1984 Men's NCAA championships fed by Hayward

Going into the NCAA meet in 1984 the Oregon men had been pulverized by John Chaplin's Washington State team in the dual meet (94-69) for the fourth straight time and at the Pac-10 meet (six-place scoring 157 1/3 – 98). Coach Bill Dellinger had strategically planned all season to be prepared for this NCAA meet.

Hayward Field had hosted four previous times and the Ducks won in 1962 and 1964 and finished fourth in 1972 and 1978. That was four of the last ten times the Ducks had finished in the top four in that 22 year span. Home field advantage was clearly evident. In this meet the NCAA would score twelve places with first place counting for 15 points and the 12, 10 and on down to one.

It was obvious Dellinger thought the team had a shot at an NCAA title and the moves that were made bare out this analysis. Jim Hill, Harold Kuphaldt, and Brian Crouser (recovery from 1983 elbow surgery) were convinced to delay redshirt seasons, steeplechaser Matt McGuirk was held out of the Pac-10 steeplechase and instead ran the 1500, Jim Hill was moved from the 5,000 to the 1,500 for the Pac-10 meet, 1983 NCAA 800 meter champion Joaquim Cruz did not double at the Pac-10 meet and neither did Dub Myers, and rather than others helping to pursue a Pac-10 title.

Dellinger knew that this was his best opportunity to win an NCAA track title. Recently Matt McGuirk said, "Bill was certainly pointing towards the NCAA meet for me." Each athlete was focused to their goal of an NCAA team championship and the strategies were geared specifically to each athlete and sometimes time strips memory, "If that was the philosophy across the board he was pointing toward the NCAA meet."

Dellinger's ace was sophomore Joaquim Cruz, third in the 1983 World Championship 800 meters, who won an NCAA title in Houston in 1983 but had worn down and did not run the 1,500 meters even though he qualified for the final. This year he ran only five races coming into the NCAA meet and led the nation in the 800 meters (1:45.12) and 1,500 meters (3:37.72).

Sophomore Harold Kuphaldt had been highly recruited out of high school and by the 1983-1984 season had felt he had underperformed. He recently said, "I put a lot of pressure on myself. I was pretty highly recruited and I didn't feel I had run well." In 1983 he had run a 4:03 mile and 14:10 5,000 meters (5k) and finished third at the US junior 1,500 meters. 1984 had not started well though and he says now, "I had been hurt in cross country and it carried over. I started running again in March. I ran one race and then had to decided whether to redshirt."

This was a big year for the Ducks and Harold said, "I could roll out of bed and land on the track." Hayward Field was and still is the best place to run track even though, "I was really getting a late stat and nationals were going to be in Eugene." He ended up one of the last steeplechasers to qualify in 1984. He ran a pr 8:40.70 at a last chance meet in Corvallis after scoring in a slow Pac-10 steeplechase. Oregon had 18 competitors, 12 distance runners, three javelin throwers, an intermediate hurdler, one hammer thrower and one pole vaulter.

Wednesday was qualifying and the Ducks moved everyone through. Thursday was a big day for the team as eight of eleven made their finals

On Friday, sophomore Ken Flax finished seventh, 222-3 and had to survive a scare in qualifying and a huge sliver from sitting on a picnic bench that required a surgeon's help.

Cruz easily won the 800 over future Olympic medallist Earl Jones of Eastern Michigan, 1:45.10 to 1:45.79. Cruz took the lead early and held off Jones as the next competitor was almost two seconds back. This was the Ducks third consecutive victory in the event (add the 1982 win by David Mack).

The event that made the Ducks a challenger in this meet had to be the 3,000 meter steeplechase. Coming into the meet the favorite Washington State Cougars were picked to go 1-2 and score 27 points. The Cougars had defending champion Richard Tuwei picked to lose to collegiate leader Julius Korir and the Ducks were picked for one point (Matt McGuirk). McGuirk had run 8:36.63 that year by steadily improving during the season.

McGuirk and Kuphaldt fed off each other in the race, "Harold and I seemed to pass each other a lot of times. We seemed to do that and when you have that kind of collective energy it pushes you." McGuirk finished in fifth with a pr run of 8:33.03 that he would not surpass for eight years. Kuphaldt finished just behind in 8:34.86 that he never beat.

Farley Gerber set an American Collegiate record 8:19.27 to Korir's 8:19.85 and Tuwei did not score. Oregon outscored Washington State 15-12 and there was a 29 point turnaround. With three points from a tenth place finish by Chris Hamilton (29:14.69) in the 10,000 meters Oregon had 41 points and were trailing just Arizona with 46 and Arkansas with 44 points with one day to go. The press and fans all started to believe the Ducks could win after the steeplechase.

The Saturday javelin throw final was in the morning and Duck legend junior Brian Crouser (1982 NCAA champion as a freshman) had missed most of the previous season after elbow surgery and was still in recovery. He finished fourth at 262-1. Senior Frode Stormyr had battled elbow injuries every year since his sophomore year, including this one. He finished with a best of 246-9 to get eighth (seeded 17th).

On the track Virginia native Jim Hill was a four-time all-American (two in cross country) and had taken off 1983 to run in the world championships where he made the semifinals (13:38.7) in the 5,000. He finished fifth at the NCAA cross country meet after winning his second consecutive Pac-10 cross country meet (joining Steve Prefontaine and Galen Rupp as the only Ducks to do it) and West Regional cross country meet (only British Olympian Karl Keska and Galen Rupp have also done that among Ducks).

He was one of the Duck favorites on and off the track. He was favored to win the 5,000 but a trip with 700 meters to go was too much for him to overcome. He kicked with 400 meters to go and was followed by Korir and Wisconsin's Tim Hacker, an eighth seeded runner training under first year assistant Martin Smith. Korir (13:47.77) and then Koech (13:48.70) caught him as Washington State went 1-2 and Hill was third in 13:48.72, junior John Zishka was sixth in 13:49.55 and junior Mike Blackmore was ninth in 13:55.30. Oregon was outscored 27 to 21 by Washington State but only Hill was expected to score. Oregon now led 76 to 56 ½. In the pole vault junior Kory Tarpening was surpassing his ninth seeding and challenging the favorite, Joe Dial.

In Cruz's last race as a Duck he continued his front-running style and broke the school record that still stands by running 3:36.48 ahead of legendary Villanova mile Marcus O'Sullivan 3:37.30 and a fast closing Duck, sophomore Dub Myers in 3:37.94. Oregon now led Washington State 101 to 74 ½. Tarpening finished second in the pole vault to Joe Dial (18-2 ½) with a clearance of 18-0 ½ that was a three-inch pr. The Ducks won 113 to 94 ½ for Washington State.

In all 13 Ducks scored points and ten were all-Americans among the 18 entries. At the time Dellinger said (according to Geoff Thurner's article about the 1984 NCAA championships) he, "feel lucky to have it happen. A lot of great coaches have retired without winning a national championship." That was Dellinger's only NCAA track championship. During the rest of Dellinger's career the Ducks' best NCAA outdoor finish was third in 1991, also hosted in Eugene (one of four more home NCAA meets hosted by Dellinger's Ducks).

That summer was the Olympic Trials and as McGuirk said there was a hangover from the NCAA championships, "A number of us had qualified for the Olympic Trials and it was an afterthought…It was hard to explain it wasn't the same."

Everyone was spent from the effort and some did seriously go after spots on the Olympic team. Some were focused on finishing the season but for the rest, like McGuirk, the season was over and, "Consequently I didn't make it out of the first round."

Several Ducks had tremendous careers. Dellinger was the US distance coach in 1984 and saw Joaquim Cruz win the gold medal at that summer's Olympics in the 800 meters (1:43.00). That completed a year that ranked him number one in the world and scare the world record by running 1:41.77 (.05 off the WR). He finished second in 1988 (1:43.90) and ran in the 1996 Olympics in the 1,500 meters.

Kory Tarpening for two years was the best vaulter outside of Sergey Bubka. He was ranked in the top-seven in the world by track and field news for seven of the next eight years from 1988 to 1994. In 1988 he set his pr of 19-3 ¾ to win the Olympic Trials (won US in 1989 also) and was consistently beating his competition. On the way to the Seoul Olympics his poles were crushed on the airplane and he had to use a borrowed pole. His best clearance was 18-0 ½. In 1992 he had his best Olympic finish with a fourth-place finish, 18-10 ½.

Brian Crouser and Ken Flax were young at that NCAA championships and went on to great success in their events. Crouser was a 1988 and 1992 Olympian and set the world record with the new javelin at 262-0 (first year of the new javelin and won the 1985 NCAA title (281-0). Ken Flax continued to develop and won the 1986 NCAA title (school record 257-0), won the 1988 and 1990 US titles and competed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics and 1987 and 1991 World Championship teams and is still third all-time on the US list (262-6).

Some of the heroes of the meet struggled with injuries, McGuirk remembers "I was in the shape of my life my third year. My workouts were above and beyond anything in 1984. I the dual meet vs Fresno State I fell off the barrier and had sacroiliac problems. Missed all of 1986 due to hamstring problems related to the sacroiliac problem." In 1992 McGuirk got back to the times from 1984 and ran 8:27 at the Prefontaine meet and was seventh at the Olympic Trials in 8:26.10. Kuphaldt fell face first into a barrier that year and hurt his knee. He ran flat races the next few years.

Dub Myers was sixth at the Olympic Trials (3:37.89) but struggled in 1985 without Cruz to chase. He won Oregon's last NCAA 1,500 meter title in 1986 (3:41.72) and joined Harold Kuphaldt in San Diego training with Luis De Oliviera's training group that had been in Eugene and training Cruz in Eugene. Myers battled injuries and ran in the 1988 trials 1500 but did not make it out of the semifinals.

Jim Hill developed Achilles problems and eventually created SportHill in Eugene. McGuirk is the Willamette Track and Field Head coach, Harold Kuphaldt moved home and is a businessman who now coaches his old high school, Bellavista. Brian Crouser is back in Gresham and has helped guide his nephew Sam Crouser. Ken Flax is a business man in California. Joaquim Cruz coaches in San Diego

Cruz told Curtis Anderson of The Register Guard, "I raced the entire 1,500 on emotion. Everything slowed down and I couldn't feel my body…when I crossed the finish line and looked back the crowd was going crazy and I thought ‘What? Did I break a world record? And then I saw Dub and he hugged me because he was third."

McGuirk commented about that quote, "One thing Cruz said really rings true. Having the nationals at home really rings true. You have to remember I was born in Eugene. Every time I go into and bring a team into Hayward Field it is special. When I was growing up there were world class Athletics West guys. There was just an amazing energy of collegiate and post-collegiate athletes. To have it all come together. The common thread to all of it is Hayward Field…Its Eugene and Hayward Field is Hayward Field and there is nothing like it."

Let's hope the same magic happens starting this Wednesday, I know the competition is afraid it will, and I think it will.

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