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The 10 Biggest Surprises Of The Weekend

by Jeff Hollobaugh

1. USATF Women’s Vault

Morris Sandy1a USout15capThe smart money should have been on February WR-setter Jenn Suhr. Instead it was Sandi Morris who stole the show. Coming to the meet with a PR of 15-9 (4.80), the Arkansas alum passed her remaining attempts at a PR 4.85/15-11 following a miss. Then she managed a clutch clearance of 16-¾ (4.90).

When Suhr matched that, Morris produced a winning leap of 16-2¾ (4.95), a height that neither Suhr nor Demi Payne were able to clear. In fact, in world history, only Suhr and Yelena Isinbayeva have ever gone so high, indoors or out. PV aficionados were quick to call this—only the second competition ever with a pair of 16-footers—the greatest women’s competition ever. Said Morris: “I am living a dream.”

2. NCAA Women’s Shot

Pick anyone other than Collegiate Record holder Raven Saunders in this event, and you’d be considered crazy. She opened with a safe 54-5¼ (16.59) in Birmingham, but when she fouled her next two and failed to make the final, we weren’t the only ones who were shocked. Dani Winters took the win with her 58-11½ (17.97). Said K-State throws coach Greg Watson, “It really hasn’t sunk in yet.” Connie Price-Smith, the Mississippi head, said of Saunders, “Every good athlete once in their career is going to fall. It’s how you bounce back from that that’s going to make you a good athlete or a great athlete. I think she’s going to come back and be strong outdoors because she doesn’t like that feeling. Nobody likes that feeling.”

3. NCAA Men’s 800

Nothing crazy about someone picking Akron’s Clayton Murphy to win. He’s fast, smart, and ran brilliantly to a 1:46.68 win over Eliud Rutto of Middle Tennessee. It’s just that we never imagined a race where 1:45.96 frosh Donavan Brazier wasn’t even in the picture. The yearling stepped off the track halfway after a 51.59 halfway split in his heat, citing a sore back. Said Akron coach Dennis Mitchell about Murphy, “He ran excellent tactics. It is a big honor to come through in such an anticipated and loaded race.”

4. USATF Men’s Shot

We’re not surprised that Kurt Roberts got the W, but at first, we thought the winning mark was a typo. Roberts’ best, 65-10½ (20.08), is the shortest winning toss in more than a quarter century (Randy Barnes 65-6/19.96 in ’90). What’s up? One person throwing off form is an individual thing. A lot of people being off, that’s an indication that the throwing conditions at the meet were not ideal. We’ve heard from a few of the throwers that thought the new, slippery ring was the limiting factor (another pointed out that the men throwers found out when they got there that they would be using an outdoor implement).

Still, Michelle Carter won with a women’s world leader of 63-11½ (19.49). But Carter is a glider, and it makes sense that a slick ring would hinder spinners more.

5. USATF Men’s 3000

One thing that can’t be accounted for in a prediction is the effect of team tactics. Jerry Schumacher’s Bowerman TC definitely came into the race with a plan—to keep the race at a pace that would level the playing field with the big kickers.

Who knows what kind of speed Galen Rupp’s legs had in them 27 days after the Trials marathon, but it makes sense that he would have preferred a pace that he could kick from. Same for other fast finishers such as Garrett Heath, Eric Jenkins and Bernard Lagat.

So the Bowerman men took turns at the front, Andy Bayer for the first kilometer, Lopez Lomong for the second and then Evan Jager until eventual winner Ryan Hill made his move with 300 to go. Did the plan work? For Hill, most certainly. He explained, “There were so many good closers in the race —Garrett, Jenkins — so our other guys wanted to make sure it was a 7:30, honest race. They didn't want an 8-minute race.” For his part, Rupp didn’t seem bothered by the tactic. “They thought that was their best shot to get their guys on the team,” he said. “They're certainly allowed to do that. All credit to them. Ryan ran well, and it paid off.”

6. USATF Women’s High Jump

We knew high school phenom Vashti Cunningham would be good. We even thought she would be favored to win. But did we think that she was 3 HSRs good? World Junior Record good? World-leading 6-6¼ (1.99) good?

“My mindset going into it was that this was what I needed to do, so I didn’t eliminate the possibility of me going this high,” said the high school senior. “The goal for next week is 6-7 or 6-8, whatever will win the competition.”

Although this performance came after the close of the Worlds qualifying period, the IAAF has extended Cunningham a list-based invitation.

7. USATF Men’s Pole Vault

The surprise was not Sam Kendricks jumping a sweet 19-4¼ (5.90) for the win; he’s a good prospect for a Worlds medal. The surprise was that the world’s greatest decathlete, Ashton Eaton, got injured in the event, to the tune of 6 stitches in his head after getting whacked with the crossbar.

Tough to figure how exactly he managed that, since he wasn’t even in the pole vault. He later tweeted, “I hope they use the same cross bar for #Portland2016. Going to payback with a PV PR.”
Yes, we have the video here:

8. NCAA Women’s 60 Hurdles

Not shocking that Cindy Ofili of Michigan won—she was certainly a legitimate contender from a premeet perspective. What was shocking was that she did it out of lane 8, a spot she earned by virtue of her horrible start in the heats. As it is, she barely squeaked into the final at all; she got the final time qualifying spot.

“I think being in lane 8 today really helped me, because I was just able to focus on my lane,” she said of the final (in which she broke her sister’s Michigan record).

9. NCAA Men’s Distance Medley

No, we’re not surprised that Oregon won. We’re surprised that anyone else was surprised that Edward Cheserek would anchor for the Ducks. Sure, they kept their cards a little close on this one.

However, you have to figure that Cheserek is in the rarified category of distance running, where he is practically too good for the NCAA, even if he’s not yet ready to run for medals globally. So after winning Friday’s 5000 in 13:47.89 with a 57.63 final 400, he went into readiness mode for the DMR, with his relay leg about 30 minutes away.

That 5000, as impressive as it was, was not enough to declaw a runner like Ches, who by that point had 10 individual NCAA titles to his credit. He said later, “I cooled down and talked to (my coach) and he said, ‘Are you sure you want to run the DMR?' And I said ‘Why not? Let me try it.’ ” So Ches got the baton in 4th and ran a 3:52.83 for 1600, enough to reel in Izaic Yorks and his Washington teammates for the win. Just wait till next year when he’s a senior. It will be even less surprising.

10. New Balance Indoor Nationals

Perhaps we shouldn’t be at all surprised, as we have been seeing amazing top-level performances come out of this meet for years. This weekend, however, the avalanche of sprint/hurdle national records sent us reeling.

Our legendary high school editor Jack Shepherd didn’t hesitate to call it “one of the greatest ever.” Altogether 7 national records fell, including ones that had been held by true legends: Candy Young, Xavier Carter, Francena McCorory, etc.

Perhaps there are still some NCAA fans out there who don’t bother with following the prep scene. They might want to start.

•Noah Lyles’ 20.63 in the 200 would have tied for 2nd at NCAAs.

•Hurdler Tonea Marshall’s 8.02 would have placed 4th.

•Sydney McLaughlin’s 51.85 would have placed 5th.

•And the women’s 4 x 400—with defending champ Oak Park (Michigan) producing a 53.68 anchor from Anna Jefferson in a vain effort to hold off Union Catholic and its fast-charging McLaughlin (51.65)—was one of those thrilling races that reminds us why Americans love to end meets with the 4x4.

March 13, 2016