NCAA Men’s 200 — To Win Is Divine

Half-lap winner Divine Oduduru is familiar with the outer confines of the Hayward Field track. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Same rainy day, (mostly) different cast of characters. That sums up any comparison between this year’s 100 and its longer-dash sibling, the 200, in which there was no clear favorite but a trio of major conference champions who had good claims.

Enter our No. 1, Texas Tech’s Divine Oduduru, who had won the Big 12 title in 20.13. Though 2nd at the NCAA Indoor, a non-qualifier for the 100 final here and 3rd in his semi for this race (20.33), the Nigerian soph was triumphant from lane 8 with a strong last 50 and perfectly timed lean at the line to win in 20.28 from ACC champ Andre Ewers (20.29) and SEC titlist Kendal Williams (20.32) as non-seniors took the first 6 places.

Between graduations and a couple of turn-pro-early decisions, just a single returner from the ’17 half-lap final, Jaylen Bacon, reached the semis here, and the Arkansas State senior fared worse here than he had in the 100, with a 7th in his semi.

Tennessee’s fast-starting Mustaqeem Williams led off the semis with a 20.23 win in the first section from another junior, LSU’s Jaron Flournoy (20.26), Oduduru and the final’s lone senior, Kenzo Cotton of Arkansas. Oduduru and Cotton claimed the two time-based Qs.

Kendal Williams took semi II, his 20.23 PR matching the mark of the Tennessean Williams, and Ewers moved through an unpressed 2nd with 20.31.

The times of Rodney Rowe (20.49) and qualifier-to-the-100 final McKinely West (20.54) as the advancers from semi III came with the strongest assisting wind of the round (1.5), although there is a sneaking suspicion among some observers that when the zephyrs swirl at Hayward Field, wind readings can be deceptive, especially in the 200. With a total stadium rebuild moving forward, the time for objectively testing this theory has passed and no one disputes that the gauges sit where the rules say they should. Ah, idle speculation, fun fodder for dinner discussions after meets and nothing more.

In any case, the NCAA is a team scoring meet and developments before the deuce final trained eyes on Kendal Williams, whose Georgia squad had crept into title contention and would be leaving its fate in the control of rivals unless the junior earned a high placing. Ewers, too, was a man to watch after his 3rd-place 100 finish.

On a puddled track—notably so in lane 1 and the three outer corridors—Mustaqeem Williams in lane 5 planed best around the curve for a 10.3 split at halfway. Oduduru in 8 reached the 100 mark 2nd (10.4) but only by inches from Ewers a lane to his left and Kendal Williams in 4. Flournoy in lane 3 (10.5) rounded out the top 5.

Early in the stretch Kendal Williams and Flournoy ate up most of Mustaqeem’s lead, but by mid-straight Ewers too was making a strong bid. As the halfway leader fell back in the last 40, Jamaican-born Seminole Ewers drove ahead of Kendal Williams, but Oduduru was also unfurling closing speed to Ewers’ right.

Some 5m from the finish, Oduduru got his chest up front, leaned for the line a step before Ewers did and crossed it as NCAA champion. Flournoy held on tightly for 4th (20.43) and North Carolina A&T’s Rowe (20.52 in lane 6) raced up to 5th in the final 20m.

The African Junior champion in ’13 and ’15, Oduduru traveled to Eugene 4 years ago at age 17 and placed 2nd in the World Junior 200. The memory inspired him. “Today was just a surprise,” he said. “When I found out I was in the eighth lane, I was like, ‘OK, I have to do the same thing.” Competing under his first name of Ejowvokoghene then, he had also been stuck outside, in lane 7.

He further explained that this time, at the start on the wet track, “I was scared to see if I could really push off the block. I had to come off the block gradually and start moving.”

Kendal Williams had an even better result at the ’14 World Junior meet, where he won the 100. The next year he placed 8th in the NCAA 200 for Florida State. This time his 5 points for 3rd sealed the team win for Georgia.


NCAA MEN’S 200 RESULTS

FINAL (June 08; wind 0.0)

1. **Divine Oduduru’ (TxT) 20.28 (10.4/9.9);

2. *Andre Ewers’ (FlSt) 20.29 (10.4/9.9);

3. *Kendal Williams (Ga) 20.32 (10.4/9.9);

4. *Jaron Flournoy (LSU) 20.43 (10.5/9.9);

5. *Rodney Rowe (NCAT) 20.52 (10.6/9.9);

6. *Mustaqeem Williams (Tn) 20.62 (10.3/10.3);

7. Kenzo Cotton (Ar) 20.73 (10.8/9.9);

8. *McKinely West (SnMs) 20.84 (10.7/10.1).

SEMIS (June 06)

I(1.1)–1. Williams 20.23; 2. Flournoy 20.26; 3. Oduduru’ 20.33; 4. Cotton 20.38;

5. *Devin Quinn (Il) 20.53; 6. **Joseph Amoah’ (Copp) 20.60; 7. ***Nicholas Alexander (Hous) 21.08; 8. **Maxwell Willis (Bay) 21.14.

II(1.0)–1. Williams 20.23 PR; 2. Ewers’ 20.31;

3. Ncincilili Titi’ (SC) 20.45; 4. *Ryan Clark (Fl) 20.54; 5. Renard Howell’ (LSU) 20.66; 6. Terrell Smith (KsSt) 20.71; 7. *Andrew Hudson (TxT) 20.75; 8. ***Micaiah Harris (Tx) 20.91.

III(1.5)–1. Rowe 20.49; 2. West 20.54;

3. *Keitavious Walter (Al) 20.54; 4. Julius Morris’ (WnKy) 20.63; 5. *Cravon Gillespie (Or) 20.71; 6. Jaylen Bacon (ArSt) 20.73; 7. *Charles Okeze’ (ArLR) 20.89; 8. **Tre James (SnUt) 21.28.

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