.”
Tonkovich has etched his name in the Athens track and field record book, setting standards future Bulldog runners can chase.
Tonkovich holds the school record in the 800 (1:55.61), the 1600 (4:17.39) and the 3200 (9:32.53). He also holds the cross country 5K mark at 16:07.
Tonkovich admitted that he wasn’t enjoying the 800-meter competition as much as his senior season began, so he focused on the mile and two-mile runs.
After qualifying for both events after the district tournament, Tonkovich made the decision to solely focus on the 1600 the rest of the way. It was a decision that ultimately paid off.
“I was seeded higher in the 16 going into the postseason, but I still thought I could drop a lot of time in the two-mile,” Tonkovich said. “At that district race, I didn’t do too well so I decided to stick with the 16.”
Saturday was an eventful day for Tonkovich. Athens High School held its 2019 graduation ceremonies in the morning, and Tonkovich received his diploma before making his way to Columbus.
“I think it actually was a good thing because it kept me occupied,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about the race or anything.”
The next step for Tonkovich is joining the Ohio University cross country and track and field teams next season.
Tonkovich will officially become a Bobcat this summer, but not before he went out on a high note as a Bulldog in front of a big crowd on Saturday.
“I got my graduation medal and now this,” he said, as he held up his all-Ohio medal that he was wearing around his neck. “Pretty cool.”