NCAA Meet A Treat For Faithful Track Followers

Nashonme Johnson of Stanford, running the third leg of the women's 4x400 semifinal in the NCAA Track Championships on Friday, took the baton in fourth place and passed all three runners ahead of her before handing it off to the anchor runner.

The crowd at the Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex gave Nashonme a mid-race standing ovation.

The night before, fans at the finish line in Hornet Stadium had stood and applauded Delfino Arevalo of Utah, acknowledging not only his 19th- place finish in the 10,000 meters but also the fact that his performance represented the end of the Utah men's track program.

Fans stood again when Japheth Ng'Ojoy of Texas-El Paso crossed the line in last place in 30:56.16.

On Saturday, after Liberty senior Danielle McNaney had rallied from 16th place overall in the women's heptathlon to 11th with a strong closing time of 2:16.49 in the 800 meters, her coach, family and friends waited outside the media interview area to congratulate her for making All-America.

McNaney had that tired but satisfied glow that only an athlete who competes in relative obscurity can truly feel. She hadn't scored a point, but she had given maximum effort.

"That was an awesome performance," McNaney's coach said to her.

Imagine the elation of Eastern Michigan senior Lela V. Nelson, who surprised everyone to win the heptathlon with 5,878 points.

"I'm overwhelmed, grateful, blessed, excited and ecstatic," Nelson said. "I'm trying to think of all the big words."

Track and field is an acquired taste, but those who come to love it generally retain their affection for life.

Roger Craig, the former Nebraska and San Francisco 49ers running back who also was a hurdler at Nebraska, attended this year's NCAA Outdoor Championships each day.

Craig commuted the 120 miles from his home in Portola Valley, Calif.

Former Temple athlete Bill Cosby attends the Penn Relays every year, and sometimes attends meets in Europe.

On nights that the javelin will be held in the World Championships at Helsinki, Finland, Aug. 6-14 this year, the tickets are sold out.

One 80-year-old man in Sacramento, taking a shady picnic-table break from the sun on Friday, keeps attending NCAA meets even though he suffered a heatstroke here two years ago.

"I un-retired at 71 and helped a former athlete of mine who's now a track coach in Oregon," the man said. "I had a good deal on a condo here, but after about a week I decided I'd go up there and take the job. Two years later, I took another job at Laguna Beach and coached two more years."

The sport gets in your blood.

A Pittsburgh coach said at breakfast last week, "I had a freshman pole vaulter come up to me yesterday and tell me he was sorry he didn't do better. In my 15 years, not many guys have apologized like that."

The Pitt vaulter was doing OK until a 90-minute rain delay.

"He had too much time to think," the coach said. "It was the same for everybody, but he never got his rhythm back."

Michigan's athletes didn't complain much when an unexpectedly long layover delayed their arrival into Sacramento until 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.

"We ended up on the same flight with Wisconsin's team, and they were kidding us that the delay was our fault," said a Michigan sports information assistant. "But we get along pretty well with all the teams in the Big 10."

Track organizers smartly scheduled the big Golden West Invitational high school meet in Hornet Stadium for Sunday, when college coaches who were able to stay here another day could watch them.

Sacramento city fathers had hoped for a four-day attendance of 25,000 last week, but organizer John McCasey said bigger crowds are expected in 2006 and 2007 as more improvements are made to the complex.

There's this ooh-and-aah thing that happens during track meets when a great athlete does something not seen before. The sound is unlike any other in sports.

Monique Henderson of UCLA caused that collective gasp when she made up the stagger in the women's 400-meter race within the first 200 meters on Saturday night and just ran away from the field.

Her winning time of 50.10 broke a 16-year-old meet record and was the fifth fastest college time ever.

Not that track and field grabs everyone.

A Los Angeles Times reporter whose normal beat is hockey admitted here that she had never heard of Arkansas coach John McDonnell until he addressed the track writers on Saturday morning.

McDonnell, a modest sort, would probably get a kick out of that.

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