Track and field is often thought of as an individual sport, but the Buckeyes were at the best in the team relays on a sunny but blustery day Sunday in Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU captured three of the four such races – including the opening men's 4x100-meter relay featuring football players Lamaar Thomas and Chimdi Chekwa – on the way to earning a second-place finish in the men's team competition and an eighth-place ending on the women's side.
Of the four events OSU athletes won on the weekend, three were relays.
"It was exciting," Thomas said. "We felt like we had to go out there and start the day off right and pick our team up, and once we did that I felt like our team just followed."
The men's team finish was its best since 2001. After Patrick Woods won the decathlon on Saturday night, the Buckeyes entered the meet's final day in fourth place and improved on the strength of some solid runs, especially those turned in by the relays.
The 4x100 kicked things off by finishing in 40.55 seconds, just ahead of Illinois' time of 40.63 seconds.
"It feels real good," said Thomas, who also won a share of the Big Ten football title this year along with Chekwa. "I guess you could say I'm an all-around Big Ten champ."
James Manley started the race before handing off to Curtis Leuenberger, who was just beginning a day that saw him post three top-two finishes. Leuenberger handed the baton to Thomas with the Buckeyes already in good shape.
"I felt like when I got it that we were already in front of the guys outside of us, so I just had to hold the lead and hold what I had and give it to Chimdi to come down the stretch," Thomas said.
Chekwa didn't have any troubles bringing it home with a mark just .04 seconds off OSU's best outdoor time of the season.
"I think our first three legs did a great job of putting me in a good position," he said. "The guy for Illinois, I knew he was fast, but I thought I was fast enough to hold him off. I ran a good race. It's a great feeling. I don't know what feels better, to win the Big Ten here or win the Big Ten in football. It's equal to me."
After the race, Manley chest-pumped Chekwa as the partisan home fans roared.
"I've never had that feeling ever in my life," Manley said.
Both football players qualified for the 100 meter finals later, with Thomas earning a fourth-place finish with a time of 10.65 seconds, just behind third-place Paul Chaney, an Iowa football player who finished in 10.59. Chekwa placed in eighth and appeared to pick up a slight injury that left him limping later.
Ohio State came close to adding additional titles throughout the day – on the women's side, Letecia Wright placed second in the 110 hurdles, while Leuenberger was second in the 200, Thomas Murdaugh placed in the same spot in the 400 despite a personal best time and Patrick Whalen was also the runner-up in the shot put – but could not get others until capturing the final two events, both relays.
The women's 4x400 team of Latoya Sanderson, Ashley Caldwell, Ayrizanna Favours and Shaniqua McGinnis edged the Illinois squad to win their event.
Favours, a senior, made up plenty of ground in the third leg despite having trouble receiving the handoff, and McGinnis, a freshman, pulled ahead over the final meters to earn the slight victory. The winning time was 3:38.33 seconds.
"It's definitely the way to go," Favours said. "I couldn't see any way better."
"I was running for my life," a beaming McGinnis added. "It feels great. I love it. I'm just happy right now."
The men's squad, the defending Big Ten indoor champions, made it a sweep with its win. Leuenberger, Matt Comer, Stephen Robinson and Murdaugh were on the team, which finished in 3:09.61.
The win was a measure of redemption for Murdaugh, a freshman who received the baton well behind Illinois' Lesiba Masheto before tracking down and passing the Fighting Illini runner who denied him a win in the individual 400 race.
"I did have that in the back of my mind," he said. "We had to defend our track. It's crazy, this atmosphere with the crowd and everything. How we ran was just great."