LAKEWOOD — David Cardenas found the elusive magic number.
Cardenas, a Central High School senior, discovered the magic digit — 1 — waiting for him Friday afternoon at the finish line in Jeffco Stadium at the state track and field championships.
The four-sport Central athlete finished No. 1 in the 800-meter dash — a Class 5A state champion in 1 minute, 53.47 seconds.
"I was coming down that last 100 (meters), I passed that last kid and I was like, 'Am I going to win this thing? Am I going to win this thing?' " Cardenas said. "I checked over my shoulder a couple times. The last time I checked, I said, 'That's it. I have the win.' "
Cardenas celebrated as he crossed the line with an electric grin, reflecting the huge ovation from the packed grandstands.
"I had the biggest smile on my face," Cardenas said. "Coming down the stretch, I knew the victory was going to be worth it."
He said he and Central running coach Ted Leblow developed a great plan for the state 800-meter showdown with the best 5A runners in Colorado.
"He (Leblow) knows about my kick. He knows how strong I can finish," Cardenas said. "And I know in the back of my mind that I have a secret weapon — although it's probably not a secret anymore — I can outkick anybody."
He showcased his extraordinary speed and turnover on the second lap of the 800 final.
On the opening lap, Cardenas settled into a comfortable pace near the back of the pack of 18 runners.
He avoided a traffic jam at the end of the first lap, working his way up through a large group into ninth place.
"He got a little boxed in at the 400, and I was a little worried," Leblow said. "But David didn't panic. He muscled his way through and got into better position."
Heading down the back straightaway, Cardenas started to pass runners —one, two, then a third runner. And a fourth.
From 10th place, he moved up to third.
With 150 meters to go, he took aim at the two leaders.
Cardenas caught and passed them both, pulling away down the home stretch.
"The race played right into David's strength," Leblow said. "They didn't go out super-fast. It was way more tactical than I anticipated, but that also played into his strength."
Leblow said Cardenas showed his mature patience early in the race, then exploited his kick to perfection.
"When he's there (with the leaders) at 150 to go — he's got it," Leblow said. "David's always been a smart competitor. He listens to the advice you give and he applies it on the track."
Connor Ohlson of Dakota Ridge finished second to Cardenas in 1:54.69.
Ian Kelly of Heritage was third with Cole Trautman of Arapahoe in fourth.
Cole Sprout of Valor Christian, one of the premier prep distance runners in the country, finished fifth in the 800.
But earlier Friday, Sprout won the 3,200-meter run in dominating fashion, 9:11.84, for his second consecutive state championship. Sprout won the 3,200 title last year when Valor Christian competed in Class 4A. Sprout also ran an 8:57 time for 3,200 meters earlier this season — a first for Colorado prep runners.
"It's awesome racing (against Cardenas)," Sprout said after Friday's 800. "He has a really good kick. He's fast, you know."
Cardenas finished seventh in the 3,200 — a podium finish. Then he had only two-and-a-half hours to recover for the 800. He said he wanted to finish on the podium in the 3,200 but save vital energy for the upcoming 800.
"It was perfect. I did what I needed to do. I rested, put my feet up," Cardenas said. "When I got up (for the 800), my legs felt great. I was ready to race."
Ironically, Cardenas said he used to hate the 800.
"My freshman and sophomore years, I did not like it," he said. "But when I finished fifth (at state in 2018), I said this could be my thing. My kick fits in with the 800."
Now, Cardenas is a big fan of the 800.
And he'll have a third opportunity at a state medal today in the 1,600-meter run.
"Adams (State) got something special," Leblow said of Cardenas' decision regarding college. "(The Adams State coaches) are extremely happy. They're getting a lot of untapped potential. He's going to a great place."
Cardenas' search for the elusive state championship took him around the world, literally.
He raced and trained everywhere from Snook's Bottom to overseas in Andorra during the past year.
"(Andorra) gave me a lot of confidence," Cardenas said of his experience representing the United States at the World Mountain Running Championships at a ski resort in Andorra. "I think it did lay a base for me in terms of confidence."
Ever the team captain, Cardenas said Central support is pivotal in his success.
"A big thank you to my parents, my teammates, my coaches … I'm so grateful to everyone," Cardenas said.