FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said early in the indoor season his seniors would have to lead the way if the Razorbacks were to capture their 42nd national championship. While there is still plenty of work to do on Saturday to clinch a national title, a trio of Razorback seniors put Arkansas in position to accomplish the feat on Friday at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
Josphat Boit captured the 5,000-meter championship, Jaanus Uudmae finished a surprising sixth-place in the long jump and Said Ahmed anchored the Razorbacks to a first place finish in the distance medley relay in Friday’s action. Based primarily on the feats of its senior class, Arkansas leads the team competition after day one with 24 points. Oregon and one of the pre-meet favorites Florida State are tied for second with 20 points. BYU is fourth with 16 points with LSU and Tennessee tied for fifth place with 14 points.
“We are still in there,” McDonnell said. “It will be a battle with Florida State, Texas and LSU. They are all very good teams. But we can’t do any better than we are doing. That is a good deal for us. The seniors stepped up big-time tonight. As I have said before it is a team with no names, but after this meet is over there will be a few names. That is what they do.”
A month after getting out-kicked by Iona’s Richard Kiplagat in the 5,000 meters at the Tyson Invitational on the very same track, Boit employed an aggressive tactic to ensure that history didn’t repeat itself on Friday night. This time it was Boit who left Kiplagat in his wake taking the tape in 13:49.93.
“I’ve been waiting for this win for a long time,” Boit said. “I made a move at a weird time. I didn’t want him (Kiplagat) to catch up. I only wanted to make a move once. I’ve been working on it all season and I finally nailed it here. I knew he was strong and I didn’t want to have a repeat of the Tyson Invitational.”
McDonnell praised his senior captain not only for his physical effort, but also for his race strategy. Boit’s gutsy break from the field left even the most successful track coach in collegiate history impressed.
“Josphat ran a brilliant tactical race,” McDonnell said. “He moved at the right time. I’ve never seen anyone put 10 or 11 yards on a guy and then he just exploded. He had to do that with the caliber of runners he was dealing with. Josphat has good speed. He has never really used it, but he used it really well tonight. He is a lot better than he has ever been.”
Junior Peter Kosgei made a late charge to tally an additional point in the event with an eighth-place finish. Kosgei clocked in at 14:11.40 to give the Hogs 11 total points in the 5K. Sophomore Shawn Forrest finished off the scoring pace in 13th with a 14:21.53 clip.
The other victory for the Razorbacks on the evening came in the distance medley relay. A year removed from a controversial disqualification in the event, Arkansas made certain its 10 points would count when Ahmed crossed the finish line in a time of 9:37.02. In 2005, Ahmed seemingly held off a late charge from Nate Brannen of Michigan to capture the DMR title for the Hogs. After a referee’s disqualification and a failed appeal, the Hogs were left with zero points and a year’s worth accumulation of hard feelings.
“All I could think about was last year,” Ahmed said. “I thought about it every lap. Arkansas hadn’t won a distance medley relay title since 1994. I was really surprised to hear that. I wanted to win one before I left. You have to give credit to all the legs. Brian Roe really opened it up for us. I have to thank them because this is how I wanted to take my jersey off at Arkansas.”
The Razorbacks held a comfortable lead for most of the second half of the race before BYU made a late run at the title. BYU settled for second place with a time of 9:37.92.
While Ahmed brought the relay home, it was the Razorbacks’ opening three legs that set the stage for victory. Junior Adam Perkins positioned the Hogs in fourth after the 1,200-meter leg when he passed the baton to freshman Jeremy Dodson. The Denver, Colo., product ran a solid 400 meters moving Arkansas into second place at the next exchange. Junior Brian Roe then essentially staked the Razorbacks’ claim to the victory when he bolted to the lead on his final lap of the 800-meter leg. When Roe handed to Ahmed, it was all but over for the competition.
The victory was extra sweet for Roe after he sacrificed a potential NCAA individual entry in the 800 meters to concentrate on the relay. Roe would have likely made the NCAA field with his provisional qualifying time, but Arkansas decided to specialize the transfer from Missouri Southern in the relay. The gamble paid off.
“I talked it over with Coach McDonnell and we knew there was a chance that I might not qualify for the final in the 800,” Roe said. “We just decided the concentrate on the DMR and get the points that we could get for sure.
With all his NCAA eggs in just one basket, Roe was a little nervous early in his 800-meter leg. But after drafting Stanford’s Joaquin Chapa for three laps, Roe kicked it into high gear to give the Hogs’ a sizable cushion heading into the final leg.
“It was pretty easy,” Roe said. “I just followed the Stanford guy for a bit and then I kicked around him and tried to give us as big of a lead as I could. I had so much nervous energy it probably lasted the first three laps. I started to feel it and that is when in the 800 you start to kick whenever you are starting to burn up.”
While Arkansas’ event titles in the 5,000 and the DMR stole the show on Friday, it was a sixth-place finish that got the Hogs rolling. Uudmae staved off a near disastrous three-foul effort in the preliminaries to not only make the finals, but earn three points with a surprising sixth-place finish. After fouling on his first two attempts in the preliminaries, Uudmae stayed well back on the takeoff board but still managed to qualify for the finals. He saved the best for last in the finals as well recording a personal-best jump of 25-10.
“On my first two jumps in the preliminaries I knew was hitting it pretty good,” Uudmae said. “So I knew even if I pulled off a little bit I could get a jump good enough to get in the finals. I only went halfway on the board and got it done. I was hitting it well all night and got a good one on the last jump to get sixth.”
Uudmae posted the first points of the meet for the Razorbacks. Arkansas field events coach Dick Booth said the impact of the senior’s efforts likely had a positive effect on more than just the team standings.
“It was awesome,” Arkansas field events coach Dick Booth said. “This is what we call the typical Razorback effort where you are ranked ninth or 10th and you finish sixth. We always tell guys to get your personal best when it means the most. He did exactly that. He actually got three points when I thought he would get two and might only get one. It kind of kick starts everything. It was that surprise positive thing that says it is on again.”
While Uudmae’s finish was a pleasant surprise in the long jump, the two-time defending SEC triple jump champion will be one of the favorites in his marquee event on Saturday. He will team with freshman Nkosinza Balumbu to give the Hogs a solid tandem in the triple jump.
Ahmed will be back in action on Saturday as well after qualifying in the mile. Ahmed turned in a solid effort in his mile preliminary race winning his heat in a time of 4:02.42. The two-time defending SEC mile champion advanced to Saturday’s final with the best time of the qualifying round. Ahmed will look to improve on his sixth-place finish in the mile from a year ago on Saturday.
Junior Adam Perkins looked to be in good position to advance in heat number two, but was passed on the backstretch of the final lap. He finished sixth in the second heat in a time of 4:03.72 and didn’t earn a spot in the final.
Kosgei, Boit and senior Marc Rodrigues will be looking to rack up big points for the Hogs in the 3,000-meter run on Saturday night. The trio owns the seventh, eighth and ninth-best times in the nation this season, respectively. The 3,000 meters could be the culmination of another Arkansas national championship effort.
The drama begins to unfold at the Randal Tyson Track Center at 11 a.m. with the heptathlon and pentathlon. The triple jump gets started at 4:10 p.m. with the running events slated for 6:15 p.m.
Tickets remain for the final day of the 2006 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships and may be purchased at the Randal Tyson ticket office for $15.