Colton Quinones was a spectator when Class AAAAA discus medals were handed out in 2013.
His ninth-place finish in the event was a position shy of the podium. But it might have been the best thing to happen to Gainesville’s then-junior.
“That motivated me a lot,” Quinones said. “Just sitting there, looking at everybody else on the podium knowing the way I practiced and how I can throw hard in practice, but couldn’t conduct it in a meet.
“It was heartbreaking.”
That podium stayed fresh on his mind every time he entered the circle during the 2014 season.
After his final throw as a Red Elephant, he stood alone at the top.
Quinones recorded a distance of 163 feet, five inches to win the Class AAAAA state title, ending the year as Hall County’s lone boys state track and field champion.
For his efforts, Quinones is The Times’ Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year.
“160 was really good for me, considering the year before I threw around 130, 140,” Quinones said. “The 160 mark was something I wanted to hit this year, but once I hit it, I wanted to go for the 170 mark.”
Quinones never quite reached the 170 mark, but he came pretty close on two occasions, topping out at 166-7 at sectionals and again in the state preliminary round to break his own school record.
He peaked at the right time of the season, sweeping the region and sectional meets before taking gold at state.
“When I hit 166 at sectionals, I was really looking to break 170 at the state meet,” Quinones said. “I’m not sad that it didn’t happen. I wish it could’ve happened, but I’m still happy with breaking 160 this year.”
Statistically, it was an up-and-down season for Quinones. He threw 155-7 at Gainesville’s first meet of the season, breaking a school record, but couldn’t break 150 again until a few weeks prior to region.
After a string of 140-foot finishes, he went back to the drawing board to tweak his technique. His distance started to climb again, reaching as high as 159 feet at the Amicalola Invitational in Dawson County.
“I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get past that periodically throughout the season,” Quinones said. “It was just minor adjustments I needed to do. After that, I saw an increase in my throws.”
Quinones reaped the benefits of competing in the toughest region for discus in Class AAAAA. He battled defending state champion Josh Laughlin of Loganville on his way to state, as well as 2013 fifth-place finisher and state contender Quintis Maddox.
Maddox finished runner-up behind Quinones at region, sectionals and state. His final throw at state was 11 inches shorter than Quinones’ attempt.
Laughlin swapped spots with Quinones from a year before, finishing ninth.
“When I beat (Laughlin), I thought I had it in the bag,” Quinones said. “Then I saw (Maddox) throwing these 140s and 150s. Then he hits a 160 at the state meet, so I had to adjust.”
Gainesville coach Nick Niesielowski saw the win coming after Quinones had beaten Maddox in both qualifying meets prior to state.
“He was very confident, having beaten him in some regular season meets, and then at sectionals,” Niesielowski said. “He knew (Maddox) was his only competition. After having beaten him several times, he was confident going into the state meet that he’d do it again.”
The win successfully caps off Quinones’ long discus career with the Red Elephants, which began in eighth grade with the track program’s middle school team. He originally fell in love with the shot put, even placing second in a middle school state meet.
He made the switch to discus his freshman year, eventually making it his primary event.
“It felt like something new,” Quinones said. “I liked it more than shot put. My shot put distance started going down and my discus started going up, so I started focusing more on my discus.”
Quinones will continue to throw at the Division II level at Limestone College in Gaffney, S.C., where he is signed to play football. The Saints’ indoor track season runs from March to May, allowing him the chance to play both sports.
He has set a goal of 150 feet his freshman year, as he prepares for a larger, heavier disc at Limestone. He also anticipates changing his technique in preparation for the contrast between indoor and outdoor events.
“Being outdoors, you’re so used to the heat,” Quinones said. “You’re used to all these people standing out. Indoor is cooler and more comfortable than outside.”