For most athletes, the City Section track and field semifinals at Birmingham High on Thursday were strictly a qualifying meet for next week's finals.
But it was much more than that to Craig Lawson of Granada Hills High.
Because of the ongoing teachers' strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District, Lawson reasoned that the semifinals might be the last race of his high school career.
"I had been hearing rumors that there might not be a City final," Lawson said after winning the qualifying heat of the 3,200 meters in a personal-best time of 9 minutes, 13.79 seconds. "So I came into this race looking to win. If it was going to be the last race of my career, I figured it might as well be my best one. I didn't want to leave (anything) to chance."
And he didn't, bursting past Wilson sophomore Martin Morales (9:14.76) in the final 50 meters.
"I felt great," Lawson said. "But I wasn't sure if I could beat him until the last 200 meters. It seemed like he tried to get away from me down the backstretch, but I just tried to stick with him until the last 100 meters."
Obed Aguirre of San Fernando and Peter De La Cerda of Granada Hills, who finished third and fourth, also posted personal bests of 9:19.07 and 9:23.76.
"I've been running some 1,500s the last couple of weeks and it's really helped my speed," said Lawson, who clocked a personal best of 4:02.1 in the 1,500 at the Occidental Invitational last Saturday. "The 3,200 feels much easier now."
The shotput must have felt a lot lighter to Erin McConahey of Van Nuys as she improved her personal best to 42 feet, 2 3/4 inches to lead all qualifiers. McConahey, the Valley Pac-8 Conference champion, had a previous best of 40-1.
Her teammate, Feltina Means, also had a productive meet, qualifying for next Thursday's finals in four events and setting three personal bests in the process.
Means posted the best mark in the long jump (17-7 1/2), placed second in the first heat of the 300-meter low hurdles (46.50), placed fourth in the second heat of the 100 low hurdles (16.44) and was one of seven girls to clear 4-11 in the high jump. Her marks in the long jump and hurdles represented personal bests.
Melanie Clarke of El Camino Real equaled Means' performance by finishing second in her heat of the girls' 400 (57.33), qualifying fourth in the long jump (16-9 1/4), qualifying second in the shotput (a personal best of 39-8 3/4) and clearing 4-11 in the high jump.
Clarke, the defending City champion in the high jump, will be hard pressed to defeat Chatsworth junior Lori Mertes next week.
Mertes cleared 5-10 1/2 to defeat Clarke in the Northwest Conference finals two weeks ago.
In other events, Keary Johns of San Fernando won the second heat of the 110-meter high hurdles in a personal best of 14.93 and Derril White of Monroe was the leading qualifier in the boys' long jump at 21-7 1/2.