Eugene, Oregon locked up the NCAA Championships from 2013 until 2021. This meet is as profound as the Olympic Trials, though in a slightly different way. The Trials are all or nothing, an individual against the field, and a top three slot gets you a trip to the ball.
NCAAs are a team event, where even a single point in 8th place can have huge ramifications. And the electricity for both events is similar. During NCAA events, the teams screaming in the stands for their runners can reach eardrum-bursting levels for a poor umpire stationed in front of them on the backstretch.
|A flag for every school...|
After our Tuesday night briefing, we had a nice catered BBQ dinner on top of the Weights and Measures building. Hadn't been up here before: it's a great place to be a spectator!
|From not so high above the track...|
|Even an extra video board|
Before the events started, I was walking the track as usual. Officially, I'm looking for debris and things like that. Truthfully, I love walking on an empty track and breathing it all in.
A husband and wife standing along the fence asked what time things begin, and I said, "4:30."
The guy looked at this program and confirmed, "Yes, 4:30."
I said, "Oh, I was just guessing."
His wife roared with laughter.
I love track.
Three very important people in the picture below. One is an Olympic Gold Medalist, the first one I remember watching on TV as a young buck...the VIP is now one of the national officiating leaders. Another man is the coordinator of officials for major meets: he's the guy who makes the final call about the folks who want to work at big events. Lastly, the Meet Operations boss for the University of Oregon. Good people, and I want to be on the right side of them.
Did I mention that if Los Angeles gets the 2024 Olympics, I might be on the short list by then? Better keep living the clean life.
Had a nice swim the next morning at the Amazon Pool. Good to occasionally let the running muscles relax a bit.
All suited up and ready to go. The runners wear hip numbers so we can identify them easily, and I figured umpires should do the same.
Some yoga mats were set up under the West Grandstands, and our officials are good at making best use of their time...
I'm stationed at the start/finish lines...during the 4x100m heats, I'm watching for fouls in the final straightaway, and from behind me, I hear the yell, "HAT!" Oops...I'm inadvertantly blocking the photographer pool, and they want head-on shots of the finish. The 'hat' they admonish is that big straw thing perched on my cranium.
A pole vaulter from Mizzou clears a big height with a half-gainer, triple twisting maneuver. I had to do a double-take on that one.
Next morning, I run about 8 miles down to the River Center footbridge. On the way back, I encounter two adults in Tennessee orange, so I ask if they are related to the kid who won yesterday's pole vault competition. Yep, they were his (very happy) coaches.
Some team support folks prioritized their time differently than others...
One of my fellow umpires commented that her garden was suffering a bit, and wondered if it was due to a lack of nitrogen. I told her that Eugene's air has a lower percentage of nitrogen than other areas.
Uh, not really...
Decathletes are a band of merry men. Ok, maybe not 'merry,' especially when they collapse en masse at the end of the 1500m. But they take a victory lap and then a group bow in front of the homestretch grandstands...they earned it.
In between events, I find a few seconds to keep up with my pullup sets....
The video replay judges who occupied the weight room didn't seem to mind...and I nearly doubled my reps from last week! (ok, so I started low...it still counts!)
Ms. Scott from Arkansas is maybe the first blond Dominique I've seen. Tremendous wheels, too, as she lays waste to the fields for a nice 5k/10k double. When she dropped the hammer with a few laps remaining, no one could answer.
UO's team drops the stick at my feet in the 4x4 relay and quits on the spot. I write up the violation as their own fault. The team does NOT protest, yet the next day's paper quotes the coach as saying his team was obstructed. Really, Coach? If that was the case, how come no protest? Yes, the BS meter hit the top stop on that one...and oh by the way, the video judges confirmed my call.
Our meals were good: catered lunches, and dinner at the Dux Bistro on campus. Except one night where we finished on the track at 7:58pm, and the bistro closed at 8:00. Someone didn't get the memo about extended hours. No big...dinner that night was: smoked salmon, lentils, sardines, hummus, and more.
A&M's Donovan Brazier erases the 50 year old (to the day!) collegiate 800m record of Congressman Jim Ryun. By nearly a full second...and he eased up in the final 15 meters....and he obviously learned from his DQ at Junior Worlds, when he stumbled off the starting line and veered outside of his lane, right in front of my prying and disapproving eyes.
UO frosh Ariana Washington nips the field in the women's 100m, and the crowd does crazy, Then she doubles down in the 200m. When did UO become a sprinter's school? Later, Ariana and IH hurdles winner Shamir Little have a joyous wrestling match at the finish line.
The men's 100 final has the top 5 finishers within 0.04. I could easily throw a blanket over all of them at the line.
The meet's best hair goes to Arkansas heptathlete Aliyah Brooks, whose gorgeous auburn mane looks like a bouncing sea anemone when she runs the hurdles.
Sea anemones? Look at these bad boys... Hopefully Aliyah isn't quite as nasty.
When the 400m runners are set in their blocks for the race start, I hear photographer cameras taking shots on full automatic. That's a no-no, boys and girls; wait until the gun fires!
Footballer Randall Cunningham's son wins the high jump. His daughter won Indoor Worlds a few months back. I wonder what dinnertime conversation at that household is like.
UO's young Mr Cheserek wins the 5 and 10 (again). For a junior to have 15 NCAA titles is, oh. pretty good. He dusted the 5k field with a final 57/1:59....I guess all the 'experts' who said he was washed up this year were a tiny bit wrong.
As the starting line umpire, it's my job to ensure the track is ready for the next event, so I check for white flags at all four corners before nodding to the starter. Before the last event, the 4x400m relay, I give this report to the head umpire via radio:
"Sir, the track is clear, and all relay exchange zones are showing white flags."
He cusses me out, then laughs in the manner of the Kentucky boy that he is. It's not exactly a stretch; all 4x4 baton exchanges happen right in front of me, unlike the 4x100m passes, which occur at each corner of the track.
Ok, I guess you had to be there...
Hands down: the absolute BEST part about the meet? The exquisite parking spot I found on the last day, a mere four (that's F-O-U-R) cars from the track. Simply unheard of in a college town, and all due to my expertise and purity of heart.
Who's got next?
Answer: me. I'll be at the starting line again in three weeks.
I love track.