A self-described “athletic snob” who seeks perfection in every race, Paul Lyons IV has made great strides — figuratively and literally speaking — in his short but phenomenal career as a high school hurdler.
The former distance runner acknowledges his own achievements but does so with a shrug. You see, he’s one of those guys who wins races by wide margins but walks off scowling and shaking his head.
The medal is nice.
But the time could be better.
Steps could have been less choppy.
And the lead leg could have had more snap to it.
“I don’t know how it happened, but with hurdling I’ve become a perfectionist,” said the Manteca High graduate. “I need to have every race be perfect, so I always come out unsatisfied in the end.”
In the end, Lyons is the Bulletin’s All-Area Male Track and Field Athlete of the Year, despite his self-perceived failures.
Lyons is the area’s first athlete to qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships in two events since Sierra’s Derek Sinclair did it in the shot put and discus throw in 2008.
Lyons clocked career-best marks in both hurdling events at the state meet. In the 110, he won his heat in the preliminaries with a time of 14.33 seconds and finished eighth in the final race. He didn’t advance to the 300, his weaker of the two events, but he was pleased to PR at 38.89.
Josh Rodie was the last Manteca High athlete to make it to the state finals, as he ended up placing fifth in the mile in 1998.
Initially overwhelmed by the magnitude of the state meet, Lyons was able to calm his nerves once he got to the starting blocks. By that point he realized he had belonged, even if he was running against hurdling veterans.
“I’ve seen Kenneth Walker (of Richmond High) hurdle since I was in like sixth grade,” Lyons said. “I was thinking about all the people who have been hurdling almost their entire life and it makes me smile that I can almost be up to their caliber with just 14 months under my belt.
“I know that I have a lot of room to get better.”
Lyons’ rise to elite status became official on April 15 when he blazed to a 14.35-second 110 finish in the Del Oro Invitational, and the time was ranked amongst the state’s best at that point. His previous PR stood at 14.75 set two weeks prior in the Thunder Invitational at Rocklin High.
Lyons went on to win both hurdle events in the Valley Oak League Championships and the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III/IV meet. He also won the 400 at the VOL meet, establishing a new PR at 49.53.
His effort at the SJS Masters, the state-qualifying meet, was a mixed bag. In the 110 hurdles he easily earned the top seed going into the finals, running a 14.42 preliminary race.
“I’d say that was the first time I ran a perfect race, I just didn’t sprint it because I was saving myself for the finals,” he said.
But Lyons struggled in the finals and took second in 14.50 — still a solid time for clipping nearly every hurdle with his trail leg.
His mood would later change after the 300 race. Needing a top-three finish to make it to state, he charged ahead of two opponents over the final 100 meters to sneak in at third place in 39.98.
“In the 300 I had myself counted out throughout,” Lyons said. “I was just happy that I was able to make it to state in two events. I know I’m better than I have been (in the 300), I just haven’t gotten it down yet.”
He’ll have a chance to master his craft at the next level under the guidance of head coach Kathleen Raske at Sacramento State. Raske, a hurdling specialist, has led the Hornets to seven Big Sky team championships since taking over in 2004.
Lyons said he received other scholarship offers from Northern Arizona, Washington State, Long Beach State and CSU Northridge but chose Sac State for its proximity to home as well as its recent success.
“At this point last year I was planning on going to MJC and maybe transferring in two years,” he said. “I didn’t think that I’d be fast enough to actually get a scholarship to go somewhere.”