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Brooke Novak's performance brings down the house

Brooke Novak's performance brings down the house

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At 5-foot-2, 100 pounds, a pocket-rocket known as Brooke Novak made the 106th running of the WIAA State Track and Field Championships one to remember.

For all-time.

Oh, if you recall, she did the same thing last year, too. A history-making mile run in 2000 succumbed to something even more special on Friday afternoon.

Whether she realizes it or not, the Kaukauna High School senior will not only be the talk of Wisconsin's biggest track bash this season, but for years, maybe even decades, to come.

Novak, with a high-powered and relentless kick over the last 300 meters, blew away her previous state record in the 1,600 by nearly 6 seconds at UW-La Crosse's Veterans Memorial Stadium. Her time of 4 minutes, 43.20 seconds left many of the estimated 6,700 fans in awe.

When heavy rain hit the area about 15 minutes after Novak's scorching run, the crowd was still buzzing about her performance. Novak, an 18-year-old star, was beginning to realize what she had done - again - even though it was an hour later.

Last year's state-record time of 4:48.13 seemed like a walk in the park for Novak despite the fact that it toppled Suzy Favor-Hamilton's often-revered mark of 4:48.57. How she was able to shave so much time off that mark was amazing.

"I think after what I accomplished last year, I've gotten used to this," Novak said of all the media attention. "A lot of people said, 'I don't think she'll break that record, but she'll still be fun to watch.' "

Not only is Novak an elite runner, she also is a borderline psychic. She was fun to watch, all right, as she torched the competition and the state record book in four memorable laps.

She built a 3-second lead over Hamilton's Kellyn Johnson after 400 meters, then pushed it to 10 seconds after 800 meters. At this point, "the race" was over and Novak was running against herself.

No news there, except Novak entered the state meet with somewhat of a lackadaisical attitude.

"I haven't been as focused as I should have been this season. I was just getting sick of it," Novak said of the regular season.

"Once I got to the state meet, I realized it was my last hurrah. I wanted to show everyone what I could do. I wanted to be the best miler to come through Wisconsin, maybe give Wisconsin a little perk before I went off to college."

Instead of a perk, she gave the state a kick to remember.

With 300 meters left, Novak gritted her teeth, set her jaw and somehow shot lightening into her legs that no one else on the track had. She came down the front stretch of the track with the crowd cheering and her eyes set on the finish line.

"Last year, I thought 4:45 was outlandish at first. This year, I thought I could go faster," Novak said. "When I got to 200 (meters left), I didn't care if it hurt or not, I was going to go for it. I have a second gear, I just haven't used it all year."

What's this? Another gear? The folks at Tennessee, as in the University of Tennessee where Novak is heading this fall, are going to love this. They'll volunteer to watch one of the top Volunteer runners next year.

Novak, with a gold medal and a golden record intact, was starting to look ahead to the national high school track and field meet in two weeks in Raleigh, N.C. The national record of 4:39.4, set by Laura Matson of Bloomfield Hills High School of Andover, Mich., was no longer a far-fetched dream.

Novak is ready for a new challenge.

"I know I'm going to have to get stronger. I don't lift weights and I don't do sit-ups. If I can run this fast without doing any of that, I wonder what will happen when I do?" Novak said, questioning herself. "It will be fun to see what I can do."

Fun for those who watch her, terrifying for the competition.

There is something this record-breaking, sweet-striding miler is somewhat concerned about. She's not claustrophobic, but Novak isn't sure what she will do when she will be forced to run in a pack in college.

"I don't know how to race against anybody else," Novak admitted. "I'm a front-runner. It is really hard when I go to a bigger meet. I was in last place (national meet last year) and ran up to fourth place."

What Novak is running up now is memories. Regardless of whether she defends her 3,200 meter title today, Novak will leave La Crosse as Wisconsin's best high school female miler in history.

The comparisons with Favor-Hamilton eventually will fade, but her record-setting time won't.

"It is really cool to be put in the same sentence as her, but I don't want to be compared to anybody," Novak said. "I am somebody completely different."

No argument here.

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