The NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, America's most compelling athletics competition for teams, got off to a soggy start at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville yesterday. Sunny conditions in the afternoon gave way to heavy rain with lightning, forcing a lengthy rain delay. The last races of the night ended past 1:00 in the morning.
Before the meet was paused, all eight heats of the 800 meters were contested. On the men's side, Penn State sophomore Ryan Foster ran the fastest time, 1:47.57, winning the fourth and last heat. Oregon junior Andrew Wheating, second in last year's championships, won the third heat, and Northern Iowa senior Tyler Mulder, sixth in last year's meet, finished second in heat 2. Last year's champion and this year's indoor champion, Jacob Hernandez of the University of Texas, is not competing in the meet. He was unable to take part in the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships due to a hamstring injury, preventing him from qualifying for the national meet.
Defending women's two-lap champion, Geena Gall of the University of Michigan, won last night's first heat and advanced to the semi-finals easily in 2:04.94. The fastest time was recorded by Tennessee's Phoebe Wright, who won heat 2 in 2:04.86. Her freshman teammate, Chanelle Price, also advanced, as did last year's runner-up, LaTavia Thomas of Louisiana State University.
After the rain delay, the steeplechase and 5000m qualifying races were held. It came as no surprise on the women's side that Colorado's Jenny Barringer and Michigan State's Nicole Bush won their respective heats. Barringer, the defending champion who just joined the sub-four-minute 1500m club at last Sunday's Prefontaine Classic, clocked 9:57.75 in the first heat, comfortably ahead of last year's runner-up, Southern Methodist University's Silje Fjortoft, a Norwegian (Barringer had a 40 to 50 meter lead on the first lap). Bush clocked the fastest time of the day, winning heat 2 in 9:49.35, ahead of last year's third place finisher, Penn State's Bridget Franek (9:49.49).
Kyle Perry led all the men's steeplechase qualifiers, winning the first heat in 8:37.05. Iowa State's Hillary Bor, a Kenyan, also advanced, finishing fourth in heat 1. He's the highest placing athlete from last year's meet to return this year (he was fourth in 2008).
Twenty-seven women lined up for two heats of the 5000m, and 16 made it to the final, led by Oregon junior Nicole Blood, who won the first heat (16:15.38), and Michigan State senior Lisa Senakiewich, who won the second heat. Blood was third in last year's meet. Last year's runner-up, Illinois's Angela Bizzarri, finished fourth in heat 2 and also advanced.
Every man on the podium for the 5000m last year --Bobby Curtis, Stephen Pifer, and Brent Vaughn-- have graduated. Last year's fourth place finisher, David McNeill of Northern Arizona, won the first heat and was the fastest qualifier in 13:57.73. Oregon's Galen Rupp, the favorite for the 5000m title, finished fourth in the first heat. Minnesota sophomore Hassan Mead won heat 2 in 14:00.79 ahead of Alabama junior Tyson David. Oklahoma State's Ryan Vail (13:37.02 PB) was nearly eliminated. He was the last time qualifier in 14:02.67, needing a 60.6 second final lap to advance.
The four-day meet continues today. Forecasters at Weather.com are predicting sunny conditions through 2:00 p.m., with a 40% to 50% chance of thunderstorms throughout the afternoon and evening.