By REID TUCKER
A lot has changed for Gabe Moore in the span of 15 months, as the Freeport athlete went from being new to multi-event track competition to joining the ranks of the sport’s worldwide elite.
The official records of the International Association of Athletics Federations are in, and its official: Walton County is home to one of the top-three high school track and field athletes in the world.
“This is all kind of crazy when you think about it,” Moore said. “I never expected to get this far and or in such a short amount of time. Time really does fly.”
Moore’s ascent through the track and field ranks began with wins at regional competitions last summer and progressed into podium finishes at the New Balance Nationals Indoor meet, the U.S. Junior Olympics and most recently at Texas’ well-known Greatest Athlete competition, in which he placed second. Moore’s career reached its most recent peak June 26 in Edwardsville, Ill., when the senior-to-be earned a second-place finish at the U.S. National Youth Trials. His score of 6,078 points in the octathlon not only earned him a spot on America’s World Youth Championships team, blowing past the required 5,600-point mark needed to qualify for the team, it also propelled into the top echelon of the sport.
Speaking on the phone a few days later, Moore didn’t sound the slightest bit awe-struck by his achievement. If anything, he sounded more determined than ever. The U.S. team left Wednesday for Donetsk, Ukraine, the site of this year’s World Youth Championships, and once there he will have only a few days to get ready for the biggest competition of his life.
“Sure, it feels good to know I’m among the best in the world,” Moore said in his typically un-bothered way. “I mean, it’s a huge honor. It’s awesome. But that doesn’t change that when I get to Ukraine it’s just another meet.”
Moore’s calm and collected approach paid off at the trials in Illinois, and he actually led the field through the first seven of the octathlon’s eight events by a sizeable margin. However, one difference between the decathlon and octathlon, a switch from the former’s 1,500-meter run to a 1,000 in the latter, caused a bit of on-track confusion on Moore’s part and allowed Ohio’s John Lint to surge ahead and outpace him to take the win by a mere 10 points. Nevertheless, Moore and Lint, ranked third and second in the world, respectively, behind Santiago Ford of Cuba, easily made the cut to get on the U.S. team of 24 athletes and will be the country’s two representatives in the octathlon.
The Bulldog track ace, ever a competitor, put his narrow loss to Lint behind him and he hopes to show his abilities on the world stage. The U.S. is primed to win team medals due to the overall combined strength of its track and field athletes, Moore said, but he wants an individual medal as well, and the brighter the better. Though Moore will travel to Ukraine without his parents or his coach, Willie Parker, he said keeping focused on performing each event to the best of his ability will help him get over the strangeness of being without his support group.
“I’ve got to hit my marks and take it one event at a time,” Moore said. “I think the secret is to keep calm and stay chilled out. If you get nervous you start making mistakes. It will be a little weird without Coach or my folks there, but I think I’ll be OK once I get into it. I never could have made it this far without them by my side.”
The World Youth Championships is looked on as the de facto stepping stone event to the Junior Olympics, which in turn segues into the Olympic Games. Additionally, having already garnered attention from top-tier college track and field programs like Perdue, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Moore said he will further benefit from the exposure of participating at the Championships, which get started July 10 and go through the 14th.
“I got into track because [Parker] told me it could take me places,” Moore said. “It’s been a lot of fun and obviously I’ve been successful, but the really good thing about it is the opportunities it has opened up for my future.”