Razorbacks Roll with Final Qualifiers at SEC C
BY ANDRES FOCIL
OXFORD, Miss. – Even though Arkansas only had two opportunities to score during Saturday’s competition at the 2004 Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships the top-ranked Razorbacks gained crucial qualifiers for Sunday’s finals in the four preliminary races and put them selves in excellent position to take the team title. After six events UA is in fifth place with 26 points.
Auburn is holding down the lead with 48 points after it had the first place finishers in the long jump and shot put. Tennessee and Georgia are tied in second with 33 a piece. LSU is close behind in fourth with 30 points.
“We have our people in all the places they’re supposed to be,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “We’re in control of our own destiny, but it will still be a tough meet. We just need to get out and do what we’ve been doing. It’s all still ahead of us. The sprinters will have three races tomorrow and Alistair Cragg will be coming back for his fourth. The thing that’s nice about this team is that everyone is stepping up. From Jimmy Duke in the decathlon to Jaanus (Uudmae) in the triple jump.”
Junior Jimmy Duke finally had the opportunity to finish out the decathlon after Friday night’s torrential rains postponed the event until Saturday morning. Duke was eighth through seven events and held that position to end up with a point total of 6,532 and score one point for the Hogs, making their total 24.
In the pole vault he cleared 14-11.00 for 775 points and in the javelin he posted a mark of 158-02. The 1,500 meters concluded the multi-event and Duke ran a time of 5:01.32 for 552 points. In Arkansas’ storied track and field history only three athletes have completed a decathlon, with the last one occurring in 2000 with Enrico Gordon (7,047). Duke’s performance put him at fourth on UA’s all-time outdoor top 10 list.
The long jump proved to be a pleasant surprise for Arkansas as junior Jaanus Uudmae garnered a seventh-place finish to add two points to UA’s total, bringing it up to 26. Uudmae registered a regional qualifying leap of 24-5.50 in his first long jump competition since last year’s league meet in Knoxville, Tenn. The Tallinn, Estonia native spent the indoor season rehabbing from knee surgery and will continue to represent the Razorbacks in the triple jump on Sunday at 3 p.m.
One of the most impressive performances of the night came from Arkansas’ six 1,500-meter runners. All of them were able to qualify to the finals with their finishes and times, comprising half of the 12-man final field. The finals are scheduled for Sunday at 6:30 p.m., and the Razorbacks will look to rack up points with their strong showing in the event.
After capturing the 10,000-meter title last night senior Alistair Cragg guided the UA contingent with the fastest qualifying time of 3:45.16 in the first heat. It was Cragg’s first time to compete in a 1,500-meter race this season and his performance gave him a new NCAA mideast regional qualification, along with a new Ole Miss Track and Field Complex record.
Junior Said Ahmed was right on Cragg’s heels as the next Hog to cross the line with a time of 3:45.37. Senior defending SEC 1,500-meter champion Chris Mulvaney was fourth in the same heat with 3:45.73 and junior Michael Taylor was close behind in fifth. Taylor clocked a new regional qualifying time of 3:46.26 and became the fourth UA athlete to gain the regional standard.
In the second section freshman Sam Vazquez was third (3:49.13) and sophomore transfer Eric Gross earned the last qualifying spot as he registered a time of 3:49.33.
“They all looked good,” McDonnell said. “We’ve got half the field now. I was real pleased with Eric Gross. He ran a great race and was in there mixing it up with the big boys. I told him, ‘Your mom came down to see you and she didn’t come down here to see you get knocked out in the first round.’ That’s the best race he’s had since he’s been at Arkansas.”
Arkansas’ success didn’t stop in the distance races, but continued when senior Michael Thomas easily gained a position for the finals of the 110-meter hurdles. He finished first in the third heat of the prelims with a time of 13.85. The finals of the event will take place on Sunday at 6:50 p.m.
In the 400-meter dash when junior Terry Gatson recorded the best preliminary time to advance to the finals. Gatson put up a career-best and new regional qualifying performance of 46.10 in a loaded field of competitors. The finals of the 400 meters will start at 7:10 p.m. on Sunday.
The Hogs showcased their newfound dominance in the 100-meter dash when three of the four UA sprinters qualified to the finals. In the second section junior Tyson Gay and sophomore Omar Brown swept the top two spots with close times of 10.30 and 10.31, respectively. It was the duo’s first open 100 of the season and in the process they picked up new regional qualifying times. Gay’s performance of 10.30 was also a facility record and the fastest of the 23 SEC participants.
“I felt good,” Gay said. “I know my start wasn’t the best, but I’ll be able to tweak a couple things and it will get better tomorrow. I was real impressed with Wallace’s performance, because I know it takes him a while to get going. He went out there and really got it done.”
In the final heat freshman Wallace Spearmon, Jr., surged to take the tape with a time of 10.38, as he father looked on. As icing on the cake all three of their times cracked UA’s all-time outdoor top 10 list.
“For Wallace that’s the best start he’s ever had,” Arkansas sprints and hurdles coach Lance Brauman said. “They’re all competitors and they all want to be winners. Hopefully we’ll keep that going.”
Freshman Creighton Kiper also competed in the event and turned in a season-best time of 10.81 in the opening heat, but will not see competition in the finals.
“The 100 was awesome,” McDonnell said. “It was flawless. Creighton Kiper is going to be a great runner. He just has to give it time, because right now he’s training with three of the best guys in the country.”
In the prelims of the 400-meter hurdles senior Maurice Bridges won his heat with a time of 51.24 to automatically advance to the finals. Sophomore David Wittenmyer also competed and turned in a career-best time of 53.61, but was unable to advance to the finals.
The 3,000-meter steeplechase was the last running event of Saturday night and sophomore Matt Gunn was the lone Razorback in the race. He came in 10th with a career-best time of 9:27.30. The only other time he had run the event was at last year’s Penn Relays when he posted a time of 9:47.63.
The javelin throw with sophomore Eric Brown will start the day off at 1 p.m., and the triple jump and pole vault will follow at 3 and 4:30 p.m., respectively. Every running event will be a final and provide ample chances for the Hogs to score points. Arkansas will be aiming for its 11th SEC outdoor crown and 73rd overall league championship.
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