Headline on the Track and Field News website today read: Hurting UCLA Hurdler Craddock to Redshirt This Year.
As a huge sprint and hurdle fan, growing up here in Cali UCLA was one of the iconic institutions of track and field. Their storied past is littered with some of the greats of the sport: Warren Edmonson, Millard Hampton, Mike Marsh, Danny Everett, Steve Lewis, Henry Thomas, John Smith, Benny Brown, Greg Foster, Wayne Collett, just to name a few. Their dual meet battles with cross town rival USC in the 1970's and 80's were legendary! I remember attending dual meets between the two that were standing room only and you couldn't even get a spot to view on the other side of the fence as bodies were 3 and 4 deep!
But something has gone badly wrong in Westwood. Here in the new Millennium the program - at least the sprint and hurdle portion, the foundation in the past - has had a lot of difficulty. Since the departure of Ato Boldon back in the mid 90's the program has struggled to get top performances from its sprinters and hurdlers. They've continued to recruit well. But the line of high school stars that have gone through the program and spent most of their time watching from the stands reads like a Who's Who of the best of the 2000's. Warren Rogers, Kevin Craddock and David Klech among the high school state champions that went to UCLA this decade as bona fide, can't miss products that suffered injury after injury.
Rogers looked like the second coming of Henry Thomas - a sprinter that could run every distance from 100 through 400. But never got untracked. Klech was a can't miss star at both hurdle distances, who after suffering from injuries as a frosh at UCLA decided to take his talent to Oregon and redshirted - we'll see if he takes the track this year. And then there is Craddock, the next Greg Foster. He suffered injuries, came back to win Pac 10 titles and now appears to be injured yet again.
While the SEC has grown in stature in the sprints and hurdles the past couple of decades, former Pac10 powerhouse UCLA has floundered. Head coach Art Venegas has proven his skill with field event performers. Perhaps its time to find a sprint/hurdle person to handle those programs. It seems that the backwards slide started when sprint guru John Smith left the program to focus on his professional squad. With Smith still in the Los Angeles area, perhaps bringing him back into the fold would be something to look at. Or maybe another former sprinter or hurdler might be willing to come back to tutor the youngsters. But right now the sprint and hurdle program is a shell of its glory days. And those of us that remember those days are having a hard time watching what has been taking place this past decade or so. NCAA championships without UCLA in the sprint, hurdle and relay finals just doesn't seem right.