Ahmed Guts It Out, Advances In 1,500

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Until the last 80 meters his race Friday, the only sign of weakness Said Ahmed showed was a tiny sliver of white tape peaking from under his Razorback red shorts.

A bad right hamstring forced the Arkansas senior to drop out of the 800 prelims at the Southeastern Conference Championships two weeks ago, but he bounced back Friday at the NCAA Mideast Regional to advance to the 1,500 finals today.

The meet hosted by Indiana University was more than an hour behind schedule with three events to go when lightning strikes in the area halted action, forcing the postponement of the men's 200 prelims and men's and women's 5,000.

Ahmed ran strong and kept himself within the top three throughout the race poised to earn an automatic berth in the finals at Billy Hayes Track before he appeared hobbled down the homestretch just when his position seemed assured.

Head swiveling side to side checking his rearview, Ahmed faltered toward the tape but managed to hang on to third place over Sean Conroy of Loyola-Illinois, who ended up the first person left out of the finals.

If Ahmed can make the top eight tonight, he'll advance to the NCAA Championships either with an automatic berth for a top five finish or on his season-best time if he's between sixth and eighth.

It's been a tough fortnight for Ahmed, who had a breakthrough personal best in the 1,500 last summer to make the U.S. Olympic Trials and was poised to take the Arkansas mantle in the metric mile held proudly by Chris Mulvaney, Seneca Lassiter and Joe Falcon over the years.

Now Ahmed can only survive, advance and hope the leg gets better.

"I'm not real motivated right now," said Ahmed through chattering teeth as he kneeled in an ice tub an hour after his race. "I'm trying to listen to Coach (John McDonnell).

"He's trying to motivate me. I'm just not having fun. I'm just hoping every race that I go through. I usually think in every race, 'I want to win.' Right now, I just want to go through and get two more weeks to recover. We'll see what happens."

Arkansas punched a ticket for Eric Brown to Sacramento, Calif., and the June 8-11 meet when the junior won the javelin to throw his way into the national championships.

Josphat Boit, scheduled to run the 5,000 this morning at 11:20 a.m., already has a spot reserved in the NCAA 10,000 meters field.

In qualifying for today, Arkansas earned heat wins and finals berths from the 4x100 meter relay, Adam Perkins (1,500), Tyson Gay (100) and Terry Gatson (400).

"Adam Perkins looked really good," McDonnell said of his rising sophomore who took runner-up honors in the event at the SEC. "He is really developing for a young guy."

Southeastern Conference champion senior James Hatch made it through with a runner-up in his 800 prelim while teammates Harun Iman and Brian Roe failed to advance in the event.

"It's been a good meet for us," McDonnell said. "It's just a shame we had to get lightning-ed or rained out or whatever."

The time between Brown's first throw leaving his hand and spiking into the ground was how long it took for the SEC runner-up to earn the Mideast title.

Brown, who had a four-meet winning streak snapped at the SECs, threw 230 feet, 3.5 inches on his first attempt to capture the competition, but any of his three marks would have been good enough to win. His best was 230-11 on his second throw before he passed on his final two attempts of the finals.

The 4x100-meter relay team qualified for today's finals with a season-best and heat-winning time of 39.43 seconds, three-tenths better than its sixth-place time at the Southeastern Conference Championships on May 15 and the seventh-best in school history.

Michael Grant led off from the tough spot in lane eight ahead of the field before handing to Spearmon, who had a good pass with Gay.

Gay burned around the curve, giving the baton to Omar Brown just a hair behind Tennessee.

Brown chucked down the homestretch, passing Rubin Williams with 60 meters to go and taking the automatic berth in the finals where Arkansas will defend its Mideast Regional title.

Gatson looked to be feeling few ill effects from the sore back that's plagued him for the past six weeks. In his usual strong fashion, Gatson's steady stride down the stretch allowed him to pull away and win his heat comfortably.

Gay had the fastest qualifying time in the 100 at 10.34 seconds into a headwind and he'll get a rematch against former Barton County teammate Steve Mullings of Mississippi State.

The Arkansas senior will get another shot at Mullings, who dethroned Gay at the SEC meet two weeks ago by four hundredths of a second, just as Spearmon will have a second crack at LSU freshman Xavier Carter.

Carter ended Spearmon's eight-race winning streak at the SEC 200 final, but Spearmon, the current world leader at 19.97 seconds, promised then he'd be back.

Ahmed caught a couple breaks when Michigan's Nate Brannen pulled out of the event because of injury and Indiana's John Jefferson finished dead last in qualifying at 3:59.58. Both Brannen and Jefferson were favorites not only at the Mideast Regional, but at the NCAAs.

Jefferson's twin brother Sean had the fastest qualifier at 3:45.23, just ahead of Perkins' 3:45.86.

"I'm happy I made it through," Ahmed said. "If I make it, I have another two weeks to get work on it. But the pressure is on (today). If my leg gives it to me, I'm not even worried about making it (to NCAAs).

"Two big guys are out with Jefferson and Nate Brannen. If it's between me and the other Jefferson, I don't know."

Sophomore Greg Martin finished agonizingly close to an automatic bid to NCAAs.

Martin matched the fifth-place height of 6 feet, 11 inches, but a miss at 6-9 prevented him from tying Derek Watkins of Purdue and having a chance to advance through a jump off after both failed at 7-1.

Razorbacks who didn't compete Friday who will today are steeplechaser Peter Kosgei, triple jumpers Jaanus Uudmae and Chessly Johnson and pole vaulters P.J. Brown and Jimmy Duke.

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