Luke Coulter appeared invincible.
Dubbed by one longtime Riverhead track observer as “Superman Luke,” the Blue Wave senior seemingly pulled of the improbable feat of winning three events at Monday night’s large school county championship meet after racing across the finish line first as the anchor of the 4 x 400-meter relay team.
The celebration was on for Coulter and his teammates at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood. The excitement and joy of victory quickly turned into a mix of disappointment and anger. Several minutes after the race ended, an official walked toward Riverhead coach Sal Loverde and confirmed the rumors that had already started swirling on the infield.
The Blue Waves had been disqualified.
It made for a bitter ending to a day that will ultimately be remembered for one of the greatest individual performances in Riverhead track and field history.
Coulter, behind his trademarked superior kick, won the 3,200 in school-record time and then went on to win the 600. They are two races that rarely go hand-in-hand, let alone for someone to win both at a meet the scale of Monday’s county championship.
“Phenomenal,” Loverde said. “There’s nothing you can say. He’s the best distance runner Riverhead has ever had.”
If that distinction had still been up for debate, Coulter solidified it Monday with an epic performance that included the final leg of the winning relay before the controversial disqualification.
Coulter became Riverhead’s first champion at the county meet since 2011. He’s only the fifth champion for the Blue Waves since 2006 and the first to win two events at the same meet in at least a decade, according to results on Just In Time racing, which date back to the ’06 season. None of Riverhead’s previous champions in that time were in distance events.
“My coach says I have this competitive fire,” Coulter said after winning the 600 in 1 minute 23.73 seconds. “When I got into a race I just want to win. I just want to have that feeling. So it doesn’t matter the distance, I just run it. As long as I can stay with other people and compete against them, I’ll do fine.”
The controversy in the relay came on the third leg.
Senior Chjuvaighn Cameron ran the opening leg, setting the team off to a third-place start. Junior Eric Cunha pulled the Blue Waves into second when he handed off to senior Marcus Reid. With a Longwood runner ahead of him, Reid burst ahead on the initial turn, passing the Longwood runner on the inside in lane 1. Reid quickly opened up a large gap and no other team threatened the Blue Waves the rest of the way as he handed off to Coulter for the final 400.
An official, however, determined that Reid used to his right shoulder to push off the Longwood runner as he passed on the inside. Reid argued the Longwood runner was positioned in between lanes 1 and 2, giving him ample room to pass on the inside.
“You can’t try passing on the inside,” an official said during an explanation to the Riverhead coaches.
Loverde felt some contact in the race, especially right after handoffs in a tight space on the initial turn, is inevitable.
The official said to legally pass on the inside, a runner must stay on the track and avoid any contact with the runner.
In the 3,200, the first event of the meet, Coulter patiently ran off the shoulder of Smithtown West junior Michael Grabowski before turning the jets on for the final lap. He surged past Grabowski and won by more than five seconds.
“My strategy was to let the Smithtown kid do all the work,” Coulter said. “And the last lap, just go.”
No other runner in the 600 had already put in the kind of effort Coulter had in winning the 3,200 — the longest event in winter track.
His legs were admittedly nowhere near as strong as they would have been as he started the 600. Overcoming that was all mental, he said.
“I said it doesn’t matter, you’re going to run this race and you’re going to be fine,” he said. “You got to tell yourself these things.”
In other results from the meet, senior Curtis Flippen was seventh in the triple jump with a mark of 42 feet 3 inches. He was also eighth in the long jump (20-5 1/2). Cunha ran the 1,600 and placed eighth in 4:39.05.
The Blue Waves’ 20 points put them ninth in team scoring. It was the most points they’ve scored at the county meet since 2011. Had the relay win stood, it would have been their best meet since 2006.
Central Islip won the team title with 50 points and Longwood was second with 45.
Photo Caption: Riverhead senior Luke Coulter carries the baton on the final leg of the 4 x 400 relay Monday at the large school county championship. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)