There were some nice news items at the Arkansas track and field booster club luncheon at Jose's on Dickson Street. The outdoor track at John McDonnell Stadium will get a new Mondo surface this summer and a statue of McDonnell in the north end zone, along with a display that tells the incredible Arkansas track story.
It's the kind of stuff that makes you smile about Arkansas track. The program added to the McDonnell legacy with another NCAA indoor crown three weeks ago, first under coach Chris Bucknam.
There was also a head scratcher revealed at the luncheon. UA junior Kevin Lazas won the heptathlon championship at the NCAA meet despite a pulled groin sustained in the next to last event, the pole vault. He ran the 1,000 meters to win the event just 30 minutes later.
"I really didn't know I pulled it until that night," Lazas said. "I felt something and I knew I did something. But that night, I couldn't raise my knee."
Assistant coach Travis Geopfert said it was a significant tear. He said the ultra sound revealed "a hole in the muscle." The coach knew it was a serious injury the next day when most of the athlete's leg "was black and blue."
Lazas will be fine. He has resumed light training, per the plan for his outdoor preparation. But he will not be among the entries Sunday and Monday when Arkansas and Wichita State get together on the UA track for some of the combined events that spill over into the John McDonnell Invitational set for April 12-13.
"I'm going to take a little more time off," Lazas said. "I'm doing some running now and (the groin injury) is doing well."
Lazas hurt it on his second attempt at 18-2 in the pole vault. He felt it then, but didn't want to acknowledge the injury. He told no one.
"It was a bad pull," Geopfert said. "But you see how mentally tough Kevin is. There are no excuses. He just wasn't going to make it an issue. He didn't even tell me until the next day."
Bucknam said that's "just the way Kevin is wired. He was going after a big mark, 18-2, in the pole vault and that's when he tore it. But he was focused on winning a national championship. I think it's a matter of putting an injury out of his mind. Often times, we are what we think we are. If you think you are hurt, you are. So he wasn't going to think that way."
Mind set can be everything. Bucknam said he doesn't want to think about track as a so-called Olympic sport, the modern-day way of saying a sport doesn't produce revenue. He doesn't like the fact that weekly media briefings on the UA campus for everything but football, basketball and baseball are Olympic sports news conferences.
"I think the Olympic mentality is a curse," he said. "I want my own gig for track. I know I might create some waves, but I want to break with tradition.
"I don't like that label, an Olympic sport. I want track to be like baseball, produce revenue. We bring people into town and we want to create a home schedule, maybe have season tickets. We are going to have home meets and charge admission. We want to be part of the economic equation for our program."
It means causing friction with some of the traditional track meets like the Penn, Texas and Drake Relays. The Hogs are staying home to run in their own events.
"We may not get invited back to Drake," he said. "But I believe in what we are doing, showcasing our athletes, not the professionals."
The Hogs, ranked No. 2 in the first outdoor computer rankings, will play host to No. 1 Texas A&M, Kansas and Oklahoma in the McDonnell Invitational. No. 3 Florida and Ohio State will be part of the Arkansas Invitational on April 27. Both will be scored meets.
"That's part of our grand scheme, score all the meets," Bucknam said. "We did that indoors and I think fans appreciate that. We want to compete and bring in the best.
"I think there is some pressure in doing that, but I think that's part of what the fans want. We don't want to hide. We'll go to Oregon and compete in their scored meet and do what my colleagues in other sports here at our university are doing. I want to be measured."
And, Bucknam wants more championships. Hurdler Caleb Cross, who joined Lazas at the luncheon, said he remembered the days five years ago when the Hogs were recruiting him in Newport.
"People told me when I was considering Arkansas, it's not what it used to be (in track)," Cross said. "That first year here, we didn't score one point outdoor."
They scored 74 in knocking off Florida last month. Cross was asked if all of that makes wearing his Arkansas jersey a little sweeter.
"Yes it does," said Cross, who ran the third leg in the Hogs' championship 4x400 relay that set the NCAA record.
Cross wasn't on the original card for that leg, but assistant Doug Case replaced a spent Anton Kokorin.
"I asked about our relay and Doug said, ‘Caleb is going to go out as a national champion on his home track,'" Bucknam said. "I said great."
Florida's third leg pulled even with Cross on the back stretch of the second lap.
"That's where it's always decided in a two-lap race," Bucknam said. "From where we stood, they were running away from us and we couldn't see where they were until he hit the turn. We could see Caleb had gapped him by three or four meters. We knew he had a national championship."
Asked about pre-race instructions from Case, Cross admitted it was simple stuff.
"He just told me not to let anyone pass me," Cross laughed. "He said we were going to win it. I just wasn't going to ruin it. It was probably the best day of my life."
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