Cragg Concludes Career with 10K NCAA Crown; Ar
BY ANDRES FOCIL
AUSTIN, Texas – Senior Alistair Cragg ran his last race as a Razorback late Thursday night as he captured the 10,000-meter title and capped off a remarkable career. With his parents in the stands and making the trip from London, England, Cragg turned in a time of 29:22.43 to claim his seventh-career NCAA title, the most of any runner in Arkansas’ legendary track history. Up to this point he had been tied with Joe Falcon with six track titles.
“It was a nice way to finish it off,” Cragg said. “I never won the 10K and now I’ve got it. Last year I got my 5K. It’s nice to have your name next to a 10K title. The only one I’m missing is the cross country. The Arkansas greats have always been able to go out there and win cross country, but I wasn’t able to. That will always hang over my head, but I had three chances and one honest chance and I got pretty close. I’ve had a good career; I’m proud of what I’ve done.”
With his victory he also increased his career national point total to 86, which is also the most of any runner at Arkansas. Three jumpers will remain ahead of Cragg, including Mike Conley (129.75), Erick Walder (106), and Robert Howard (100). All of his amazing accomplishments have arguably made him one of the greatest distance runners in school history.
“I’ll always be a Hog,” Cragg said. “That’s why I’ve got this (tattoo). It’s going to be sad. It would be more sad if I knew I was leaving a team that might not be able to come back next year and win. Everyone has room to grow. As long as we win this year I don’t care what happens. I’ll be around in Fayetteville training with the Razorbacks for the rest of my career. I plan on going out the next 10 years and representing John McDonnell.”
“I’m definitely sad to see him go,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a guy that could come through under pressure like that. When the chips were down he got the job done against good competition. His career was brilliant. It wasn’t just all the points he scored, but it was all he meant to the other guys on the team, because they knew Alistair was going to get the job done.”
During the first half of the race Cragg was riding in the front of the pack with teammate junior Jason Sandfort, but after the first 5,000 meters Cragg increased his speed to take a large lead. As Cragg moved into first he was not alone and Arizona’s Robert Cheseret stayed very close on his shoulder throughout the remainder of the race. It was a little to close for comfort for Cragg and with 600 meters left he made his move and utilized a strong kick to take the lead and the victory for good. Cragg is the fourth Arkansas athlete in ten years to take the 10K title.
Sandfort ended up coming in 12th place with a time of 30:28.80. It was his best showing since he ran in the race as a freshman in 2002, when he finished 20th (30:41.35).
In last year’s race Cragg accepted runner-up honors behind former teammate Daniel Lincoln. Lincoln put up a school record time of 28:20.20, but Cragg leaned back at the finish line for a time of 28:20.29. The duo crossed the line together with hands raised above their heads in triumph.
Cragg’s 10 points put Arkansas in a tie with LSU for first place after two events. Arizona and South Carolina are sharing third place with eight, while Indiana and Wisconsin round out the top five with six points each.
“We’re in good position to score points over the next two days,” McDonnell said. “We got everyone in the finals that I thought we would. We’re sitting as good as can be expected.”
After lightening and rain postponed the first day of competition on Wednesday night, NCAA officials were forced to condense the meet schedule to fit into three days. Events that normally had two rounds of qualifying and one final round were shortened to have only one round of qualifying; thereby, allowing top performers to advance directly to the finals out of the prelims.
In the prelims of the 4×100-meter relay the Razorbacks posted a season-best time of 38.96 and edged out Middle Tennessee and Arizona State to win their heat. ASU was carrying the nation’s fastest time (38.92). Senior Michael Thomas, freshman Wallace Spearmon, Jr., junior Tyson Gay and sophomore Omar Brown put together a solid race with smooth handoffs and will compete in the finals on Friday at 7:10 p.m.
The Hogs’ previous best of 39.17 was recorded at the Southeastern Conference Championships and placed them at second on UA’s all-time outdoor top 10 list. Today’s time is still second with the school record set at 38.81 in 1985. Gay then went on to line up in the prelims of the 100-meter dash. The NCAA Mideast regional and SEC champion finished first in his heat with a wind-aided 10.01. It was second overall and advanced him to the finals on Friday at 9:20 p.m.
In his third and final race for the day Gay put an exclamation point on his 200-meter performance when he posted a school record time of 20.09 to earn top honors in his heat. His time shattered the previous record of 20.20 held by Jimmy French in 1991. Gay’s clocking is also the second-fastest time run in the world this year. Jamaican teen sensation Usain Bolt is currently holding down the top spot with a time of 19.93. Gay has recorded fast times during this year’s outdoor season, but they were all over the allowable wind reading of 4.0 meters per second.
“I’m glad to get a good non wind-aided time and finally get some respect,” Gay said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better day and I feel real good about the outcome. I was very pleased with my time. My goal was to get that school record.”
Spearmon was also representing Arkansas in the event and he finished first in his heat with a time of 20.23 with a tailwind of 2.9. Both Gay and Spearmon will compete in the finals on Saturday at 8:25 p.m., as they have the two fastest times going into the finals.
Brown had expectations of moving on to the finals of the 200 meters as he had the seventh fastest time in the nation (20.36) entering the meet. Unfortunately, in the homestretch of his race he pulled up with a cramp and was unable to cross the finish line. His condition may also prevent him from competing in the 4×100-meter relay tomorrow. If that is the case freshman alternate Creighton Kiper will be available to fill his spot.
“He (Tyson Gay) had a tough day, but he still ran on a fast relay and fast 100 and 200-meter dashes,” McDonnell said. “Tyson has a lot of confidence and hopefully it will just continue to get better as the weekend goes along. Besides Omar getting hurt we’re in good shape with the sprints.”
Thomas also prepared to compete in his second event of the day when he lined up for the 110-meter hurdles. The two-time All-American recorded a season-best time of 13.54 to finish third in his heat and qualify to the finals on Friday at 9 p.m. It marked the first time Thomas has advanced to the finals at an outdoor national meet and he was eighth overall.
“Mike ran a very competitive race,” McDonnell said. “I like his attitude. If he hit a hurdle he just kept going and that’s what you have to do at meets like this. It’s nice that he made it to the finals.”
Junior James Hatch posted a time of 1:48.16 in the prelims of the 800 meters to come in second place and automatically advance to the finals on Saturday at 8:45 p.m. His time was sixth overall as he cruised to his runner-up finish. When Hatch takes to the track in the 800 meters it will mark the first time the Boulder, Colo., native has competed in the event at the outdoor national meet. Last year he ran in the prelims of the 1,500 meters.
A pair of All-American Razorbacks swept the top two spots in the prelims of the 1,500 meters. Senior Chris Mulvaney and junior Said Ahmed looked strong as they registered times of 3:46.39 and 3:46.64, respectively to make it to the finals on Saturday at 7 p.m. They will look to score points for Arkansas and Mulvaney will try to capture the individual title after finishing second the past two years.
Freshman All-American Sam Vazquez was seeing action in his first outdoor national meet with the at-large bid he had earned, but the long season had taken its toll as he finished 10th in his heat with a time of 3:52.86.
“Getting two guys in the finals is great,” McDonnell said. “We had hoped for those two older guys (Chris Mulvaney and Said Ahmed) to get in and they looked strong. Sam had been looking good in practice, but he was getting a little tired.”
Senior transfer Jeremy Scott also advanced to the final of the pole vault. Scott was one of seven competitors to clear the top mark of 17-4.50 and he easily registered that height on his third attempt. The finals of the pole vault will also be on Saturday at 6:45 p.m.
In his first outdoor national meet sophomore Eric Brown advanced to the finals of the javelin when he threw 226-5 for 11th place overall. The top 12 marks will go on to the finals on Saturday at 3:15 p.m., and they will start with a clean slate as no preliminary distances can carry over to the final round.
Friday’s events for Arkansas will kick off at 7:10 p.m. with the 400-meter relay final and conclude with junior transfer Terry Gatson in the prelims of the 400-meter hurdles at 9:50 p.m. The Razorbacks will look to garner important team points in relay, 100-meter dash and 110-meter hurdles on their way to a national championship.
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