Indoor Title Displays Continued Dominance

FAYETTEVILLE -- One way to describe Arkansas' 40th track and field national championship last weekend is perseverance.

It is a word which can be prematurely thrown around, but in this case Arkansas hit the definition of persevering through what would have broken lesser teams in half.

Without last year's outdoor NCAA champion in the 100 meters, Tyson Gay (due to a hamstring injury), and Friday's disqualification in the distance medley relay, the Razorbacks missed out on a possible 20 points, nearly 36 percent of their final total of 56.

Despite all the potential demoralizing setbacks, Arkansas won the NCAA Indoor Championships by 10 points, allowing the scoreboard to flaunt the fact they could have made a mockery out of the rest of the country's track programs if everything else had fallen into place.

"I have a saying that if somebody goes down, someone else has to step up," said Arkansas coach John McDonnell on Saturday after winning the indoor championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center. "Our distance medley didn't go down, somebody put them down and we stepped up today. I couldn't have been more proud. The university and every fan that came here saw the real Razorbacks tonight."

This only puts the second-place performances of 800 runner James Hatch, 400 sprinter Terry Gatson and the distance running abilities of Peter Kosgei and Adam Perkins on a higher pedestal, all of whom entered the meet with modest expectations.

"I've been a fortunate person to have so many great teams over the years. Things just keep getting better," McDonnell said.

But it was the setback of Arkansas' disqualification in the DMR which woke up the raging giant that is Razorback track and field.

In the last 100 meters of the DMR, Arkansas' Said Ahmed, running the anchor mile leg, held off Michigan's Nate Brannen at the finish line by diving head first at the tape to win the event. Michigan contended that Ahmed veered into Brannen, impeding his progress into an outside lane. Photographs taken at the meet showed a minor lane change in the last 10 meters, but not as significant as what Michigan had argued.

Arkansas was disqualified and by rule no video could have been used to settle the matter.

McDonnell gave his usual speech to his team before Saturday's events began and neither he nor his athletes hid behind their disgust over a decision by an NCAA track referee.

"It was a typical McDonnell speech," Hatch said. "If someone goes down, someone else has to stand up. That is what happened today. Everyone stepped up today. It was an overall team effort."

McDonnell refused to comment about the disqualification until Arkansas had clinched the championship Saturday.

"Nobody saw a foul except the referee," McDonnell said. "The Michigan coach ran in there and said it looked like a foul. I don't blame him for doing that. He couldn't protest because there was no flag. But the referee took it upon himself to make a ruling and I was not very happy about it."

Arkansas overcame a similar setback to win the 2004 NCAA Outdoors Championships when distance runner Alistar Cragg, along with three other athletes including two-time Olympic gold medalist and Lady Razorback Veronica Campbell, was disallowed to compete in their events. Cragg was given a medical waiver by a referee at the regional meet weeks before the NCAAs, but NCAA rules specify that an athlete must enter and race at the regional and no medical waivers are allowed.

McDonnell said he hopes the two disqualifications are merely coincidental and not an act of jealousy from other schools or the NCAA.

"I think the University of Arkansas and Frank Broyles, by building (the Tyson Center), has done a lot for NCAA track and field," McDonnell said. "When other schools do a great job, we applaud them and I think that is very classy. I know we are a classy outfit, I don't have to ask anybody else."

Looking toward the outdoor season, which begins for Arkansas' distance runners March 26 at the Stanford Invitational, the Razorbacks are poised to pick up a 41st national title.

Sophomore Wallace Spearmon will enter his second outdoor season as a Razorback. The Fayetteville native, won the 200 Friday in an American record time of 20.10, tied for the second fastest time ever in an indoor competition with Nambia's Frankie Fredericks, who also holds the indoor world record at 19.92.

Spearmon will be the odds-on favorite to defend his outdoor 200 title in Sacramento.

Gay, who missed all but one race of the indoor season this year, is expected to be healthy for the outdoor calendar and defend his 100 championship in June. Gay's only race indoors was when he finished second in the 60 with a school-record time of 6.55. It was his first race since last July when he sustained a hamstring injury in the finals of the 200 at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Arkansas will be expected to show its mettle in the distance events with Kosgei, Perkins, Joshpat Boit, Hatch, Ahmed and others competing at the top of their abilities during indoors.

And don't forget Gatson and Omar Brown, two sprinters who exceeded expectations in the 400 and 200, respectively, over the weekend.

Junior Eric Brown finished third in the javelin at last year's NCAA Outdoors with a school record throw of 246 feet, 3 inches.

Jaanus Uudmae, who finished fourth Saturday in the triple jump, is back to form after knee surgery last year and should contend for All-American status in the outdoor season.

The dominance of Arkansas track and field shows no signs of slowing.

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