FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – In Arkansas’ storied track and field history national championships have often come by a comfortable margin. Florida State, Texas and LSU made certain that wasn’t the case this time around, but the Arkansas showed the steady resolve of a seasoned champion to take home the title at the 2006 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Center on Saturday night.
The Razorbacks scored 53 points to outdistance their competitors and clinch their 19th indoor national crown and its 42nd national championship overall in front of 5,596 fans the second-largest crowd in the Tyson Center history. LSU finished off the pace in second with 45 points with Florida State (41 points) and Texas (35 points) finishing third and fourth, respectively.
The Hogs racked up 14 points in the triple jump, nine points in the 3,000-meter run and six points in the mile run to give legendary coach John McDonnell another addition to the trophy case. Arkansas has now won 19 of the last 22 indoor championships contested.
While Arkansas was steady and held serve, its primary competitors stumbled in their attempt to unseat the reigning champions. On Friday afternoon, Florida State had its top 400-meter runner Ricardo Chambers pull up in a preliminary heat ending the Seminoles chances for big points in that event. Early Saturday morning, Texas suffered a blow when the nation’s leading heptathlete Trey Hardee sprained his ankle after winning the 60-meter hurdles. Hardee was leading the heptathlon by 254 points at the time. LSU was the last to falter, but when sprinter Kelly Willie false started in the final of the 60-meter dash Arkansas was the last team standing for the title.
“I knew this would be a really tough meet,” McDonnell said. “There were four teams that could score from 45 to 50 points. It was sort of like a jigsaw today. We held our ground and didn’t make any mistakes. The other three teams made some mistakes. But, I don’t worry about the other teams. I just worry about doing everything we can correctly. Then we let the chips fall where they will.”
For the second-consecutive day it was the Razorbacks’ senior class that led the way. Jaanus Uudmae and Said Ahmed capped their collegiate careers with memorable performances. Uudmae won a national individual crown in the triple jump in his last meet as a Razorback. Ahmed captured key points for the Hogs with a third-place finish in the mile. Fellow senior Josphat Boit followed up his 5,000-meter individual championship with a third-place finish in the 3,000-meter run.
“It was the seniors that won it for us this time,” McDonnell said. “Said, Jaanus and Josphat set the tempo. Last night in the 5,000, Boit was outstanding. Everywhere you looked everybody did good. We are going to miss Jaanus and Said. They will be hard to replace. They are national champions. We just have to make up the slack somewhere.”
McDonnell also gave a nod to the capacity crowd that cheered the Razorbacks on to victory. Although Arkansas has hosted the NCAA Indoor meet since 2000, McDonnell gave this year’s crowd an edge on its predecessors.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I think this was the best NCAA meet as far as the crowd goes,” McDonnell said. “It was packed. I don’t think we could get another body in here. I was really happy with the fans. They really supported us. If you can’t get excited about running in this kind of atmosphere, then you are in trouble.”
Uudmae gave the Razorback fans plenty to cheer about early on. The Estonia product jumped 54-04 1/2 on his first attempt in the triple jump to take the suspense out of the competition. George Mason’s Marc Kellman and Florida State’s Rafeeq Curry both jumped over 53 feet but came up short of the winning distance. Even after Uudmae posted a blockbuster first jump, the senior never relaxed until the end.
“You can never relax in a national championship,” Uudmae said. “There were some great jumpers in the field and I never felt safe. This is a great way to end my career as a national champion. I wouldn’t put myself in the class of guys like Mike Conley and some of the others, but it is nice to keep the tradition of jumpers alive at Arkansas.”
Perhaps the biggest victory for Uudmae came earlier this year when the NCAA granted the jumper a fifth year of eligibility. Arkansas field events coach Dick Booth said that once afforded the opportunity, Uudmae took care of the rest.
“We got a fifth year back for him and he took full advantage of it,” Booth said. “He had a ton of heart and got his national championship. I just couldn’t be happier. That goes along with his sixth-place finish in the long jump which was unexpected. It was just awesome.”
Freshman Nkosinza Balumbu may be the next addition to that legacy of runway standouts. After narrowly fouling on his first jump of nearly 55 feet and coming up short on his second attempt, Balumbu earned his spot in the final with a leap of 52-6 3/4 in his final jump of the preliminary round. He bettered his mark to 53-02 1/4 in the final to finish fifth in his first national championship meet.
“Jaanus picked a good guy to pass it on to,” McDonnell said. “Balumbu is going to be a great one. He had a jump or two that might have gone 54 feet that he fouled on. The composure he showed as a freshman was outstanding.”
Boit was once again at the forefront of the Razorbacks’ championship charge in the 3,000 meters. A day after clinching the 5,000-meter title, the Kenyan finished third in the event to earn six points with a time of 8:04.28. Teammates Marc Rodrigues (8:08.02) and junior Peter Kosgei (8:10.53) added a combined three points for seventh and eighth, respectively. As the Razorback trio crossed the line, the national championship was officially put to bed.
“We expected to get points in the 3,000,” Boit said. “We needed eight points. Of course Jaanus and Nkosinza were finishing up in the triple jump too. It is wonderful to be an individual and a team champion. I’m really proud.”
Ahmed finished his Razorback career with a third-place finish in the mile run with a time of 4:13.23. Ahmed added six points to the Razorbacks’ ledger to temporarily vault Arkansas back into the team lead. The Boston, Mass., product was running his third mile in less than 24 hours after running in both the preliminaries and the mile leg in the distance medley relay on Friday night.
The pace was deliberate early with Ahmed and Michigan’s Michael Woods trading the early lead. Kansas State’s Christian Smith, a standout 800-meter runner, surprised the field with by breaking from the pack. Ahmed and the rest of the field followed but Smith had enough to hold on for the victory. Iowa State’s David Rotich crossed the line in second place with Ahmed holding off Florida State’s Tom Lancashire for third place.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better than a slower pace because if it would have would have gone faster, I didn’t have much in my legs left from last night,” Ahmed said. “I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t get beat by Florida State and Texas. That was the key thing. I started my career with a third place as a freshman and I finished my career with a third place as a senior in the mile.”
Final 2006 Men’s NCAA Indoor Track and Field Team Standings:
1. Arkansas – 53
2. LSU – 45
3. Florida State – 41
4. Texas – 35
5. Tennessee – 25
6. Oregon – 23
7. Wisconsin – 22
8. Baylor – 21
9. Florida – 20
10. Arizona – 18