This was a very busy week of track and field for the true fan of the sport. Oslo, the NCAA Championships, and the New York Grand Prix were all contested within a four day period, with some form of media broadcast available for all four days of action! Finally, technology and track providing fans with serious coverage of the sport.
That said, there’s a LOT to talk about. Too much to deal with in a single post, so I thought I would begin by talking about the youth. After all, they are where the sport is headed – and frankly I can’t help but feel that a "Back to the Future" approach is the way to build this sport.
While I would like to see some changes in the sequence of events that lead to these championships, the NCAA meet is as good as it gets just short of the Olympic and World Championships – and this year’s edition was no exception! For me, there are two draws to this meet – the competition and the competition. That would be the great head to head’s among some of the best individuals on the planet combined with the best team competition available in the sport! Franchises – yes I used the term franchises – like Florida, Oregon, Texas A&M, among others have done an awesome job of putting together squads that are competitive year after year. And watching them battle for team supremacy is a bonus to the head to head battle taking place on the track. Something I wish the broadcasters were more attuned to, as it’s a great opportunity to engage the general public into the sport, since most people identify with"team" sports, and there are definitely "regional" aspects that can be played on.
On that note, the competition in 2014 was outstanding. While the "pros" seem to take every fourth year off, the "kids" and their teams have something to prove all the time as they battle for titles and an opportunity to become pros themselves. I was riveted to my computer the first two days watching the online telecast, then switched to the TV for the final two days off coverage, and have to say there wasn’t a down moment in the action. This was track and field at it’s best. The University of Oregon puts on a great meet – my beef with holding meets here so often has nothing to do with their ability to host. If I have a negative at all with the presentation, it was with the on air announcers who made so many mistakes they were wrong more than they were right. At the end of the day however, it’s about the competition and THAT was awesome. Some of my favorites were:
Trayvon Bromell – The world identifies with the 100 meters and the concept of the World’s Fastest Human. The battle for the best in college shaped up to be between Baylor’s Trayvon Bromell and Florida State’s Dentarius Locke. They didn’t disappoint as freshman Bromell continued his outstanding season by parlaying near perfect race execution into a WJR 9.97 to become the first teen to go under the 10 second barrier. In what may have been the most impressive individual performance of the meet. He’s a bit slightly built and may need some more power to compete with the big boys, but he certainly had the potential to be next big thing in U.S. sprinting.
Dedric Dukes – The men’s 4×1, 200 & 4×4 were exciting and had a common denominator – Florida’s Dedric Dukes. If there was a sprint star in this meet, I would have to say it was Dukes. It’s rare seeing a come from behind victory in a 4×1 at this level. High School yes – I just watched it happen at State. But at the college and elite levels you have to be pretty special to run down the competition from more than a meter down – but that’s just what Dukes did. Against sub 39 competition! He then took to the track for the 200 and peeled off a barely windy 19.91 – truly world class.. He led the world at 19.97 coming in and only a 19.82 turned in by Jamaican Warren Weir earlier in the day in New York is better.. He finished out his day with a sub 45 sec carry on Florida’s 4×4. Stud. Like Bromell could be a big part of U.S. sprinting’s future.
Lawi Lalang & Edward Cheserek – I list them together because twice they gave us sizzling battles in no less than the 5000 & 10000 meters. Yes I said sizzling because in spite of competing in the longest distances on they track, twice they came down to sub 60 sec final laps – Cheserek winning the 10K, Lalang the 5K." They are definitely two stars of the future ing the distance world and it was fun watching them turn distance races into sprints.
Jenna Prandini – Perhaps the best female performer of the meet in a meet filled with outstanding female performances. Prandini won the long jump. Came back to be a major player in the 100. Then finally returned to take silver in the 200 by just a few THOUSANDTH’s of a second. And if Oregon hadn’t botched an exchange in the semis she would have been a factor in the 4×1 as well! She reminded me a lot of Heike Drecshler, both in terms of technique and competitive drive. I watched her do similar things as a high school competitor here in California. Looks like she’s taking it to the next level.
All four relay events – The relays are always exciting at any level, but perhaps more so at the collegiate level where typically teams contending for overall title often have competitive relays – here was exception. Four times we had competitive relays that had some effect on team scoring. And four times we got exciting races. Something needs to be figured out at the elite level outside of Worlds and the Olympics – and what took place the Bahamas was NOT it.
So that’s my look at the NCAA Championships. One of the best meets we have in the sport annually. We need more meets like this on the docket.