Friday, June 10, 2011

Makusha and Andrews Sizzle in the Rain


Once again the weather reared its ugly head and caused multiple delays to the next to last day at the NCAA Championships. The start of the competition was delayed an hour, and the rain was still falling when things resumed. In spite of the delays and interruptions in their warm up and competition schedules, most of the athletes showed their resolve and competed as if the sun were shining bright. The brightest of these were Florida State’s Ngoni Makusha and Virginia’s Robbie Andrews.

Makusha started the day finishing up the long jump that was left over from the day before due to the weather. He was able to pass his remaining jump (left over from Wed) as the remaining jumpers either fouled or passed, or in the case of Texas’ Goodwin wished he’d fouled or passed, and Makusha’s 27’ 6.75” held up for the win. So once he was able to begin his warm up for the 100 final, he was looking at the possibility of emulating Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis by becoming only the fourth collegian ever to win both the long jump and 100 titles in the same championships. His path was made easier by the failure of Florida’s Jeff Demps to make the final (a prohibitive favorite entering the meet), but still not an easy task as he faced highly ranked sprinters in Rakieem Salaam (OK), Gerald Phiri (Tx A&M) and team mate Maurice Mitchell.

At the gun it appeared that the experienced sprinters were hungry and on their way to taking that vacant title, as Makusha was out slowly and seemed to take a moment to get rolling. But with a second half burst reminiscent of Carl Lewis, he joined Lewis in the history books as he blitzed by the field and won going away in 9.89! The race gave Makusha the Collegiate Record; made him the 4rd athlete ever to win the Long Jump/100 double; and made him the 3rd fastest African ever over 100 meters – behind Ollusoji Fasuba (NGR) 9.85 & Frank Fredericks (NAM) 9.86. He’s also now in the picture for the World Championships in Daegu – in both the 100 and long jump – because yes an African sprinter has emerged to get in the mix!

Did I say it had been raining and the track was wet? It didn’t seem like it in this race as Rakieem Salaam (OK) ran a PR 9.97 in second with Maurice Mitchell PRing at 10.00 in third – both looking like potential finalists in the race for spots on the US team to Daegu at the end of the month!

Also putting himself in the conversation for a Daegu berth was half miler Robbie Andrews. Andrews was the high school leader in ‘09 at 1:48.66 – so I’ve known he’s had the potential for a while. But his lay back in the back of the pack and kick style is one that always teeters on the edge between brilliance or failure. In last year’s meet Andrews came from way back in his semi to win in a PR 1:45.54, only to try the same tactics against Andrew Wheating who never let him get close beating Andrews 1:45.69 to 1:46.83. This time around two time champ Wheating was gone, but Andrews task may have been even harder as the pace went out in a blazing 49.7! And once again Andrews found himself in dead last with 200 to go. Andrews started to gather however, and swung wide coming off the final bend and just started sprinting. He picked off the competition until all that stood between him and gold was UC Irvine’s Charles Jock (eliminated last year in Andrew’s semi).  Andrews went by him by a hair just as they crossed the line – Andrews 1:44.71, Jock 1:44.75. PR’s for both athletes and just .01 off the collegiate championships meet record set by Mark Everett (Florida) back in 1990. Look for Andrews and Jock, along with Oregon’s Elijah Greer (1”45.01) and Penn State’s Casmir Loxsom (1:45.31) to make some noise in Eugene in a couple of weeks!

The athletes made this a memorable day in spite of the rain. The women’s 800 was even closer as Ann Kesselring (OR, 2:02.15) just held off the fast closing Natalia Piliusina (OK St, 2:02.16). And the women’s 400 hurdles was even closer than that as Ti’erra Brown (Miami) and Turquoise Thompson (UCLA) both ran 55.65 – Brown getting the win by .004! Jeshua Anderson (Wash St) got title #3 in 4 years in the men’s hurdles in 48.56. And Kirani James (Alabama) eeked out the expected 400 victory in 45.10 – winning by thousandths over Gill Roberts of Texas Tech who was later DQ’d for running outside the line on the second turn. And the day’s big upset came in the women’s 100 where Oklahoma’s Candyce McGrone, powered her way to a PR 11.08 victory!

The bulk of the finals are tomorrow, but it’s going to take some running to overshadow today’s performances by Makusha and Andrews. Yet with all the major players in the team races sitting pretty much where they all need to be, somehow I expect that someone is going to do something extraordinary tomorrow. Because there is something about fighting for team titles that brings out the best in individuals!

Oh, don’t forget there’s also this little meet tomorrow in New York called the Adidas Classic. It’s loaded too! Tyson Gay v Steve Mullings. Allyson Felix v Carmelita Jeter over 200. Jeremy Wariner v Germaine Gonzalez v Rondell Bartholomew. Jessica Ennis, Blanka Vlasic, Jenn Suhr. And what should be one hot women’s 1500 with Jenny Simpson, Anna Pierce, Morgan Uceny, Shannon Rowbury, Kenia Sinclair, Gelete Burka and Sally Kipyego!

It should be one of the best Saturdays of track and field this side of the World Championships!

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