You are, of course, familiar with the old saw, “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” That wasn’t exactly the case in Eugene, as the athletes did something utterly amazing about it; they made people forget the extreme conditions.
Two days of some of the most compelling track & field I’ve ever seen at any level didn’t make Hayward Field any drier or warmer, but it certainly made most people forget about the conditions. All those Collegiate Records, plus riveting team battles for both sexes.
Stereotypically, I could be expected—as I move deeper and deeper into old-fartdom—to get all gushy in talking about the good old days. You know, “back when I was young…” Perhaps as more years go by the excitement of the 2018 moment will fade a bit, but for now, this year’s meet is at the top of my NCAA list. For various reasons I’ve missed a few here and there since I started at T&FN in December of ‘69, but this year’s edition was No. 41 on my attendance list.
If there’s one thing that stands out as a constant in those five decades of watching, it’s how the athletes make you forget the little annoyances in life. You know: scorching heat, freezing cold, boiling humidity, rains of Biblical proportions, lighting, hail. No plagues of locusts, though.
Ask somebody else who was at the meets and they’ll come up with a different list, but here’s my choices for the athlete who left the most indeligible impression on me at each of those NCAAs:
1970s — Prefontaine & Rono Rewrite Distance Records
1971— Steve Prefontaine for his 13:20.1 MR in the 3M; 1972—Pre again, an MR 13:31.4 for 5000m (crushing his 3M MR en route with a 13:04.4); 1973—He brings the Sun Devils only into 3rd, but an historic 43.4y anchor on the Arizona State 4×4 by Maurice Peoples. I left the split on my stopwatch for months; 1974—an expletive-laden SP win for Jesse Stuart; 1975—a 3M/6M double by Washington State’s John Ngeno; 1978—a meet that belongs to Henry Rono, with MRs in the steeple heats and final and 5K heats; 1979—Renaldo Nehemiah of Maryland with the fastest flight of hurdles in history, 12.91w.
1980s — Women Welcomed To The Party, At Last
1980—Carl Lewis’s first NCAA appearance produces the longest jump, albeit windy, in meet history; 1981—Lewis’s final NCAA appearance for Houston produces the meet’s first legal 27-footer as he wins by more than a foot; 1982—an all-time high is reached as women finally join the NCAA fray; there’s also an all-time low as a misbegotten 12-place scoring system is introduced; 1983—Jackie Joyner sets a CR in the heptathlon and for good measure scores in the 100H and triple jump, plus both hurdles; 1984—a super horizontal jump double by Mike Conley of Arkansas, with 4×1 points to boot; 1985—Conley doubles again, plus relay points and tacks on a runner-up finish in the 200; 1986—a masterful 5/10 double for Wisconsin’s Stephanie Herbst, the latter in CR time; 1987—the smoothness of Buckeye Butch Reynolds as he lowers the MR to 44.13; 1988—UCLA’s legendary foursome cracks 3:00 in the 4×4; 1989—Provo’s altitude helps, but Dawn Sowell’s 10.78/22.04 double for LSU is nonetheless boggling.
1990s — I Missed Quite A Few
1991—a 10.03w/19.90w sprint double by BYU’s Frank Fredericks; 1992—USC’s Quincy Watts sets a CR of 44.00, a mark that lasts 25 years; 1993—OK, I admit it; the athletes get trumped by the delights of the French Quarter in this New Orleans staging; 1994—Erick Walder of Arkansas scores an LJ/TJ double, winning the former on best second jump; 1995—UCLA women have a great field-event meet, claiming MRs in the HJ (Amy Acuff) and shot (Valeyta Althouse) plus a discus win for Dawn Dumble; 1996—Lawrence Johnson of Tennessee raises the MR to 19-1 (a mark that lasts until this year);
2000s — The Dawn Of The Regionals Era
2001—who can forget the first NCAA for Justin Gatlin of Tennessee, who wins the 100 in 10.08 =AJR and the 200 in 20.11w (after a 19.86w semi); 2002—Purdue javelin star Serene Ross raises the American Record to 195-8; 2003—it’s a whole new ballgame, as athletes qualify through Regionals for the first time; 2004—Baylor’s Jeremy Wariner runs 44.71, but looks like Olympic material in so-doing; 2005—fast laps produce 2 CRs: 50.10 for UCLA’s Monique Henderson sans hurdles, 47.56 for Florida’s Kerron Clement with; 2006—the X-Man’s legendary triple; in the space of some 2 hours he wins the 100, 400 and anchors the CR-setting 4×4; 2007—Walter Dix’s turn to triple, the Florida Stater winning the 100/200/4×1; 2008—CRs for Hannah England of Florida State in the 1500, Jenny Barringer of Colorado in the steeple; 2009—Barringer lowers her steeple CR, winning for the third time in a row.
2010s — A Lot Of Time At Hayward Field
2010—this one is easy: nobody who was there will ever forget the lid blowing off Hayward Field as Andrew Wheating, A.J. Acosta and Matthew Centrowitz forged a Duck 1-2-3 in the 1500; 2011—Sheila Reid of Villanova becomes the first, man or woman, to win a 1500/5000 double; 2012—this time the historic double belongs to Andrew Riley of Illinois, who pairs up wins in the 100 and 110H; 2013—Kori Carter of Stanford claims the CR in the 400H; 2014—Trayvon Bromell of Baylor emerges as a world-class sprint threat, lowering the WJR in the 100 to 9.97; 2015—USC’s neophyte dashman Andre De Grasse really emerges as a sprint threat, running 9.58w/19.58w; 2016—shades of Jesse Owens as Razorback Jarrion Lawson scores a 100/200/LJ triple and tacks on 4×1 points for good measure; 2017—Oregon’s women finish the meet with a 4×4 CR, getting the points needed to capture the team title.
2019 and on? I can’t wait! ▫︎