Former Razorbacks Ready to Aim for Gold at 200
BY ANDRES FOCIL
ATHENS, Greece – The opening ceremonies on Aug. 13 signified the beginning of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece and now four former Razorback track and field athletes are ready for their chance to compete for a gold medal when the track events start on Aug. 20.
Melvin Lister will be the first athlete with Arkansas ties to see competition when he takes to the field in the first qualifying round of the triple jump on Friday at 9:55 a.m. Lister is entering the Olympics with the top triple jump mark in the world after he captured first place at the U.S. Olympic Trials. On his final attempt he bested his previous career-best by nearly two feet and put up a Trials record jump of 58-4.00. The finals are on Aug. 22 at 8:10 p.m.
Lister is no stranger to the Olympics after he competed in the long jump for Team USA in Sydney, but he never had a chance to advance to the finals after he suffered a partially torn groin ligament on his first attempt in the prelims. For the past two years he has had to compete without a sponsor or contract and has supported himself with a full-time job installing car stereos at Circuit City in Fayetteville, Ark.
“The last time I went to the Olympics in 2000 I enjoyed myself, but I got hurt,” Lister said. “This time I am going for a real purpose to come back with something. God willing, it will be the gold, but I will take anything. I am going to go over there and make my country proud.”
Lister is the only athlete in the history of the Olympic Trials to win both the long and triple titles and while he was at Arkansas he was a five-time NCAA champion and eight-time All-American.
Matt Hemingway will also represent the USA when he competes in the first qualifying round of the high jump on Friday at 8:20 p.m. The finals are scheduled for Aug. 22 at 7:30 p.m. Hemingway earned runner-up honors at the Trials with a height of 7-8.00 and his performance is tied for 11th.
Hemingway is a first-time Olympian after coming close in 1996 with a fourth place finish. He did not compete for two years (1998-99), saying that he was tired of the sport and it was no longer fun. During that time he served as a whiteriver raft guide in Colorado.
He returned to high jumping in 2000 when he realized he still had an impressive vertical by playing basketball and dunking. That year Hemingway broke his personal best on three occasions. His best clearance of 7-9.75 earned him the 2000 U.S. Indoor title and was the best jump in the world that year indoors. As a Razorback (1992-96) Hemingway was a four-time All-American and 1995 Southeastern Conference champion.
Daniel Lincoln will represent the USA in the 3,000-meter steeplechase after he finished first at the U.S. Olympic Trials. The Fayetteville, Ark., native and four-time NCAA champion set a new career-best and Trials record time of 8:15.02. It ranks at 15th in the world. The first qualifying round is on Aug. 21 at 10:05 p.m. and the finals are on Aug. 24 at 9:40 p.m.
Lincoln is perhaps one of the greatest stories to come out of Arkansas track and field. He was an unrecruited walkon and attended the UA on an academic scholarship. His best mile time coming out of high school was 4:16, but he went on to become the only American to capture three-straight NCAA steeplechase titles and is now heading to the Olympics as USA’s top steeplechaser.
“I dreamed about this as a kid and it seemed so untouchable,” Lincoln said. “It is an exhilarating feeling. This should show you what Coach McDonnell does. He takes a guy like me who maybe never thought of the Olympics before, and he made me think of bigger things. That is what a great coach does.”
Lincoln’s ultimate goal is to attend medical school in Little Rock, Ark., but he is delaying his entry to pursue his Olympic dreams. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Arkansas in 2002 with a degree in honors chemistry and a minor in math, while maintaining a 3.95 GPA.
Alistair Cragg, a first-time Olympian, is representing Ireland in the 5,000 meters and has a new career-best time of 13:12.74 from the British Grand Prix. Cragg recently captured the Irish 1,500 meters National Championship and hopes to carry that momentum over to an international level. His time is 38th in the world and he will go up against premiere runners, including three world record holders. The first round is on Aug. 25 at 7:55 p.m. and the finals are set for 9:05 p.m. on Aug. 28.
“I just want to get into the final,” Cragg said. “I’m going up against the best guys in the world. I’m still young and this is my first season out of college. I’m just worried about getting into the final and when I’m there I’ll leave everything on the track. If I can finish better than where I’m ranked I’ll be happy. I just want to go there and compete.”
Arguably one of the greatest distance runners in Arkansas’ legendary track history Cragg is a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, but changed his citizenship to Ireland in 2002. Cragg guaranteed his spot on the Irish Olympic team when he registered an Olympic “A” standard and then world-leading time of 13:16.98 at the Cardinal Invitational. In the process of winning that race he also broke his own school record. Cragg came to the UA by way of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas and during his time as a Razorback (2001-04) he captured seven NCAA Championships.
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