The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

NCAA Championships

Jun 13th, 2017
2:18 pm PST

Track SectionChampionship season is my favorite time of year. The relay circuit is fun. The Diamond League gives us a glimpse of the world’s elite athletes. But in today’s track and field it’s Championships that gives us the head to head competition between the sports best athletes at every level!

The NCAA’s are always the first of the "elite" championships each year. What makes this meet so exciting for me is the depth of competition; the exciting competition; and the emergence of the elite athletes as they prepare to "graduate" to compete against their elders. Once again, this meet meet those expectations. In spite of the weather/conditions in Eugene once again playing havoc with the competition. Rain and cold temperatures on the concluding two days greatly affecting performances.

That said, the athletes proved what I always say about this sport – at the end of the day it’s tremendous head to head competition that makes this sport great! And on both the men’s and women’s side titles are determined by the results of the 4×4 relays! It doesn’t get any more exciting than that. Titles going to Florida on the men’s side and Oregon on the women’s side. Giving Florida a repeat, going back to back from last year; and giving Oregon the first triple crown – indoor & outdoor track and cross country titles. Speaking of firsts, it was only 2010 when Florida coach Mike Holloway became the first black coach to win a title (indoors). Since then he’s won indoor titles in 2011 & 2012, and outdoor titles in 2012, 2013, 2016 and now 2017! This year, he and Oregon coach Robert Johnson, another black coach, simultaneously win both the men’s and women’s titles. Now it’s just normal – as it should be.

That brings me to my last pet peeve about this meet. The separation of the men and women. The meet alternates days between men and women, semis and finals. Personally I don’t like the segregation,treating them like separate entities. It also speeds the meet up in a way that hurts the competition in my humble opinion. Reducing the excitement of multiple relays; the riding of momentum when the race right before you is hit; and having the men and women together fighting for championships and spurring each other on in the heat of battle! Again, just my opinion.

As great athletes do, however, the athletes made this one hell of an exciting meet in spite of all of the above! My highlights?

The emergence of Christian Coleman. He’d already been having an outstanding season heading into this meet. His 100 semi here put him on another plane however, as he blazed a wind legal 9.82 that made him the =9th fastest performer in history! I’m waiting to see what he does it be competes at US Nationals, but right now this year is starting to look like Maurice Greene’s 1997 – when he truly became elite and emerged as a true force on the world stage.

While he is quietly in Coleman’s shadow, Cameron Burrell, son of former star Leroy Burrell, is also rising in consistency and speed. Leading the Houston 4×1 to a national title and taking silver in the 100 after a swift 9.93 PR in his semi – the final being hampered by wet/windy conditions. Burrell has had a nice season so far and could be a finalist at US Nationals should be compete. A dark horse, potential elite also emerged in this meet in the form of previously unheard of Chris Belcher. Belcher led North Carolina to a third place finish in the 4×1, then finished in third in the 100 behind Coleman and Burrell. He also blitz a wind legal 9.93 in his 100 semi. Did I mention he ran a legal 20.01 in his 200 semi? The young man like like he could be the real deal. Looking forward to seeing more of him.

Burrell wasn’t the only "kid" of an Olympic medalist to make an impact in this meet. In what was possibly the most exciting single head to head off the meet, Florida’s Kyra Jefferson (daughter of ’84 200 bronze medalist Thomas Jefferson) went head to head with Oregon’s Deajah Stevens. The final 80 meters saw these women in a stride for stride battle until Kyra finally broke her some 15 meters before the finish. What does that mean? Well, if you’re old school, you know that means she made her break stride, which is why Deajah stumbled and fell down on the track. She wasn’t "injured" as the announcers speculated – well maybe her pride. She was simply outrun to the tape. There was no reason to be embarrassed as Jefferson crossed the line in 22.02, breaking a 28 year old NCAA record! Joining Coleman in the WOW department.

Don’t cry for Stevens however, as she came back to be part of a WOW moment of her own. Oregon needed a win in the meet’s final event, the 4×4, to claim the team title and the Triple Crown. Anything less and the team title would go to Georgia. Standing in their way was an outstanding squad from USC. Deajah ran the second leg as these two teams went toe to toe from start to finish. Oregon finally edging ahead to win by.22 in 3:23.13 to crush the previous Collegiate Record of 3:24.21. The 49.77 for Oregon’s Raevyn Sanders holding off the 49.82 of USC’S Kendall Ellis. The parade behind them was fast and deep, as four other teams ran under 3:28.00. This race put an explanation point on an outstanding meet!

Like I said earlier, when the best get together and compete, outstanding things happen! In the shadows of these collegiate record efforts, Fred Kerley (Collegiate 400 record holder) merely "cruised" to a 44.10 victory in the 400 – a time equaled or bettered by only three other collegiate athletes in history. He took to the track again in the 4×4, anchoring Texas A&M to a 2:59.98 win with a 43.99 split.Then there was Super Freshman Grant Holloway leading the Florida Gators team victory as he became only the fourth freshman in history to win the 110 hurdles title. He followed that up with a second place finish in the long jump and a 43.89 anchor on the 4×4 that secured the Gators’ team title. While LSU’s Mikiah Brisco found herself emerging from the shadows of more well known sprinters to take a stunning 10.96 100 meter win and propel herself into the spotlight.

So, with another outstanding NCAA Championships in the books, we begin the road to the World Championships in August. Next stop, the US and other country’s National championships. Ours will be in Sacramento in a week and a half. Can’t wait.

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