STRIKING GOLD

When Lee Bridges skipped this year’s U.S. Masters Track and Field Championships, he had a plan.

Since the games were so close to the World Masters Athletics Championships, the Columbus native thought he would rest during the national meet to save his strength for the world games.

The move paid off. The 48-year-old Bridges, who holds the Columbus North school record in the 400 meters and now lives in Homewood, Illinois, won the gold medal in the 400 and a bronze in the 200 in Men’s 45 division in the World Masters Athletics Championships in Lyon, France.

“It was kind of time to move to a bigger scale because a lot of guys are running fast throughout Europe,” Bridges said.

Bridges, who was competing in his first World Championships, ran 50.79 seconds in the 400 finals. Michael Gardiner of Great Britain finished second in 51.27.

“I kind of got out the first 200 meters, and the second curve, you can get a feel for where people are,” Bridges said. “Guys will sometimes overexert themselves trying to position themselves for the final sprint, and that’s kind of what happened.”

The 400 was contested over three rounds in three days. Bridges’ finals time was much faster than his prelim time of 54.43, which was 11th-fastest in his division. He ran the fourth-fastest qualifying time in the semifinals at 51.61.

“Really, (the competition) did step up,” Bridges said. “I function pretty well with lots of rounds. I get a feel for the competition and the track and for myself, so I like lots of rounds.

“The second round, that’s when you want to make sure you have a good time,” he said. “The British guys in the rounds were running as fast as they did in the finals. I try to expend as little energy as possible in the rounds and be ready for the finals.”

In the 200, Bridges ran 22.89 in the finals, which, like his 400 time, was a personal best since the former University of Illinois star began running again in masters competition. Darren Scott and Jason Carty, both of Great Britain, took first and second in 22.72 and 22.83.

“I’m happy with that,” Bridges said. “I had done a day of work on starts and had adjusted a little bit. When I got to the meet, it didn’t work at all. I stumbled out of the blocks in the trials and the semis, so I went back to my old start for the finals.”

Bridges capped his World Championships meet by anchoring the United States 4×400 relay team to a gold medal. He was a few meters behind the German anchor when he got the baton, but caught him after 100 meters and pulled away for the win.

The experience of competing at the World Championships is one that Bridges won’t forget. He was making his first trip to France in 28 years.

“I ran in Europe one year right out of college on a U.S. team, and there’s a lot more support there than here,” Bridges said. “Even the masters meet, the crowd there was amazing. It was a great environment to compete in.”

Bridges, who won the 400 in his division in the U.S. Indoor Championships in March in 52.57, plans to compete in the 2016 Indoor Nationals in March in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the U.S. Outdoor Nationals in July in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He hopes to challenge Texan Allen Woodard, who ran a 45-49 world record 49.69 in the 400 this year.

Next year’s World Masters Championships are in Perth, Australia, but Bridges isn’t planning to compete in that event. However, he does have his sights on Malaga, Spain, site of the 2017 World Championships, when he’ll move up into the Men’s 50 division.

“There’s still two goals,” Bridges said. “One of them is the (400) world record, and I think I have that in me. Then, the 50 age group world record is 50.1, and I think I have that in me. It’s still enjoyable. It’s a lot of fun.”

The Bridges file

Name: Lee Bridges

Age: 48

High school: Columbus North

College: Illinois

Residence: Homewood, Illinois

Occupation: Retirement counselor for State Universities Retirement System

Family: Wife Regina and daughter Kyah, a junior at Iowa University

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.