Arkansas Reclaims DMR Crown at Penn Relays; Ca
BY ANDRES FOCIL
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Arkansas had a day of outstanding performances at the 110th Penn Relays, but victories in the distance and sprint medley relays were the highlights as the Razorbacks enjoyed warm weather and a large crowd of 38,647 at Franklin Field.
Even though the sprint medley relay was the last event of the day, it certainly was not the least. The Razorbacks staged a solid and smart race for their first SMR title since 1983 with a time of 3:16.14. Their time was also the fourth-fastest time run in UA school history. Arkansas now has an overall Penn Relay title total of 40 since they began competing at the carnival in 1983.
“It was an absolutely perfect race,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “From Omar (Brown) on the leadoff leg to Wallace (Spearmon) and then Terry (Gatson). I told Terry if it was close on the straightaway not to try to pass, but hand (James) Hatch an even exchange. James has really matured this year and is running smart. He ran the perfect race. Winning here will really help him as the season goes along.”
Sophomore Omar Brown and freshman Wallace Spearmon ran the first 200-meter legs with split times of 20.1 and 20.6, respectively. Spearmon was appearing in his third race of the day, but that didn’t slow him down as he handed off to junior Terry Gatson for the 400-meter portion.
Gatson turned in a split of 46.8 before he passed the baton to junior James Hatch for the 800-meter anchor leg. Hatch was a part of a tight pack of runners that included Southeastern Conference foes Sheridan Kirk of Auburn, Moise Joseph of Florida and Marc Sylvestor Tennessee. Hatch took the lead from the Tigers with about 300 meters remaining and never gave the other schools an opportunity to pass. His split time was 1:46.9, as he held on for the win, while Florida was right behind in second (3:16.51).
When the gun fired for the distance medley relay Arkansas was ready to reassert itself as the champion after it had finished in a close second place to Michigan in 2003. The Razorbacks wasted little time and reclaimed the title with a performance of 9:33.74. The win marked Arkansas’ 15th DMR crown in 21 years.
“This win means a lot, because we come back every year with different lineups and we’re still able to come away with the title,” McDonnell said. “Penn Relays is the ultimate meet in this country and it’s always nice to go to the winner’s circle.”
Freshman Sam Vazquez ran the leadoff 1,200-meter leg and was in the front pack with Villanova and Georgetown going into a head wind. At 600 meters Vazquez made an aggressive move and took the lead on the backstretch. With a split of 2:59.8 he handed off to junior Terry Gatson. Gatson maintained UA’s lead and powered around the track with a 400-meter leg time of 45.9.
“We knew the wind was a factor and it was kind of slow,” Vazquez said. “I stayed right behind the leaders. My plan was to start my kick when I felt strong and comfortable. I felt really good and proud to be an Arkansas Razorback. I was very confident with this team and my running.”
Junior Said Ahmed handled the third leg with Georgetown and Stanford trailing 40 meters behind in second and third, respectively. Ahmed turned in a split time of 1:48.0 as he passed the baton to senior Alistair Cragg for the anchor leg. It was Cragg’s first race of the outdoor season and he held the lead as Georgetown’s Chris Lukezic rode on his shoulder during the final 1,600-meter leg. Cragg was undaunted as he crossed the line with a split of 4:00.0 for the Arkansas victory.
“It was a nice opening run for the outdoor season,” Cragg said. “We got the win and that’s all that counts. Now the other guys can come back next year knowing they are defending champions.”
The 4×200-meter relay started off the day for the Hogs and it marked the first time UA had boasted the relay during the outdoor season. All handoffs went off smoothly as senior Michael Thomas took the leadoff leg to put Arkansas in second place behind league opponent, South Carolina. Thomas passed the baton to Brown, who maintained the Razorbacks’ position.
Freshman Creighton Kiper ran the third leg and narrowed the gap with the Gamecocks. After Spearmon took the stick for the anchor leg he was able to pull the Razorbacks into the lead and hold for the victory with a time of 1:23.44. South Carolina was close on their heels as they turned in a time of 1:23.54. With Arkansas’ time it was able to advance to the finals, which will take place on Saturday at 2:35 p.m. ET.
Kiper and Spearmon also competed in the open 100-meter dash. Spearmon advanced to the finals by virtue of his second-place finish in the first heat. He crossed the line with an NCAA regional qualifying time of 10.50, while Kiper was fifth in his heat with a season-best time of 10.81. The finals of the 100-meter dash are scheduled for 3:50 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Thomas lined up for the prelims of the 110-meter hurdles and was second in his heat with a performance of 13.90. He will also see action in the finals on Saturday at 3:25 p.m. ET.
In field events action freshman Greg Martin competed in both the high and long jumps. In the vertical jump he tied for 10th (6-6.75) and in the horizontal jump he registered a mark of 20-09 for 17th.
The Razorbacks will look for more relay titles as they take to the track for the 4xmile and 4×200 and 4×800-meter relays on Saturday afternoon. A first-place finish would give the Hogs their 18th 4xmile crown in 21 years and only their third 4×800 championship. The last time Arkansas brought home the hardware in the 4×200 was in 1985.
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