Following, watching, officiating, and cheering at Utah state swim championships for more than six decades is a strange way to spend Februarys. But that’s what I do.
The last time I missed watching Tooele at State was in 1975 while serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even though I’m nine time zones away now, I got this scoop.
In Utah’s 70 years of high school swimming, there has been nothing like Myra Miller’s first-place finish in the 200-yard individual medley at the Class 4A state championships in Bountiful.
She went into the meet ranked No. 18 in her event. Eighteenth! If she dropped two or three seconds from her qualifying and personal best time, she could possibly earn points for her Tooele High team by squeezing into the top 16.
However, the quiet, unassuming Miller carried higher aspirations.
She dropped an incredible nine seconds in the preliminaries to qualify for the championship heat.
The 200 IM is an excruciating event consisting of 50 yards each of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. In order to compete at the highest level, swimmers must display strengths in all four. A weakness in one stroke unmercifully places you in the back of the pack.
Seeded fourth in the championship heat, Miller battled the field stroke-for-stroke. She then buried her head the final seven yards, sprinting to the finish pad for the gold.
She dropped another 1.69 seconds and beat her nearest competitor by a mere three-hundredths of a second, the width of a gnat’s eyelash.
The top four finishers were within .12 seconds of each other. By any standard at any competitive level, that it is a razor-edge close race.
“After the race, I just curled up on the deck and could not move,” Miller said. “(Coach) Holly (Tate) was going absolutely crazy. My legs were so dead, I could not even feel them when I got on the podium.”
Miller followed her incredible performance by finishing second in the 100 breast and setting a Tooele High varsity record in the process.
As an intriguing side note, Miller almost did not get to swim her events.
Because of COVID-19 precautions, swimmers were in separate rooms for the preliminaries and were told when they could go on deck. They were unable to see the races and did not have heat sheets.
When Miller approached the block for her heat, there was another swimmer in her lane. That’s when she discovered that she missed her event.
A hard-nosed official could have barked, “Tough. Deal with it. Rules are rules. You are disqualified for the entire meet.”
Fortunately for Utah swimmers, Robyn Peterson served as the championship meet referee. Few – if any – in the U.S. understand all the rules, situations, and their intentions better than Peterson.
She also cares more about athletes than flexing punitive “I’m-the-boss” biceps. I have officiated on the deck with her for years. In the heat of competitive controversy, she always makes clear decisions backed by sound reason in pressure-cooker situations.
“I told her what happened and she said, ‘Quick. Go swim in lane one,’” Miller said. “I guess I had so much adrenaline pumping after all that, I dropped 10 seconds.”
And the rest is history.
Congratulations Bizmillah! Both ESPN and I wish we would have been there.