Arkansas Steps Up At SECs

FAYETTEVILLE -- In many ways, the legacy behind Arkansas coach John McDonnell's success is even more impressive than the 76 conference titles and 40 NCAA championships his Razorbacks have won since 1974.

When someone goes down, someone else steps up.

It sounds so simple, but walking the walk is far more difficult than talking the talk.

As easy as McDonnell has made winning seem from afar over the years, securing conference and national titles is anything but -- and this just-completed Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championship was no different.

No meet goes perfect and when wins and losses are determined by centimeters and thousandths of a second, injuries derail scoring opportunities and the decisions of officials play a role. So, coming out on top again and again for 31 years running must have a common denominator.

When someone goes down, someone else steps up.

McDonnell's Razorbacks don't shrink from adversity.

They thrive on it. They welcome it.

Try to stop us, they say to the competition, the NCAA or whoever else puts up obstacles before them.

Do your worst.

We don't care.

McDonnell's Razorbacks aren't just a bunch of guys running around and magically winning somehow.

They are some of the toughest sons of guns to ever put on a uniform in any sport at Arkansas.

The exceptions to their ultimate team-first attitude are so few and far between McDonnell has joked sarcastically that his oft-underappreciated Razorbacks make bigger headlines when they lose than when they triumph.

Arkansas lost senior and favored 1,500 meters entrant Said Ahmed in the preliminaries of the 800 on Friday, costing the Hogs a chance at 10 critical points in the team race.

As it turns out after the Razorbacks won comfortably 169-116 against Florida, Ahmed's points were expendable.

But to a man from Wallace Spearmon Jr. to Seth Summerside to James Hatch to Peter Kosgei to Adam Perkins to Harun Iman, Ahmed's injury was their motivation from the moment he dropped out of the 800 clutching his right leg.

The reason Ahmed's loss turned into Arkansas' gain was because of Hogs like Summerside, a walk-on from Joplin who not only made the finals of the 1,500 but came from behind to score two points for seventh.

A few hours later with the team title already wrapped up, Summerside did it again with a breakthrough third-place in the 5,000 meters in a lifetime-best clocking.

There was Kosgei, insisting, pleading, demanding he run three grueling events with two rounds of the 1,500 plus the finals of the steeplechase and the 5K.

In his last race of the weekend, Kosgei, a Kenyan who transferred in from Harding at the semester break, showed no signs of deferring to fellow countryman Josphat Boit.

Boit won the 10,000 on Friday and was Arkansas' top finisher in every cross country meet last fall.

But Kosgei had enough in the physical and mental well to outkick his teammate and take his second title after winning the steeplechase Friday, earning high-point honors with 26.

Hatch's win in the 800 was a gutty performance and the first major win of his career coming at the most opportune time against two of the best in the nation.

McDonnell took off his hat to Hatch -- partly to show the hair he joked his occasionally frustrating runner has cost him -- but mainly to salute a perfect race.

"James has become a real player for us," McDonnell said. "That came at a critical time."

Like they did when Hatch ran a surprise second at the NCAA Indoor Championships to set up Arkansas for the title after their winning distance medley team was disqualified and Ahmed's bruised hip held him back in the mile, the outstanding performances rolled off his cue.

Senior Jaanus Uudmae, the SEC indoor champion, trailed Brandon Atkinson of Ole Miss by three centimeters in the triple jump entering the final three jumps.

Atkinson took the lead on his second lead, spurring Uudmae to reassure field events coach Dick Booth.

Coach, Uudmae said, I'm going to win this.

This is my meet.

"And that's the way it's always used to be," said Booth before ticking off a list of names from the glory of Razorbacks past. "When you had the (Melvin) Listers and the (Robert) Howards and the (Jerome) Romains and the (Erick) Walders and the (Brian) Wellmans and the (Mike) Conleys.

"They just claimed those events. They said, 'I don't care what he does. I'm going to beat him.' And (Uudmae) did it. Sometimes people act like that, but they don't mean it."

Uudmae meant it, all right.

With Atkinson having the advantage of jumping last because of his lead, Uudmae put the pressure on him by taking the lead by seven centimeters on his fifth jump.

Atkinson, who'd passed on his fourth jump with the lead, fouled on his sixth and final attempt.

"I had to beat him," Uudmae said. "There was no other way."

Arkansas didn't win everything on Sunday.

NCAA champions Spearmon and Tyson Gay took runner-ups in the 200 and 100 and Eric Brown had his shortest throw of the season to take second in the javelin.

While Brown's loss can be chalked up to a bad day after a perfect 4-0 record coming in, the seconds by Gay and Spearmon shouldn't be taken as a danger sign.

Although it was a pleasant one, the sweep of six of the top seven places in the 100 and 200 last year and the win in the 4x100 was an aberration of sprint dominance by one school rarely seen in a conference that has sent scores of athletes to the Olympics.

Not that Spearmon plans on losing to LSU freshman Xavier Carter again.

"I've got two more races with him," Spearmon said, referring to the upcoming regional and national meets. "I'll be back."

Second place doesn't taste good going down and it doesn't sit well on the stomachs of the Razorbacks, so taking Spearmon at his word requires little faith.

Just ask Kosgei, who used the motivation of taking third in the 1,500 to win the 5K.

"Second and third are good," he said. "But winning is the best."

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