What happened at yesterday’s NCAA Championships? Here is your short summary of the conclusion to the men’s competition.
GEORGIA WINS IN UPSET
The Georgia Bulldogs won the team title in an upset. They never trailed on the scoredboard at any time during the meet. It was their first men’s championship; their previous was sixth (last year and 2014).
The Dawgs did it by exceeding expectations in the field events. Denzel Comenentia won a hammer-shot double on Wednesday, Karl Saluri and Johannes Erm finished 2nd and 3rd in the decathlon on Thursday, and Keenon Laine and Antonios Merlos took 3rd and 5th in the high jump yesterday. Those alone were enough points to win, and eight more points in the 100 and 200 gave Georgia a comfortable ten-point margin.
The Florida Gators had been the pre-meet favorites, but did not score as much as expected in the long jump, high jump, and triple jump. Their second-place finish is their tenth straight trip to the podium for one of the trophies awarded to the top four teams.
Houston and USC rounded out the top four. The Cougars represent the first mid-major university on the podium since 2005, and it is just the second time they’ve ever done it (the other was 1959). This is USC’s 48th top-four finish but just the third time they’ve done it this century.
The evening was cool and rainy, so record expectations were dampened. But the records fell and in amazing fashion.
Houston got the meet off to a rousing start with a collegiate record (and Hayward Field record) in the 4×100 by running 38.17. Ohio State surprised everyone with a second-place finish, pushing traditional sprint powerhouses Florida and Arkansas to 3rd and 4th. It should be noted that first and second were the champions of the Penn and Drake Relays respectively, and the winners of Arkansas’ “National Relay Championships” were not, in fact, national champions.
The next record to fall was in the 400 meters, one I mentioned as a possibility in the CITIUS Mag podcast. USC’s Michael Norman ran a stunning 43.61, but what was even more stunning was that he had to work to win the race. Auburn’s Akeem Bloomfield and Nathon Allen were close as the trio came off the turn before Norman powered away down the homestretch. Norman broke the Hayward Field record held by Michael Johnson, which puts it all in perspective. Bloomfield ran 43.94, also under the old record, and Allen was third with 44.13.
Without a doubt the performance of the night came in the 400 hurdles and from another USC Trojan. Rai Benjamin was already the only collegian to ever run sub-48.00 before the NCAA Championships, so you figured he might kick it up a notch at the NCAAs. Did he ever. He ran 47.02, the second-fastest ever run. Anywhere. Ever. It wasn’t just a collegiate record or Hayward Field record, it was a record for the entire western hemisphere.
So with those two record runs you figured USC might be decent at the 4×400, and they did not disappoint. When USC handed off to Norman with a lead at the last exchange everyone thought it was over, but Texas A&M’s Devin Dixon closed the gap over the first 300 meters before Norman pulled away as he did in the open 400. USC ran 2:59.00, breaking LSU’s collegiate record from 2005, and Texas A&M slipped under 3:00 as well.
Two middle distance races featured similar upsets. New Mexico’s Josh Kerr (1500) and UTEP’s Michael Saruni (800) both set collegiate records this year and both won their events at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Both put themselves in difficult situations they couldn’t bail themselves out of.
Kerr had mentioned that he might attack his own collegiate record, but he was not able to get to the lead in the first 100 meters of the race and instead settled into the middle of the pack. The pace was very slow and that meant a lot of runners all trying to occupy the same space. Kerr found himself seventh at the bell and worked hard to get out of a box and did more work to get to the lead with 200 to go. Kerr faded down the homestretch, as did everyone else except Wisconsin’s Oliver Hoare. The Badger ran his last lap in 53.01.
In the 800, Saruni similarly found himself back in the pack but not because the pace was slow. Texas A&M’s Devin Dixon led through a 51.09 first lap and Saruni was a well-situated fourth. His fatal mistake was making a too-aggressive move and doing it too soon. He overtook the lead with 200 to go and was fading by the homestretch, where he was passed by Penn State’s Isaiah Harris. Both struggled over the last 50 meters, but Harris held on for the national championships win that had eluded him for so long. He had twice been a runner-up and twice more he finished fourth.
The men’s 5000 feature three men who have won NCAA championships in Syracuse’s Justyn Knight, Stanford’s Grant Fisher, and Northern Arizona’s Andy Trouard. None of them won, instead the title went to Stanford’s Sean McGorty. The pace wasn’t painfully slow as in the 1500 but it still wasn’t eliminating many runners. McGorty got to the lead at the right time (700 meters to go), took charge of the race, and repelled the challengers. In many ways it is an unsurprising upset, if such a thing is possible; he was the NCAA runner-up in this event two years ago but spent much of the time from then until now dealing with an Achilles injury.
HOUSTON HAS EACH OTHER’S BACKS
The Houston Cougars were rated as having a small chance at the championship if they had extraordinary results. They got off to a great start with a win and a record in the 4×100. Next up was the steeplechase, where Brian Barraza was one of many contenders for the win. He ran from the front and built a large lead – and then disaster struck with 300 meters to go. His lead leg didn’t make it over the barrier and he took a hard fall. Dazed and hurt, he got back to his feet but finished tenth and out of the scoring.
Two events later came the 100 meters, where Houston had three finalists. Cameron Burrell and Eli Hall finished first and second to put the Cougars back into contention. And then Burrell said this to ESPN’s Jon Anderson:
— Chris Chavez (@ChrisChavez) June 9, 2018
UPSETS IN THE FIELD
Field events are full of as much drama as running events, though you’d never know that from the “oh here’s the winner” field event coverage on ESPN’s broadcasts. All three were upsets.
The high jump went to Kansas State freshman Tejaswin Shankar. The 19-year-old from New Delhi became just the third Indian to ever win an NCAA championship. He flew under the radar because he missed the NCAA indoor championships in favor of going to the Commonwealth Games. He had no misses through his first four heights and was the only man to clear 2.24 meters (7′ 4¼”).
Memphis’ Luke Vaughn was staring elimination in the face when he sat tenth in the third round of the discus. His next throw not only rescued him but put him in first for good.
It wasn’t much of an upset for Texas A&M’s Tahar Triki to win the triple jump, but he did beat the reigning NCAA indoor and outdoor champions and did it in his first full season of NCAA competition. He took the lead on his first jump and never relinquished it.