TACOMA — Sometimes, being great isn’t good enough.
Like when a state title doesn’t offer enough satisfaction. Like when you’re supposed to break records. Like when you’re expected to not just win, but to put on a show.
So there was Sean Keller on Saturday, stepping down from the podium after being awarded the first-place medal for javelin at the Class 4A boys state track and field meet. After winning his second straight title. After breaking his own meet record.
Who couldn’t be happy with that?
“I’m not,” the Heritage High School senior said. “I wasn’t just expected to win; I was expected to win and break the national record.”
Which offers a little insight into the world of Sean Keller these days. He’s not allowed to have an off day; he has to perform. He has to be Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band every night.
So, even when throwing 227 feet, 11 inches, a distance that most high school throwers couldn’t reach in 1 1/2 tosses, Keller expects more of himself.
That’s a good thing, even if it can weigh on an athlete. The expectations have reached absurd proportions because of Keller’s absurdly rich talent.
“It’s not a bad thing that people know you can do it,” he said.
It started last year, when Keller won his first state title and ranked as the top high school thrower in the nation. It became an epidemic earlier this season, when he uncorked a throw of 244 feet, 1 inch. That mark just missed the in-season national high school record and put Keller within range of the all-time mark.
“Everyone was saying, ‘Are you going to throw 255? Are you going to break that national record?” Keller said. “I’ve been getting text messages, phone calls from all around the country.”
Expectations can be a funny thing. They can motivate you; they can inspire you; they can batter you and crush you or ultimately defeat you. And for athletes, there is a constant battle between balancing internal expectations and those created by outsiders.
As somebody once said, no expectations mean there is no risk of disappointment. And without the risk of disappointment, there can be no true joy.
So, Keller took those expectations, won a state title, and was left kicking himself Saturday. He was lamenting the fact that he threw the javelin in practice on Wednesday.
“I lost all the pop in my arm,” he said. “It takes awhile to come back.
“Before the Centennial meet (where he threw 244-1), I sat at home on the couch with air conditioning and did homework. I took the week off.”
Now Keller will take some time off before competing in national and international meets this summer. The expectations will be different, and yet remain high.
“I was trying to stay relaxed,” he said of the state meet. “It’s been going through my mind for a week that this is my last high school meet.”
He made it a memorable one, even if it wasn’t historic.
“It’s a good throw,” he said with a smile, reflecting on the fact that he won the event by more than 30 feet. “It’s a really good throw.”
And sometimes that will have to be good enough.