Graphic by Ben Jinkins
Photo credit: USA Today Sports Images
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In Cade Flatt's mind, he came up short.
How much so?
Like first guy out from the finals, kind of short. Like eight-hundredths of a second from history, kind of short.
Agonizing doesn't quite cut it.
If 2022 was all about reaching for glory, if his senior track and field season was about clocking that high school national record and being the only high schooler to reach the World Championships, then Kentucky's finest didn't achieve what he set out to do.
But there's a flip side to that coin: If you want to be the best that ever was, sometimes the chase is what it's all about.
Sometimes having that impossible goal is the point in the first place.
And roughly three months after he set off on his final high school season, Flatt will leave his career as the most accomplished 800 meter runner in high school history: He now owns the second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh fastest times at the distance for any prep athlete ever.
The University of Mississippi signee owns a personal best mark of 1:46.48, which stands just three-hundredths of a second off of Michael Granville's high school national record time of 1:46.45, an effort that has been untouched since 1996.
Sure, Flatt came up short.
But he also had an unprecedented season, too.
No one has ever accomplished what he did in the 800m. He secured three sub-1:47 times on the season. He won two national titles at the distance. He won the second and third state championships of his career in Kentucky. He also ran PRs of 46.89 in the 400m and 4:12.97 in the 1,600m.
Today, we're naming him as our MileSplit50 Athlete of the Year.
This season was one of the most difficult votes in our history of naming the Athlete of the Year award. Because while this year saw Flatt dominate the 800m, we also cannot discount the spectacular moments of Newbury Park's (CA) Colin Sahlman, of Tylertown's (MS) Jordan Anthony, Archbishop Wood's (PA) Gary Martin, Woodstock's (GA) Will Sumner and Woonsocket's (RI) Tarik Robinson-O'Hagan.
All six athletes made arguments across the 2022 outdoor season.
Flatt's brilliance on and off the track, however, rose above the rest.
"At the end of the day, I wanted to put on that high school jersey and be on TV and have my community watch me and support me and see what I could do against the best in the country," said Flatt, who finished his year on June 24 the USATF Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. "I think at the end of the day I made the right decision. Being the first one out of the final kind of sucks, but being the ninth American as a high schooler, I belong up there. I think I made the right choice."
Going head-to-head with the best of the world? That vision had been on his mind since he was a child. But 2022 was a year when he finally began to believe he could turn his thoughts into reality.
"I was at U.S. Trials with some of the best guys in the world, Olympians, World champions, and feeling nothing," he said. "I was out there hungry, ready to go and full of confidence."
Which leads us to our next connection with Flatt. Perhaps few times, if ever, has there ever been a high school athlete so completely in-charge of his self-image.
His moments in front of a camera caught you off guard. They were part bravado, part unflinching faith. But they also told a story of an athlete who wasn't going to back down: Not to the competition, nor to a meager microphone.
Over the course of 2022, he left no topic, no matchup and no race untouched. The Marshall County (KY) athlete had some headline catching moments, then, importantly, he backed it up.
He called out the national record in May. Then he ran 1:46.51, coming up just six-hundredths of a second shy of the mark. He did it again in June, then ran 1:46.48. He ran 1:46.53 at USAs.
The pressure seemed to be building. Time was running out. Flatt kept going for it.
"There was never any pressure," Flatt said. "All year long, all the pressure was put on myself by me. The day I really come on the scene, New Balance Nationals Indoor, it was, I put all the pressure on me that I was going for that record outdoor before anyone really knew I would even get close to it, before I ran anything close to it myself.
"All that pressure came from me."
From the moment he took reporters into deep waters with his quotes following his New Balance Nationals Indoor win in the 800m, to his words after the Trials of Miles and New Balance Nationals Outdoor, Flatt proved that a high school athlete could be both a superstar on the track and off of it.
"You know, I didn't get that national record mark," Flatt said. "That's the kind of annoying thing. There were a few chances to get it. I didn't seize the moment.
"But I can't be upset about it. Getting that mark was about proving to other people, showing them I'm the best ever. In my head I've always been and always will be."
MileSplit50 2022 Season Outline:
Update 3, June 7: Colin Sahlman reemerges as No. 1 athlete
Update 2, May 12: Micah Larry has stormed into the top 10
Update 1, April 24: Jordan Anthony makes outdoor debut at No. 1
MileSplit50 Athlete Of The Year History:
2022 Indoor AOY: Will Sumner, Woodstock (GA)
2021 XC AOY: Colin Sahlman, Newbury Park (CA)
2021 Outdoor AOY: Hobbs Kessler, Ann Arbor Skyline (MI)
2021 Indoor AOY: Jaylen Slade, IMG Academy (FL)
2020 XC AOY: Parker Wolfe, Cherry Creek (CO)
2020 Outdoor AOY: No award (Covid year)
2020 Indoor AOY: Cameron Rose, Hickory Ridge (SC)
2019 XC AOY: Nico Young, Nebwury Park (CA)
2019 Outdoor AOY: Matthew Boling, Houston Strake Jesuit (TX)
2019 Indoor AOY: Mario Heslop, Franklin Township (NJ)
2018 XC AOY: Liam Anderson, Redwood (CA)
2018 Outdoor AOY: Mondo Duplantis, Lafayette (LA)