STANFORD, Calif. — When the competition heats up, Christina Aragon seems to flip a switch.
The former Billings Senior standout earned a runner-up finish in the top section of the 1,500-meter run at the 2018 Payton Jordan Invitational on Thursday evening, clocking a 4:12.28. Aragon, the two-time Montana Gatorade track and field athlete of the year, finished behind former Colorado Buffaloes’ middle distance runner Sara Vaughn, who ran 4:11.70.
Aragon ran a 51.534 in her opening lap, falling to eighth in the Section 1 race of nine competitors. Her second lap of 1:08.012 was the second-fastest in the field, vaulting her to fifth place at Cobb Track. As runners crossed the line following their third lap, Aragon had jumped to second place behind Vaughn, who bested the former Senior Bronc by less than a half-second in the final lap for the victory.
It’s the latest in a long line of honors for Aragon, who owns Montana records in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs. Her 2:05.65 in the 800 at the State AA track meet in May of 2016 was the fastest time in the nation that spring. Aragon took Montana and the nation by storm, advancing to the semifinals at the U.S. Olympic Trials and becoming the first American woman to medal at the U-20 World Championships in the 1,500-meter run.
She also won the Montana Mile last summer, as part of the opening ceremonies to the Big Sky State Games in Billings.
An all-American cross country runner at Stanford, Aragon earned a seventh-place finish in the 3,000-meter run at the NCAA Indoor National Championships in March. She also helped pace the Cardinal to a runner-up finish in the distance medley relay, setting a school record in the process.
Aragon, who was named the MontanaSports.com female athlete of the year in 2016, entered the week ranked No. 37 in the NCAA Division I West Outdoor qualifying division in the 1,500 with a qualifying time of 4:21.91. She’s also tied for 48th in the 800 with a time of 2:08.37.
Aragon wasn’t the only Montanan competing in the prestigious event Thursday evening. Former Missoula Hellgate cross country and 3,200-meter champion Paige Gilchrist, who now competes for Northern Arizona, ran in Section 2 of the women’s 5,000-meter run. Gilchrist placed 12th in the event, crossing the finish line in 16:22.53. Gilchrist won Big Sky Conference Indoor championships in both the mile and 3,000-meter run last season.