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June 8, 2017

Thursday NCAA Viewer’s Guide: Decathlon and Field Events

The NCAA Championships continue today, starting with the conclusion of the decathlon at 1:30pm Eastern time (10:30am Pacific). Women’s competition opens today with five field event finals plus running event semis. I’m splitting my preview for today into two parts; track events will be published later today. Below is everything you need to know about today’s decathlon and field event action.

Key Links:
Live results
ESPN3 coverage
Live twitter coverage via yours truly

The Schedule
To the left (or above on mobile platforms) is today’s schedule presented in visual form.

Pink and blue indicates men’s and women’s competition (all women except the decathlon). Starting times for field events are exact but how long each will take is a guess.

ESPN3 will cover the decathlon and field events up through 7:30pm (Eastern), when the television broadcast will begin on ESPNU. It will switch over to ESPN2 at 8:30pm.

Who is going to win the team championship?
Today is the first day of the women’s competition. Oregon is figured as a lock to win, despite losing sprinter Hannah Cunliffe to injury and their 4×100 relay suffering the dreaded out-of-zone disqualification two weeks ago. The Ducks are so loaded and across so many events that it appears more or less a foregone conclusion. If somehow they were to suffer a Golden-State-Warriors-2016-NBA-finals level of implosion, then there are a handful of team that could win it: USC, Arkansas, Georgia, or LSU.

All of the top four teams in the final standings walk away with trophies. I have identified eight teams I think are fighting for those four trophies (Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Oregon, Texas A&M, and USC) and have highlighted them in each event preview.

Begins at 10:30am local time (1:30pm EDT), runs all day
Live results
Texas A&M’s Lindon Victor twice set the collegiate record this year. That mean’s he’s going to win it easy today, right? Not so fast, my friend.

Georgia’s Devon Williams is making a run at him and just might be able to pull off the upset. Williams won the heptathlon at the NCAA Indoor Championships, where Victor’s strengths in the discus and javelin were not part of the competition. Take a look at the table below. I’ve taken each competitor’s first-day score and added the points equivalents of their PRs in the second-day events. It shows just six points separating Williams and Victor.

All events matter here but a few matter more than others. First off, Williams’ hurdle PR is not a typo – he really has run 13.37. He won the SEC Championships with that (and beat Grant Holloway, the favorite to win Friday’s NCAA final). If he can reproduce that today it would be a world record for the decathlon. In any case, he can and must make a huge point differential with Victor. Second is the pole vault. It’s difficult to win a decathlon in the vault but an early exit can lose it, so either man could torpedo his chances if he’s not careful.

Besides those two, Williams must manage his losses in the discus and javelin. Victor will beat him in those two events and by a lot. But if he keeps it close, then we’ll get one of the best things you can hope for: a decathlon that comes down to the 1500.

Hammer Throw
2:00pm local time (5:00pm EDT)
Format: two flights (top 12 seeds in second flight) then finals

Start lists & live results

“TFN” indicates position on the Track & Field News formchart.
Ratcliffe has won NCAA hardware in the past including the 2014 championship, but Ewen has made huge improvements in the last year and is the clear favorite. After those two, hardly anyone has NCAA Championships experience. Given that the forecast calls for rain, this is an event where an advantage could go to athletes accustomed to competing in bad weather (such as those from the Northeast, upper Midwest, and Pacific Northwest). Very few of the top teams have qualifiers in the hammer, let alone much of a chance at scoring.

Pole Vault
Begins at 5:00pm local time (8:00pm EDT)
Start lists and live results

Two-time NCAA Champion Lexi Weeks is the favorite, but chaos happens in the pole vault. One need look no further than the indoor championships back in March, where Alabama’s Lakan Taylor took a surprise win. Add in some rain and things could get extra chaotic. If experience in bad weather helps (maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t) then the advantage likely goes to Grove (South Dakota) and Clute (Indiana). Arkansas picked up huge points in this event on their way to the team championship last year, and would need to be close to maxing out to have a chance at it again.

Javelin Throw
Begins at 5:45pm local time (8:45pm EDT)
Format: two flights (top 12 seeds in second flight) then finals

Start lists and live results

I’d rate this as a toss-up between Wales (LSU) and Sediva (Virginia Tech), with Vucenovic (Florida) and Malone (Texas A&M) as both having realistic chances as well. This is the rare women’s throwing event that will play a large role in which teams win the trophies up for grabs. Haley Crouser (Texas) will have big crowd support since she’s an Oregon native and part of the Crouser throwing clan.

Long Jump
Begins at 6:00pm local time (9:00pm EDT)
Format: two concurrent flights in adjacent pits, then finals

Start lists and live results

As you can see above, Burks (Alabama) and Saunders (Kentucky) have three national championships and nine top-three finishes between them. The expectation is another battle. Oregon’s Foster is not expected to score, but has been on a sharp upward curve and could surprise.

Shot Put
6:40pm local time (9:40pm EDT)
Format: two concurrent flights in adjacent circles, then finals

Quick: which athlete in the NCAA has had the most dominant collegiate career? Everyone knows about Cheserek, but there others who are every bit as good or better but fly under the radar because they compete in women’s field events. One of them is Ole Miss junior Raven Saunders. Save an inexplicable 12th-place bomb at the 2016 NCAA indoor championships, she has never lost a shot put competition to a fellow collegian. She holds the collegiate record, the top three throws in collegiate history, and seven of the top ten. She finished fifth in the Olympics last summer, and a twenty-year-old doing that in a throwing event is comparable to a sixteen-year-old doing it in any other event.

But something weird happened this spring. She competed in an outdoor meet in late March and then not again until the NCAA regionals two weeks ago. I tried to find out what happened – was she injured? All I could discover is that she had a long suspension due to an unspecified violation of team rules.

She’s here, but short on competition and not totally sharpened up. Even so, I see only one woman who could take advantage and pull off the upset. That’s Kent State’s Dani Thomas, the NCAA indoor runner-up whose PR (18.49) is just outside the all-time collegiate top ten.

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