GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The names may have changed, but the result remains the same. Arkansas parlayed a second-consecutive stellar day into another Southeastern Conference team crown at the 2006 SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Sunday. The conference title is the 78th in Arkansas’ history including its 13th SEC indoor championship in 15 tries since entering the league in 1992. The Hogs have also won 40 of 44 SEC championships combined in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field in that span.
“It was our distances and jumps today and they put on a show,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “The jumpers did great and the middle distance and the distance runners really were on pace. We had a lot of guys raise their performances and that is what you have to have to win a championship.”
The Razorbacks racked up 141 points, including 101 on Sunday, to out-distance second-place Tennessee by 35 points. Only once (155 in 2005) in the last five conference meets, have the Hogs put up more points in a victory. In the process, three Razorbacks defended their conference individual crowns with senior Said Ahmed winning the mile, junior Peter Kosgei capturing the 5,000-meter run and senior Jaanus Uudmae earning a victory in the triple jump.
“It is tough, real tough (to win back-to-back SEC individual titles),” McDonnell said. “You have to be a great athlete to defend your title in the SEC because it doesn’t happen a lot. That is a tribute to the team that those guys came here prepared.”
Tennessee took a 64-50 team lead, briefly on Sunday, following seven events after earning early points in the high jump, 55-meter hurdles and 55-meter dash. However, the Razorbacks quickly staked their claim to the team lead for good with a 23-point performance in the mile run. Arkansas upped the margin with 10 points in the 800-meter run. The 5,000-meter run put the championship to bed when the Hogs racked up another 23 points. Arkansas added an impressive 27 points in the triple jump and eight points in the Distance Medley Relay to provide the winning margin.
Ahmed was spectacular in his final conference meet as a Razorback. The Razorback senior won the mile, finished second in the 800 meters and anchored the Hogs to a second-place finish in the Distance Medley Relay all within just more than two hours. Ahmed racked up 20 total points on the weekend finishing second only to Mike Morrison (22) of Florida in the individual scoring race.
“Said was outstanding,” McDonnell said. “He ran five races this weekend. Said beat some great people and ran a lot more races. His training has gone real well this season. He is a great miler. That type of double and triple goes back to guys like Alistair Cragg and Daniel Lincoln. He stepped in there and did exactly what they would’ve done. That is filling some pretty big shoes.”
Ahmed held off a hard-charging final lap effort from Shane Stroup of Florida to take the tape in the mile run in a time of 4:01.15 in one of the most exciting races of the meet. Stroup, running on his home track, finished only sixth-tenth of a second behind Ahmed in 4:01.21. Ahmed captured the mile championship for the second-consecutive year. The Boston, Mass., native also became the first Razorback in history to win back-to-back SEC mile titles and the first UA athlete since Reuben Reina (1990-91) to win consecutive conference mile championships. The win marked the ninth time in the Hogs’ 15 SEC championship meets that a Razorback has won the individual mile crown.
“It was fun,” Ahmed said. “I wanted to defend my title. This is my senior year and it’s the third to last race of my collegiate career, there was no way I was going to lose. Stroup is great. He challenged me last year at our house and he did it again today. What a race.”
Senior Marc Rodrigues tallied six points for the Hogs by finishing third in the mile with a time of 4:06.87. Rodrigues finished eighth in the mile last year at the SEC Indoor Championships. Junior Adam Perkins garnered four points for the Hogs’ cause crossing the line in 4:06.64 to claim fifth place. Senior Josphat Boit followed up his 3,000-meter victory with a sixth-place finish in the mile. Boit’s time of 4:05.98 earned a sixth-place finish and three more points for the Razorbacks. Freshman Colin Costello finished just off the scoring pace finishing ninth in a time of 4:10.32.
Less than 65 minutes after winning the mile, Ahmed was back at it again earning eight points in the 800 meters. Ahmed tailed Alabama’s Peter Etoot down the stretch and narrowly missed his second individual championship finishing with a runner-up time of 1:50.03. Sophomore Brian Roe tallied two points with a seventh-place finish in the 800 in 1:55.43.
Ahmed’s final performance of the day came as the anchor of Arkansas’ Distance Medley Relay team. Florida’s Carlos Phillips took advantage of the toll of Ahmed’s grueling three-event schedule and passed him on the back-stretch to give the Gators the victory. Ahmed teamed with Rodrigues, Jeremy Dodson and Roe to clinch second place in a time of 9:45.35.
Junior Peter Kosgei defended his SEC 5,000-meter crown with a convincing win in 13:58.19 Kosgei became the first Razorback since Sean Kaley (1997-99) to win at least two consecutive SEC 5K crowns. The Kenyan earned 18 total points for the Hogs on the weekend earning 10 for his 5K victory and eight points after finishing second to his teammate, Boit, in the 3,000-meter run on Saturday. With Kosgei’s win, Arkansas has now won an amazing 14 of 15 5,000-meter championship races since joining the league.
Sophomore Shawn Forrest tucked in behind Kosgei and tallied eight points with a second-place finish. Forrest clocked in at 13:59.08 more than five seconds in front of the third-place finisher. Junior Seth Summerside racked up another five points finishing fifth in a time of 14:09.42.
Freshman Kenny Cormier (14:17.63) finished ninth, junior Jonathan Norris (14:41.19) placed 11th and freshman Scott MacPherson (14:49.06) finished 14th in the 5,000. Senior Eric Gross set the pace early for his teammates, but did not finish. Boit was scheduled to run, but didn’t make the start after the team title was no longer in doubt.
Arkansas’ dominance Sunday wasn’t limited to the running events. The Razorback triple jumpers tallied 27 points with first, second, fourth and fifth-place finishes. Uudmae sailed to an automatic qualifying leap of 53-08 1/2 to win his second-consecutive triple jump title. Freshman Nkosinza Balumbu garnered second place in his first league championship meet with a jump of 52-08 3/4.
Junior Greg Martin contributed five points with a fourth-place finish after recording a jump of 50-09 1/2. Sophomore Chessly Johnson finished fifth earning four points after a top mark of 50-7 1/2.
“The triple jump was tremendous,” McDonnell said. “It was good to see the young guys with Nkosinza jumping great. He is a competitor and just a real good team man. He is a kid for the future, no doubt about that. And of course Jaanus he was a guy that everybody liked to defend his championship. We will be sorry to see him go.”
Martin earned eight points early on Sunday with a second-place finish in the high jump. Martin cleared 6-11 1/2 to finish second only to Morrison, the two-time SEC indoor high jump from Florida. It was the second-consecutive top-three finish for Martin after finishing third in the SEC indoor high jump last season.
The Razorbacks made it 10 total points in the event when sophomore Mychael Stewart netted two points after finishing in a three-way tie for sixth-place. Stewart cleared 6-6 in his first high jump competition of the indoor season. Sophomore Brent Rosson also cleared 6-6, but finished tied for 11th based on missed attempts.
Senior Jimmy Duke concluded his conference indoor career with a 12th-place finish in the pole vault. Duke cleared 15-11 3/4.
Arkansas will now turn its focus to defending its NCAA Indoor Track and Field crown. The Razorbacks will send small contingents to last-chance meets next weekend before returning home to host the nation’s best at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center on March 10-11. McDonnell was encouraged by his team’s grit and determination in the conference meet and hopes that it bodes well for their quest for national championship No. 42.
“If we compete like we did today, we will be in pretty good shape,” McDonnell said. “We will battle there and we will see if it is good enough. Our guys battle. They battled today with personal bests all down the line. That is they way you have to do it in a conference meet and in NCAA. I have no doubt that this team will do that at the NCAA meet. They are going to lay it on the line.”
2006 SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships
Final Men’s Team Standings
1. Arkansas – 141
2. Tennessee – 106
3. Florida – 100
4. LSU – 77
5. South Carolina – 63.5
6. Georgia – 48.5
7. Alabama – 43
8. Auburn – 38
9. Ole Miss – 25
10. Kentucky – 21