BUTTE – Twelve months of expectations, pressure, nerves and hard work came shrieking out of Damien Nelson’s mouth Saturday afternoon.
Shortly after 1:20 p.m., Nelson leaned across the finish line in first place in the Class AA 100-meter dash state finals, flexed the muscles in his arms for a fist pump and hollered, ‘Let’s go!’ at the top of his lungs.
“I put it all out there,” Nelson said following the race. “When I crossed, I think that was the war cry for me laying it all out on the line and going for it.”
“It felt good. I didn’t realize how far I was in front of everyone until I saw the times,” he continued. “I couldn’t really hear my parents but just knowing that they were screaming and cheering for me, they’re pretty much my backbone so after it felt really good. The excitement around the stadium really pushed me, really made it exciting as an event.”
The race is always a fan favorite during the state track invitationals, determining the fastest athlete in Montana. Nelson, who entered the weekend with a state-best 10.71, clocked a 10.85 and was the only athlete to run a sub-11.
Still, many in attendance hoped to see the speedy junior post a time in the 10.6-second range, making a push for former CMR standout Chris Wilson’s all-class record. Those hopes from fans were no secret to Nelson, who was given an unintentional weight on his shoulders.
“It did, just not living up to expectations,” Nelson admitted about his nerves. “But talking to coaches, they told me, ‘Go out there and run your race, don’t worry about anything else. If you do break the record, congratulations. If you don’t, it’s not a big deal. Just run your race and whatever you get you’ll be proud of.’ I think that’s what I did and I wasn’t really worried about it. Next year is probably going to be a little more pressure to finally break the record.”
Soft-spoken and humble through and through, Nelson’s wail at the finish line showed more about determination to win than break records. But even he knows those expectations won’t disappear during his senior season, if anything, they will only grow stronger.
“I have thought about it. After I won, I know there will be questions if I can go for it next year, too, and I’m pretty sure I am. I think next year is going to be a lot better for me just because it’s my last year and I’ll go put it all out there again. If I do break the record I’ll be really happy, but I’ll focus on me next year and not let it get to me as much as it kind of did this year,” Nelson said.
With nerves and pressure far from his mind, imagine the echoing shriek that may find its way from Nelson’s lips 12 months from now.