Stanford’s Mackenzie Little dominates NCAA Women’s Javelin Throw

By Allan Johnstone

Mackenzie Little of Stanford won the women’s javelin event at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships on Thursday with a distance of 198 feet, a personal record.

“I did a good job staying calm and not letting the pressure get to my head,” said Little.

Her other five throws were all consistently around 186 feet.

Little, a junior, placed fourth last year with a distance of 181 feet, 6 inches. She attributed her improvement this year to her training with her coach, Zeb Sion, as well as the constant support and drive from her fellow thrower teammates.

“He’s the most fantastic coach I’ve ever had — he individualizes training for each of us and knows us so well,” said Little. “He kept telling us we were all in the right spot and doing the right things.”

All that training paid off. Little, who competed in the second of two flights, came out with a bang on her first throw.

Immediately following her release, the fans fell silent because they could already tell that throw was going to be something special, and when the spear landed just over the 196-foot line, even before the official distance was announced, the crowd erupted into cheers and applause.

That throw would be the one that won her the competition.

“It was an amazing feeling,” said Little.

No one else came within 10 feet of Little’s first throw.

Her Stanford teammate Jenna Gray, who competed in the first flight, finished second with a throw of 187-11 inches, a personal record.

“It was amazing coming in knowing that my teammate just had a huge PR,” said Little. “It was so inspiring.”

Four other competitors also threw personal records. Laura Paredes of Florida State placed third at 181 feet. Kelechi Nwanaga of University of Maryland Baltimore County came in fourth place at 180-6. Other personal records included Oregon State’s Destiny Dawson, who finished ninth with a throw of 171-1, and Georgia’s Marie-Therese Obst, who finished 15th with a throw of 153-5.

Little, who is from Australia, is going on a vacation to Spain soon with her family, whom she hasn’t been able to see in a while. But she is already looking forward to her senior year track season.

“I’m just so excited to come back next year,” said Little. “We still have so much to do.”

Maggie Ewen continues her winning ways with NCAA shot put title

By Edward Burnette 

Maggie Ewen of Arizona State has frequently been in the winner’s circle since she entered the sport of collegiate track and field. She continued her dominant ways in Eugene on Thursday as she won the shot put at the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

Ewen quickly grabbed the top spot on her second throw of the event with a mark of 62 feet, 10 ¾ inches. The throw opened up a lead on the other athletes, ensuring that everyone else in the competition had to play catch-up.

“It puts you in that comfortable place,” Ewen said, “in that confident mindset of we can just go have fun and attack it. No reservations.”

While no athletes would catch Ewen, Jessica Woodard of Oklahoma came close on her fifth throw when she set a new personal best of 61-3 ½.

“It feels great,” said Woodard. “Obviously, PRs are good, but I just need to stay consistent in my training and just go for it.”

Woodard also felt confident after her second-place finish because of her previous performances in meets. “It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “I’ve had a couple big fouls the last couple of meets, so you know what they say — third time’s a charm. And this is my third meet, and it came all together.”

The performance capped Ewen’s remarkable career at ASU. She set a new collegiate record in the shot put on April 28 with a mark of 63-10 ¼. While she didn’t reach that on Thursday, Ewen did win her third NCAA championship, joining her wins in the hammer throw at the 2017 NCAA outdoors in shot put at the 2018 NCAA indoors. She also finished as a finalist for the Bowerman Award last year and is hoping this year to become the first thrower to win the award.

Even with all her accomplishments, Ewen worked to get her mind right coming into the competition. She had failed to qualify for NCAAs in the hammer throw, an event she won last year.

“It’s one of those double-edged swords where I would’ve loved to be here, loved to have done it,” said Ewen. “But now I can invest that energy in to two events instead of three and try to make these two go very well.”

For now, her strategy is working. She will be competing in the discus on Saturday as she goes for her fourth overall NCAA title.

Keturah Orji finally wins an NCAA long jump title

By Bryce Dole

Three-time NCAA triple jump champion and American record holder Keturah Orji had never won a NCAA long jump final in her career. She did finish second in both the 2017 outdoor NCAAs and 2018 indoor NCAAs.

She finally turned the corner Thursday at the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships when she won the long jump with a leap of 21 feet, 10 3/4 inches.

“I’m super excited. I think I’m happiest about this one because I’ve never won long jump,” Orji said. “It’s taken a lot more work and effort for this win, so I’m really happy with my performance.”

The victory capped Orji’s strongest season so far in the event. The difference in finally attaining a title, she said, was her consistency.

“Most of my jumps were over 6.60 (meters) this year,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a year doing that.”

Three months ago at NCAA indoors, Orji and teammates Tara Davis and Kate Hall achieved the first podium sweep in the history of women’s long jump, and they had high expectations going into the outdoor season.

This time, Hall failed to make the finals after having struggles with her steps, and Davis took fifth place with a jump of 21-3 ¼ in her first NCAA Outdoor long jump competition, which began only 30 minutes after her preliminary heat in the 100-meter hurdles.

“This outdoor season has been a little more of a struggle for us,” said Orji. “But we’re still looking to do what we can to get the team title. Everyone has been working really hard and I’m going to miss them a lot because this is my last collegiate meet.”

This victory gives Orji pride and confidence going into Saturday’s triple jump competition, where she will jump for her fourth consecutive NCAA title.

“I’m definitely going to have a lot of confidence going in,” said Orji. “I need to score those 10 points for the team, so I’m really excited. It’s going to be special.”

After that, it’s on to a professional career.

“I honestly think I’m going to focus more on triple jump,” said Orji. “But I definitely will continue to long jump a little bit once I go pro.”

 

NCAA championships: What happened on Day One

By Shawn Medow

On the first day of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships, the SOJC Track Bureau published eight stories for four professional news organizations. Here’s a wrap-up of Wednesday’s action on the first day of the men’s championships:

Alex Castle worked for a South Dakota paper, the Press and Dakotan, covering the University of South Dakota’s first Division I NCAA pole vault champion, Chris Nilsen.

Writing for The Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine, Collin Catman covered Lewiston native Isaiah Harris’ heat victory and advancement to the 800-meter final on Friday.

Jake Willard wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer on Villanova’s Ben Malone and Cheltenham grad John Lewis, as the two failed to advance in the NCAAs.

SOJC Track Bureau alum Shawn Medow returned to the class for the Pensacola News Journal to cover Florida State’s shot putter Austin Droogsma, who improved on his 2017 12th-place finish with a seventh-place finish.

We wrote for our own website, too:

Melissa Ingabire covered Anderson Peters’ record-setting performance in the men’s javelin.

Allan Johnstone might have covered the most exciting finish of the day as Michigan’s Ben Flanagan narrowly took the men’s 10,000. 

Zack Bazile set two personal bests on his way to winning the long jump, and August Howell had it covered.

And Katie Hansen wrote about the favored Florida Gators’ struggles early on with the long jump and how that may affect the team race.

Anderson Peters sets NCAA championship record in javelin win

By Melissa Ingabire

Mississippi State freshman thrower Anderson Peters made his NCAA championship debut a memorable one by breaking the NCAA meet record in the javelin Wednesday at Hayward Field with a throw of 271 feet, 8 inches.

Which, according to the NCAA, is also his PR, but Peters says they’ve got it all wrong: “This is not my personal best. My personal best stands at 84.81 (278-3). This is just my season best.”

Peters threw his PR at the third OECS Track And Field Championships in 2017, making his winning throw at NCAA a couple feet away from another personal best. It was still well ahead of the previous NCAA championships record, 270-11, set last year by Ioannis Kyriazis of Texas A&M.

Peters maintained some of the farthest throws throughout the competition, dominating from his first throw. At one point, he was leading his competitors by as much as 10 feet, and the only person to come close was his teammate, senior Nicolas Quijera, who finished second with a throw of 263-2.

The freshman said he and his teammates coined the term “Jav U” because they are the only university to have three guys throw over 80 meters. He credited his success Wednesday night to all the preparation he has done specially for this meet with his teammates.

According to Peters, training specifically for this meet helped him know exactly how many throws he needed to get warm, and it was this calculated approach that allowed him to take the lead from the first throw.

Despite being at his best physically, Peters wasn’t satisfied with his performances. “ Yes, I am at my best, but I wasn’t able to throw as far as I wanted to.”

However, the thrower did realize he broke the meet record for the last at Hayward before it is demolished for the new stadium and said, “OK — I guess that’s pretty cool. Hopefully, I come back in 2020 and set the meet record again.”

Michigan’s Ben Flanagan uses a strong kick to pull upset in 10,000 meters

By Allan Johnstone

In the one of the biggest shockers of the opening day, Michigan’s Ben Flanagan outkicked Vincent Kiprop in the final 100 meters of the men’s 10,000-meter race to win his first NCAA championship with a time of 28 minutes, 34.53 seconds, a personal record and .46 ahead of Kiprop, one of the favorites.

The biggest question going into the race was whether an American runner could break the streak of international runners who had won the event for the past nine years. The favorites included Northern Arizona teammates Tyler Day, an American; Matthew Baxter, from New Zealand; and Kiprop, a Kenyan who competes for Alabama.

No one expected the Michigan senior to be in the conversation. But Flanagan, a Canadian from Ottawa, was the ninth international runner to stand atop the podium in the 10,000. The last American to do it was Galen Rupp back in 2009.

The race started with the trio from Alabama taking a dominant lead.

“Sometimes you got to go and feel yourself,” said Kiprop. “I didn’t know I was going that fast.”

But by the fifth lap, the Alabama runners’ lead had disappeared, and Day and Baxter were at the front with the rest of the pack close behind. Flanagan was in the middle of the pack.

“I tried to stay comfortable,” he said. “I knew running up front is tough for a whole 10K. I told myself if I feel relatively comfortable, I know that in the last 400 I’d have more steam than those guys.

“I told myself if you were in top three, don’t get too excited about that,” Flanagan added. “If you are in contention, for the win, go for that. This is your last chance to be a national champion.”

In the last 400 meters of the race, Flanagan was right where he wanted to be.

Kiprop put up about a five-meter gap, but then out of nowhere Flanagan appeared.

“That’s when it snapped in,” Flanagan said. “I started flailing and luckily, I carried the momentum forward instead of sideways. When I got a meter, I started freaking out.”

Flanagan plans to finish his masters in Ann Arbor while also pursuing professional running.

“I knew what to expect,” he said. “I felt like I belonged.”

Zack Bazile sets two personal bests en route to men’s long jump victory

By August Howell

Prior to the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Oregon long jumper Damarcus Simpson said he needed to remain focused on what had made him successful all season.

“I just want to keep it the same,” Simpson said. “I think that’s the problem with a lot of people, they try to do too much. I think you just have to remain poised at this competition.”

Whether it be the stiff competition or just an off day, Simpson did not advance out of the preliminaries, and he completed only one legal jump. Simpson’s first NCAA outdoor competition pitted him against two of the best jumpers in the NCAA of the past two seasons, Florida’s KeAndre Bates and Grant Holloway, both of whom are NCAA titleholders — and who also struggled.

Going into the final attempt of the first round, Simpson was slotted in ninth place, the final qualifying position for the final. But on his last jump, Holloway jumped 25 feet, 8 1/4 inches, knocking the two-time Pac-12 champion into 10th place.

The men’s long jump had been predicted to be a showdown between an in-form Simpson and the Holloway and Bates of historically great Florida. Though the two Gators made the final, neither of them could keep up with Zack Bazile.

Coming into the meet, Bazile, a senior from Ohio State, was not even in the top-1o distances in the nation. On his first attempt, the senior from Ohio State set his first personal best of the day, 26-9 feet, which was farther than any other attempt that day.

After his second jump, he couldn’t help but smile to himself and do a subtle celebration as he walked back to the bench at the start of the long jump runway. The 2018 Big Ten champion had just set a personal best for the second consecutive jump, drawing gasps from the crowd as he leapt to 27-5 1/2. In doing so, he eclipsed Simpson’s NCAA-leading mark of  27-4.

For Simpson, the defending conference champion in the event, it was his first time competing in the long jump at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Last season, Simpson was unable to land a legal jump at the West Regional and did not qualify. The following offseason, Simpson had knee surgery and missed the 2018 indoor season.

Jordan Latimer of Akron finished runner-up to Bazile. For him, the result was a big-time finish, and it came down to the wire. The junior was in third place for most of the final round, but he earned a personal-best of 26-3 3/4 on his last jump to move one spot up. He was relieved to finally perform on the big stage.

“For the past three years. … I’ve kinda like choked,” Latimer said. “I’ve had the big jumps. They just haven’t been at the meets they need to be at.”

Holloway, last season’s runner-up and the only man to break 13.20 seconds in the 110 hurdles and 8.10 meters in the long jump, finished the day in ninth. The sophomore said something just didn’t feel right about his execution, even in the 110-meter hurdles heat in which he finished second.

“We’re all human and we all make mistakes,” Holloway said. “I just wasn’t feeling it today.”

Florida long jumpers struggle, and so do the favored Gators

By Katelyn Hansen

KeAndre Bates and Grant Holloway had finished 1-2 in the long jump at last year’s NCAA championships, and Holloway also won the 110-meter hurdles, so they had high expectations in the long jump at NCAAs this year.

But Bates, the seventh man in Division I history to sweep the long jump and triple jump, fell to seventh place, with a jump of 25 feet, 9 1/2 inches. And Holloway finished ninth with a jump of 25-8 1/4, scoring no points.

“We are all going to take what we learned today,” Holloway said, “and use it in everyday life.”

Holloway also qualified second in the 110 hurdles behind Alabama’s Ruebin Walters with a time of 13.42.

“I was trying my best to get everything going,” he said. “Even in the hurdles, just some things weren’t clicking. I’m going to get this rest, go watch some film and be back on Friday, ready to run.”

Florida was the top ranked men’s team going into NCAAs, and the Gators had the most entries (17) and the most seeds in the top five (seven), making them the favorite. Florida is going for its third NCAA outdoor title and is attempting to become the sixth team to win three back-to-back NCAA outdoor titles.

After the first day, Florida was in fifth place overall after a second place in the hammer, and seventh- and ninth-place finishes in the long jump. The Gators have 13 points going into the finals, not too far from first place, Georgia, which scored 20.

“You guys had predictions, and the athletes, I guess, didn’t play up to those predictions,” Holloway said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say we were the favorite, but it’s just an off day.”

 

 

With a little help from the ‘spirit,’ Noah Lyles continues his 200-meter domination

By Nate Mann

Sprinter Noah Lyles knew competition in the Prefontaine Classic 200 meters would be difficult, so he called for a “spirit bomb” on Twitter. A spirit bomb is one of Goku’s finishing moves in Dragonball Z, a Japanese anime series, that “calls upon all the energy of all living beings.”

“When I call for a spirit bomb, that means I want all my fans and everybody who’s supporting me to give me their energy so I can win a race,” Lyles said.

The last time he asked for a spirit bomb, Lyles broke the high school world record at the Olympic Trials.

Did it work Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic?

“It definitely did!” Lyles exclaimed. “You see that time?”

The 20-year-old Lyles ran a personal best 19.69 seconds, extending his undefeated streak in Diamond League 200-meter races to four with a convincing win over Trinidad and Tobago’s Jereem Richards, who finished in 20.05. Lyles’ mark ties this year’s fastest time, which was run by South Africa’s Clarence Munyai in March.

Ameer Webb, the only other American in the race after Christian Coleman dropped, credited the youngster, who is seven years younger than he is, on the victory. “He has fun. And that’s the key,” said Webb. “You have fun out there, and you’re going to have a great race.”

Despite running 20.56 seconds and finishing sixth, Webb was proud of his performance. He underwent surgery in October and is still in the process of recovering. By the end of the season, he hopes to be in the low-20s once again.

For now, Lyles continues to dominate the 200-meter race on the professional level. Plus, winning the Prefontaine Classic felt like fate for the sprinter.

“I’ve been watching Prefontaine since I was in high school, looking at the screen like, ‘Man, I could’ve been in that 200,’” said Lyles. “I’m excited I could come here, win and do what I dreamed when I was in high school.”

Around this time last year, he injured his hamstring and later pulled out of the semifinals at the U.S. championships. To avoid doing the same this season, Lyles began training a lot earlier in the preseason to strengthen his hamstrings and abs.

He travels to Jamaica next to run the 100-meter dash at the JN Racers Grand Prix. There, Lyles hopes to achieve his first wind-legal sub-10 second finish with a more fit body. A successful race bolsters his message that the young sprinters are taking over as well.

“The limit is to make the human race as a whole get faster and see that the next generation has stepping stones, that they don’t have to worry about the oldheads, as they say, taking their spots,” said Lyles. “These kids should know that just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t take their spots.”

Caster Semenya runs fastest 800 meters by a woman on U.S. soil

By August Howell

Ajeé Wilson stood hunched over the fence in the media tent next to the track, trying to catch her breath. The American record holder had just leaned past Francine Niyonsaba to take second in the women’s 800 meters at the Prefontaine Classic.

Wilson said she was more tired than usual, as she had to move past Ethiopia’s Habitam Alemu, avoid being tripped on the final turn, then go all-out in the final straightaway to overtake Niyonsaba.

“That last 200 meters of the race I kind made a couple mistakes, but I’m glad I was able to come away with second,” she said.

Wilson finished in 1 minute, 56.86 seconds, just. 02 ahead of Niyonsaba, who finished in 1:56.88.

But well ahead of both was Caster Semenya, who outkicked the rest of the field with 125 meters left to finish with a meet record 1:55:92, the fastest 800 meters by a woman on U.S. soil.

Despite the controversy surrounding Semenya and the IAAF’s impeding ruling of regulating female testosterone levels, she focused all her energy on the race.

“I’m here to perform,” Semenya said. “To be honest, I’m just an athlete. There’s nothing I can do or say about that.”

In a race that featured the top three finishers from the Rio Olympics and the 2017 world championships, Semenya closed the final lap in 57.99 seconds and never looked uncomfortable.

“When you live life, you gain experience,” Semenya said. “I’ve been in this world almost three decades now. … You just want to inspire people. Inspire the youth to show them that you believe anything is possible.”

From the start, Semenya tucked in right behind the pacesetter, Chrishuna Williams, who led the first 500 meters. With 200 meters to go, the field was still condensed. Former Duck Raevyn Rogers was in the mix, and she finished seventh with a season-best 1:59.36, a full two seconds faster than her last 800 meters at the Adidas Boston Games.

“I’ve been, I guess, in a way scared to get really in the mix with things,” Rogers said. “But with this meet, I was really excited. I was able to really do the best that I could and actually finish close and still go sub two. … It’s a good day for me.”

Semenya admitted she was eyeing the world record of 1:53.28. She said Saturday was just the first step in a very long journey to achieve that goal.

“Now it’s no longer about running hard,” she said. “It’s about running smart.”

If Semenya, already historically dominant, starts putting serious work into setting a world record, the rest of the field could be in trouble.

As Wilson put it, “It’s good to get second.”

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