The Oregon Ducks’ performances at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Track and Field wChampionships in Fayetteville, Ark., this weekend were about more than individual athletic triumph. They were about separation.
The Duck women, often outshined in recent years by their male counterparts, separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Oregon scored 61 points to win its first women’s indoor national championship, the first national title for the program since the women’s cross country team took home top honors in 1987.
The dominant performance — runner-up Tennessee scored 36 points, and LSU took third place with 35 — was supported by Ducks in all aspects of track and field, from sprints to distances to field events to multi-events.
Ashton Eaton, on the other hand, separated himself from everyone else in the sport of track and field.
Eaton broke Dan O’Brien’s 1993 world record of 6,476 points in the men’s indoor heptathlon, scoring 6,499 points for the easiest 10 team points of the meet. The senior from Bend set a personal best in every event; his marks in the long jump (25 feet, 4.5 inches; first among decathletes) and the 60-meter hurdles (7.77 seconds; first) would have counted for team points in the regular meet.
Through six events and staring down the 1,000 meters, Eaton had 5,542 points. He needed to finish in 2:34.58 to take down O’Brien’s record. His personal best in the event: 2:38.02.
Eaton finished the 1,000m in third place. In 2:32.67.
“Honestly, I thought in the back of my mind that it was possible, if everything went smoothly,” Eaton told ESPN. “Best moment of my life.”
Matteo Sossah of North Carolina was the heptathlon runner-up, with 5,886 points. Michael Morrison of Cal finished third with 5,826 points. For perspective, Bryan Clay, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon, won the heptathlon at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Doha, Qatar with 6,204 points.
As if he needed a nightcap to his world-record performance, Eaton finished his day — and the Ducks’ — by running the second leg of the men’s 4×400-meter relay, which earned three points in a sixth-place finish.
And yet, it seems almost unfair to place Eaton on the pedestal, after the women’s team put together a program-defining performance over the course of the meet. Especially so after
overcoming some early obstacles.
The Oregon women’s chances at a national championship looked tenuous after a challenging first day. Nicole Blood fell while running in second place in the 5,000 meters and did not finish. The distance medley relay team could not overtake Tennessee, finishing second in 10:58.96 to the Lady Vols’ 10:58.37. Jamesha Youngblood fouled out of the long jump, and Zoe Buckman failed to qualify at 800 meters.
Brianne Theisen got the Ducks’ Saturday off on the right foot by winning the women’s pentathlon with a personal-best 4,396 points. The senior from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, fended off Maryland’s Kiani Profit (4,242 points) and New Mexico’s Sandy Fortner (4,156 points) by setting personal bests in four of the five events.
Keshia Baker (400 meters) and Melissa Gergel (pole vault) supported Theisen’s efforts with two big-time second-place finishes. Baker’s 51.63-second 400m is a new school record and was only bested in Fayetteville by a new American record. Gergel’s 14-foot, 7-inch clearance in the pole vault represents a personal best.
Oregon got fourth-place finishes from Amber Purvis (200 meters) and Jordan Hasay (mile), a fifth-place finish from Nicole Blood (3,000 meters) and a sixth-place finish from Anne Kesselring (mile), sewing up the national title before the 4x400m relay team walked onto the track. Youngblood, Baker, Michele Williams and Purvis fended off LSU to win the relay in 3:32.97, a new school record.
“It was exciting,” Purvis said in a media release. “I looked at (LSU’s LaTavia Thomas) in the video screen and saw her coming, so then I just gave it all I had in the end (to win).”
Beyond Ashton Eaton, the Oregon men saw excellent performances that resulted in a
trophy of their own.
The Ducks finished the meet with 44 points, tied for second with Texas A&M. Florida (57 points) won its first indoor national title in school history.
“I think we had a phenomenal, phenomenal performance,” said assistant coach Andy Powell of the men’s performance in a media release. “Talking with Vin Lananna before the meet, 40 points was a goal and we scored 44 and tied for second, which was a very good result for us.”
The men’s distance medley relay opened Friday with a dramatic victory in 9:36.87, and Andrew Wheating — who anchored the relay team to victory — took second to Virginia’s Robby Andrews in the 800m final, outkicked by .01 seconds.
Freshman Mac Fleet and redshirt junior A.J. Acosta both had strong performances in the mile, finishing second and fourth respectively, for 13 Oregon points.