The Arkansas 4x100-meter relay team certainly looked sharp in their new neck-to-ankle, wrist-to-wrist red body suits Wednesday on the first day of the 2005 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Sacramento State.
Naturally, the Razorbacks felt sharp when anchor leg Omar Brown nicked Oregon anchor Jordan Kent by two hundredths of a second to extend Arkansas' winning streak to 12 races with a preliminary heat win in 39.2 seconds.
It was the third straight anchor leg Brown has come from behind to win dating to the Razorbacks' second straight NCAA Mideast Regional title and their school record 38.75 on May 28 in Bloomington, Ind. Senior teammate and predecessor Tyson Gay was satisfied with the result.
"We look good," said Gay, who passed to Brown on the anchor. "And we feel good."
Arkansas had a flawless day of qualifying in front of 4,017 in Hornet Stadium by advancing every entrant who'd finished competing by press time. The only problem was challengers No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Florida were just as good.
James Hatch moved on in the 800, as did Terry Gatson (400), P.J. Brown (pole vault) and Eric Brown (javelin).
"(Wednesday) has been perfect," said Arkansas coach John McDonnell, who is seeking his 41st NCAA title and his third straight outdoor. "I couldn't be more pleased. We've done everything we were supposed to do."
Late Wednesday action included Peter Kosgei and Jose Campos in the preliminary round of the steeplechase and Josphat Boit and Seth Summerside in the 5,000 prelim. Both races started at 10:35 p.m. and 11 central time, respectively.
Arkansas' 4x100 time was the fifth-fastest overall in what shapes up to be a razor-thin margin in the finals when the Razorbacks go for their first national title in the event on Friday.
Defending NCAA champion Florida posted the fastest qualifying time in 38.91 while Southern Cal was just back at 38.92. Tennessee was next at 39.02 followed by top-ranked Arizona State in 39.19.
Less than four tenths of a second separate the top eight teams after running through a slight rain that made handoffs even more tricky for the sometimes stick-challenged Razorbacks.
What the Razorbacks lack in technical prowess on their passes, they more than make up for in their closing speed as Brown, Gay and sophomore second leg Wallace Spearmon Jr. continue to prove.
Freshman leadoff leg Michael Grant and Spearmon had a bit of a rough pass, as did Spearmon and Gay.
But Gay and Brown have been working together for four years dating back to their Barton (Kan.) County days and they made a smooth transition to the homestretch.
"The rain slightly hampered the handoffs," Gay said, "But it was the same for everybody."
Spearmon, who has been bothered by pain in his right knee for the past few weeks, was limping slightly after the race but promised he'd be fine for the first two rounds of the 200 today and the 4x100 finals on Friday.
"I'll be all right," he said. "The adrenaline will kick in in the finals."
The Razorbacks will be looking for a big day from their sprint crew today in the 200 with the quarterfinals and semifinals scheduled for 7:10 and 9:05 tonight.
Spearmon, the defending NCAA outdoor and indoor 200 champion with the world-leading outdoor time (19.97) and the American indoor record (20.1), will be joined by Gay and Brown today in the half-lap burst crucial to the Razorbacks' championship hopes.
The other event Arkansas is gunning for huge points will take place late tonight with the 10,000 meters featuring Boit, Kosgei and five-time All-American senior Jason Sandfort.
Boit is ranked second, Kosgei third and Sandfort 16th. The race isn't scheduled to go off until 11:20 p.m. central time.
Brown, who was a surprise All-American third place at the 2004 NCAA Outdoor Championships, made Friday's final in the javelin with a toss of 221 feet, 4 inches. He's ranked seventh and will throw fifth in the first three rounds of the finals.
Brown's throw was a season-low in the wet and rainy conditions, but every competitor felt the effects. National leader and SEC champion Trevor Snyder of Georgia was nearly 16 feet off his best with a throw of 232-9 and last year's runner-up Gabriel Wallin of Boise State was fifth in qualifying at 225-11.
Senior James Hatch, the NCAA indoor runner-up and the Southeastern Conference outdoor champion in the 800, made the semifinals with a time of 1:47.98 just behind Michigan's Andrew Ellerton at 1:47.88 to advance to today's second round.
P.J. Brown made the Friday final in the pole vault with a clearance of 16 feet, 10.75 inches and is one of 13 moving on.
Gatson, the NCAA indoor runner-up and the school-record holder in the indoor 400, made the semifinals of the one-lap sprint with a time of 46.09, good for second in his heat behind Florida State's Ricardo Chambers (45.77). Gatson has been bothered by a lower back problem for the last two months and has a season-best of 45.57.
The 400 semifinals are Friday and the finals Saturday.
Sophomore Adam Perkins will run the 1,500 meter prelims today at 9:35 p.m. while sophomore Greg Martin will try to make the most of his at-large bid in the high jump qualifying at 2:30 p.m.
No. 2 Florida State did well in qualifying Wednesday by advancing its 4x100 team and national leader Walter Dix to the finals in the 100, an event that will crown a new champion with defending champ Gay out because of a false start at the regional.
In addition to Gay's absence, the event is even more in Dix's grasp after the voluntary pullout by national co-leader Steve Mullings of Mississippi State following his recent two-year ban by his native Jamaica for a positive testosterone test last summer.
No. 3 Florida also had a fine day with its 4x100 team, high hurdler Josh Walker, 100 sprinter Kyle Farmer and long jumper Mike Morrison all advancing. McDonnell was surprised to see Farmer make it and noted that was one athlete they didn't expect to score for the Gators.
"Everybody else has gotten their breaks," he said. "Hopefully we'll get some breaks, too."
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