Razorbacks Sharp For Penn

PHILADELPHIA -- Believe it or not, even Arkansas coach John McDonnell has trouble motivating his Razorbacks runners from time to time.

He doesn't expect that to be a problem today through Saturday when more than 50,000 fans will pack Franklin Field at the 111th Penn Relays on the historic University of Pennsylvania campus.

Seriously, who can't get ready to run after watching comedian Bill Cosby shoot himself in the foot with the starter's pistol for the umpteenth time?

"Sometimes I get guys who say, 'Oh, I wasn't fired up,'" McDonnell said in the voice of a whiny teenager. "Boy, if you cannot get fired up for this meet ... "

McDonnell made a playful gesture like a hand going upside someone's head.

"I'd have to break my club out," said McDonnell, grinning.

But McDonnell hasn't had to resort to corporal punishment to get his athletes to perform at Penn, where his athletes have won a host of the famed Wagon Wheel trophies over the years -- so many, in fact, the Razorbacks have their own following in the Northeast and even Temple graduate and track lover Cosby doesn't mind donning Arkansas apparel.

"It's a great meet," McDonnell said.

The Penn Relays are the ultimate blend of the best of the best from every high school and collegiate division possible with the annual "USA vs. The World" relay events on Saturday pitting the home team Americans against the tops from Canada, Great Britain, Russia and the always spunky Jamaican contingent numbering more than 10,000 drum-banging, bell-rattling track enthusiasts who serve up the best Jerk Chicken outside the Caribbean.

Arkansas comes into the Penn Relays healthy and has been ranked No. 1 every week of the outdoor season since winning McDonnell's 40th NCAA title last month in Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks have qualified everyone they need to for either the NCAA Mideast Regional or the Championships other than stragglers like senior James Hatch, who has struggled this outdoor campaign after a lifetime-best race to take runner-up honors in the 800 in the NCAA indoor meet.

With his depth in the middle distances from the 800 to the mile more shallow than usual, McDonnell was ready to admit his team's best shot at a Wagon Wheel this year was in the 4x200-meter relay.

Arkansas will field a team featuring two-time NCAA 200 champion and American indoor 200 record holder Wallace Spearmon Jr., who currently leads the world in his specialty with a time of 19.97 posted April 17 in Walnut, Calif.

Just a sophomore, Spearmon has stolen the headlines this year and even had a write-up in USA Today on Wednesday.

But 2004 Southeastern Conference 200 champion Tyson Gay and 2005 All-American Omar Brown are obviously no slouches and the trio represents the top three finishers in the 200 from the SEC outdoor meet last season.

With freshman Michael Grant, a prep All-American and a former Georgia state champion, McDonnell feels this group has a chance to do something special in Friday's preliminary heat or the final on Saturday. The 4x100 prelims are at 11:25 a.m. and the 4x200 heats start at 12:40 p.m.

"That will be a strong, strong relay," McDonnell said. "We're hoping to (set the collegiate record)."

That record is 1:20.2, set by TCU in 1986.

Arkansas last won the 4x200 at Penn in 1985 when Spearmon's father was a member of three winning teams (4x100, sprint medley). The group included Mike Conley, Fred Cleary and Roddie Haley and set the Arkansas record in the event at 1:20.93 at the Texas Relays that same season.

Arkansas won the sprint medley at Penn last year for the first time since Spearmon's father was on the team and Junior nearly caught Trey Hardee of Mississippi State on the anchor leg of the 4x200 to almost make it a father-son double win 19 years apart.

Arkansas sprints coach Lance Brauman doesn't know what order the team will run, but the same group may also run the 4x100.

Much depends on the weather, which is forecast to be cool with a chance of precipitation each day. Getting a proper warm-up will be crucial and Brauman and McDonnell won't take any chances with the golden legs of Spearmon, Gay and Brown.

Gay missed parts of the last outdoor season and this indoor season with back and hamstring injuries, and Brown's injury in the 200 prelims at the NCAA outdoor meet last June dealt a critical blow to the Hogs' hopes of winning the 4x100-meter relay.

With the SEC Championships approaching two weeks from today, staying healthy will be more important than racking up a few more Penn Relays trophies.

Arkansas will have Josphat Boit, Peter Kosgei, Adam Perkins and Said Ahmed on the mile relay and field a 4x800-meter relay team of Harun Iman, Brian Roe, Hatch and either Ahmed or David Wittenmeyer.

The distance medley relay team will be Perkins (1,200), Terry Gatson (400), Hatch (800) and Ahmed (1,600). The final is Friday at 2:45 p.m.

Arkansas will have school record-holder Eric Brown in the javelin (Friday), Tony Ugoh in the discus (Friday) and Jaanus Uudmae in the triple jump (Saturday).

Tonight, Arkansas will field just Tyler Hill, Jonathon Norris and senior seven-time All-American Jason Sandfort in the 5,000 meters. McDonnell is sending freshman Shawn Forrest and junior Marc Rodrigues to Stanford in search of automatic qualifiers in the 10,000 meters on Sunday.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories