Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon
Christina Aragon, the 19-year-old running sensation from Billings, is competing Thursday night at the U.S. Track & Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.
Barely a month since graduating high school, the Billings Senior alumnus will race in the opening round of the 1500m competition against the nation’s best female distance runners in one of the world’s best-known track and field stadiums, Hayward Field.
The first round of the women’s 1500m is scheduled for 6:26 p.m. MDT, July 7. There are 30 athletes competing in three first-round heats. The top six in each heat, and the next six fastest times overall, will advance to the semifinal round on Friday night. There will be two semifinal heats and the top five in each heat, as well as the next two fastest times overall, will advance to the championship race on Sunday night. The top three finishers in the championship, if they meet the Olympic standard of 4:07, will qualify for the Summer Olympics in Rio, which begins Aug. 5.
Aragon became one of only two recent high school graduates to earn a spot at the Olympic Trials after achieving an automatic qualifying mark. She ran 4:09.27 on June 12 at the Portland Track Festival, guaranteeing her a spot at the Olympic Trials and moving her up from No. 4 to No. 3 on the all-time list of prep times in the 1500. She is only the third high schooler to ever break 4:10 in the 1500 behind Mary Cain (4:04.62, 2013) and Alexa Efraimson (4:07.05, 2014), both of whom signed professional contracts with Nike during high school.
Both Cain and Efraimson are among the 30 competitors slated to race in Thursday’s opening round, along with Kate Murphy of Virginia, the other runner who just graduated from high school.
Aragon narrowly lost to Efraimson two weeks ago in the 1500m at the USATF Junior Championships in California. Efraimson, the 2014 USATF Junior champion, pulled away with 300 meters remaining to finish in 4:16.75. Aragon finished on Efraimson’s heels in 4:18.07.
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Aragon, who will run at Stanford next year, has already cemented herself as one of Montana’s all-time great athletes.
In her final year of high school at Billings Senior, the 5-foot-4 runner captured three individual state championships this spring at the Class AA state meet in Missoula. Aragon won the 800-meter run with an all-class record time of 2:05.65, the 1600-meter run in an all-class time of 4:43.51 and the 3200-meter run with yet another all-class record mark of 10:23.31. Aragon graduated as a 12-time state champion.
Aragon, who won the Montana Gatorade Track Runner of the Year award for the second year in a row this spring, maintained a 4.0 GPA in the classroom and ranked first in her graduating class. A member of the National Honor Society and her school’s concert band, she has volunteered as a senior student advocate and participated in a service-mission trip to Peru. She is also a standout gymnast who achieved a Level 9, which is the second-highest level in Junior Olympics, last year.
Her parents, Chuck and Kathy, were standout athletes at the University of Notre Dame and University of New Mexico, respectively, and also competed at the Olympic Trials. Christina’s older sisters, Alexa and Danielle, were stellar runners in Montana and both earned scholarships to run at Notre Dame.
Now it’s time for the little sister to enjoy her time in the spotlight.
“Christina Aragon is arguably the greatest female track and field athlete in the history of the state,” said Mike Henneberg, head coach at C.M. Russell High. “She has always handled herself in a classy manner before, during and after competition.”