The NCAA Championships Returns With A Bang

Oregon got to show off its new state-of-the-art track facility, and it delivered. (MIKE SCOTT)

EUGENE, OREGON, June 09-12 — It felt special because it was: the NCAA Championships returned from the pandemic as the first championship meet to be held at Oregon’s rebuilt Hayward Field. No better place for the sport’s high-profile rebirth could be imagined. Nothing less than an eye-opening shrine to the sport, the stadium represents a $270 million commitment to its continued glory.

The athletes responded in kind, producing 7 Meet Records and 4 Collegiate Records in a dizzying flurry of action, all despite a weather front that brought some cold and wet, and wind. Appreciative fans responded also, even though the capacity limits due to the pandemic had not been fully lifted. Over the 4 days, a total of 22,444 hardy lovers of the sport made their pilgrimage to the state-of-the-art stadium (5060/5085/6234/6065).

They had plenty to talk about. Did the weather slow sprint times? Common sense might say yes, but the sprinters offered plenty of evidence to the contrary, from a barely-windy 10.74w to a jaw-dropping 43.85. Those weren’t the only numbers bandied about by the fans: “19.91!” and “49.57!” were overheard repeatedly. Didn’t matter the weather — the speed merchants showed up big.

Did “supershoes” have an effect? It’s hard to argue otherwise, seeing how many runners chose them and how many ran faster than so many of the meet’s historical benchmarks. The first night perhaps started and ended the debate, when 10 competitors broke the 41-year-old MR for the men’s 10,000.

That the landscape has changed irrevocably could be seen in the times of those who didn’t score a point: 13:23.48 and 27:50.44 in the two longest men’s races, 15:45.74 and 32:50.57 in the women’s.

Other points for discussion: with the NCAA extending eligibility for athletes who had lost a year to the pandemic, this championships drew from a larger talent pool than it has in other years, effectively 5 recruiting classes versus 4. And it was the first NCAA since ’09 in Fayetteville to be held on a 9-lane track.

Through it all, the team battles kept the tension turned to high. On the women’s side, what had been forecast as a 3-way down-to-the-wire battle was anything but as USC piled up the most points of any team in the last 6 editions. Coach Caryl Smith Gilbert’s squad tallied a whopping 74 to handily outdistance Texas A&M’s 63. It was to be Smith Gilbert’s last meet as a Trojan. The following day Georgia announced it was hiring her away.

For the men, all season long our formcharts had predicted a big win for Dennis Shaver’s LSU crew and they didn’t disappoint, landsliding host Oregon 84–53. Their 31-point margin was the biggest since Arkansas wiped out UTEP by 38 in ’94.

Doublers included a pair of field eventers on the men’s side, JuVaughn Harrison of LSU (LJ/HJ) and Turner Washington of Arizona State (SP/DT). For the women, North Carolina A&T’s Cambrea Sturgis captured the 100/200, Anna Cockrell of USC both hurdles, and Athing Mu of Texas A&M won the 400 and anchored the 4×4.

Mu’s 49.57 will stand as the Collegiate Record, her 48.84 the fastest-ever split on the fastest-ever relay. The hammer CR fell to Cal’s Camryn Rogers (twice), and Oregon 5000 man Cooper Teare set an American CR. Notable Junior marks went to Mu (AJR) and LSU 400 hurdler Sean Burrell (47.85 WJR).


Men’s Collegiate AOY: JuVaughn Harrison

With no CR-setting NCAA winners, there were only two real candidates for Men’s Outdoor Athlete Of The Year, double-champions LSU’s JuVaughn Harrison (HJ/LJ) and Arizona State’s Turner Washington (SP/DT).

Harrison gets the nod as the winner on superior marks: he led not only the collegiate lists in both his events, but also the U.S. lists, period. Harrison’s HJ high of 7-8¾ (2.36) at the SEC moved him to =No. 2 on the all-time collegiate list.

Honorable mention status to Washington, plus Harrison’s teammate Terrance Laird for his 100 win/200 runner-up and the world’s fastest half-lap time and to 400 winner Randolph Ross (North Carolina) for a 43.85 which made him No. 3 collegian ever.


Women’s Collegiate AOY: Athing Mu

Tara Davis (LJ), Camryn Rogers (twice in the HT) and Jorinde van Klinken (DT) all set CRs and in a normal year would have been strong choices for AOY.

But this was an Athing Mu year, top to bottom, with the Texas A&M frosh scoring not only a pair of CRs in the 400, but also notching one in the 800 as well. Oh yeah, and anchoring the 4×4 with the fastest collegiate split ever, 48.84.

Honorable mentions for Davis (Texas), Rogers (Cal) and van Klinken (Arizona State), plus Mu’s teammate Tyra Gittens, for a 1/3/2 in the hept/HJ/LJ in Eugene and to double winners Cambria Sturgis of North Carolina A&T (100/200) and Anna Cockrell (100H/400H) of USC.

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