Kyree King has wasted no time in making his mark on the Oregon track and field program.
A redshirt senior who transferred to Oregon for his final year of eligibility, King has not only tied a long-standing school record — and come close to breaking others — but established himself as a leader of a young Ducks squad that lacks veteran presence.
King joined a good group of sprinters at Oregon, although none of them had run for the Ducks before this year, except senior Marcus Chambers. The youth on the team may explain why the men didn’t do as well as they had hoped during NCAA Indoor Championships. Oregon placed third — not a bad finish by any means, but disappointing to a team that has won the title for the past three years.
King scored crucial points that helped lift Oregon to a third-place finish in the NCAA Indoor Championships. He was the only Duck sprinter on the men’s side to qualify for the championships, even though he wasn’t projected to score points for Oregon. He finished sixth to score three vital points that pushed Oregon passed Georgia for a third-place finish.
King could very well find himself in a similar role, carrying the Ducks to the finish line, come the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June.
“We have a lot of young people on the guy’s side,” Chambers said. “Kyree’s really stepped up.”
One of the reasons King transferred to Oregon was because of the competition he would face going against other top-notch sprinters during practices. After all, as Johnson says, “Iron sharpens iron.”
“I just wanted to be around a good group of sprinters,” King said. “We really push each other to be the best we can be.”
Only a couple months after he transferred from Western Kentucky, King tied the school 60-meter record, winning the event in 6.62 seconds at the Columbia East-West Challenge. Samie Parker, a dual-athlete in football and track, set the previous record in 2003, and since then, only world decathlon championship Ashton Eaton and running back Tony Brooks-James have come close to Parker’s time, tying for second on the list in 6.71 seconds.
“It gave me a lot of confidence because I’ve never been good at indoors,” King said. “I feel like I’m more of a longer runner, like the 100 and 200 meters. But this year, I ran fast in the 60, and it makes me feel really confident about outdoors.”
It wasn’t the only time King had a chance to set an Oregon record. When Chambers claimed the school record in the 200-meter at the Columbia East-West Challenge, head coach Robert Johnson joked that Chambers should be careful because King may steal the record out from under him. Chambers finished in first with a time of 20.78 seconds; following him swiftly across the line was King, with a time of 21.02.
Another reason for his transfer was more complicated: The Western Kentucky track and field program suffered cuts in funding. Although the school didn’t completely lose the team, King believed that transferring was the best decision for him, and Oregon was his top choice.
“Being here and watching people like Devon Allen compete, I see the crowd and how their energy transfers to the track,” King said. “I’m excited for that.”
King introduced himself to Oregon with a win in the 60-meter at the UW Indoor Preview in a speedy 6.62 seconds. Only a couple weeks later, he dropped a second off his time to tie the school record.
“I feel a lot faster this year,” King said. “I feel better prepared than I did before to run fast for outdoors.”
Last weekend when the sprinters headed down to Gainesville for the Florida Relays, King began his outdoor season with another spot on Oregon’s all-time list. While competing in the men’s 4×100 relay, King, alongside Chambers, Damarcus Simpson and Julius Shellmire, ran a 39.39 for second place on the school record list.
Even though King has yet to set a new school record, it is certainly possible he will before his brief time at Oregon comes to a close. At Western Kentucky, his outdoor personal record in the 200-meter was 20.51 seconds, which would be second on Oregon’s all-time list. Only .12 seconds above him is Don Coleman’s 38-year-old record, which has only been matched once, back in 1995 by Pat Johnson.
If King keeps improving like he has since he became a Duck, he has the potential to break a record no one has come close to in more than 20 years.
“I don’t think we’ve quite seen the best out of Kyree King,” Johnson said.
Follow Hannah Bonnie on Twitter @hbonnie03