While the qualifying process of using two regional preliminary meets has been much-maligned, there is a certain pleasing symmetry to the method. 48 competitors at each site, 96 in all. Most running events move the top 24 from the first round to the quarterfinal round, also held at the regional site. Then, that field is halved again and the top 12 from each preliminary site move to the NCAA Finals, where the 24 is winnowed again in the semifinals to 8 or 12, depending on whether the race is run in lanes or not. So, 96 to 48 to 24 to 8 (or 12 or 24).
Do we really need to have 96 qualifiers per event nationally? That does seem like a big number. But, I have to admit that watching 48 10,000 meter runners on the track together on Thursday night was a lot of fun. The massive peloton very gradually spread out, then split apart. I was watching places 10-15 as runners gave their all to get in the top 12 who would move ahead to the NCAA finals in Des Moines.
|University of Oregon's Jamesha Youngblood
Drama on the first day of the meet was in rather short supply, though.
Particularly in the field events, where it was difficult to know who stood where without a laptop. Some performers, like Oregon’s Jamesha Youngblood, got a good mark early in the competition and retired early. Youngblood took one jump and her 20-09.25 held up for third place, safely moving her through to Des Moines.
The third flight of the men’s javelin created some excitement for a time.
Oregon’s Alex Wolff unleashed a 241’-11” throw on his second attempt, a 10’ season PR for Wolff. It moved him into second for a time, and he ended up in 4th, after passing his three throws in finals. Several other 240+’
throws followed, as the athletes seemed to be energized by the crowd’s attention.
The men’s 800 also proved to be intriguing.
With the top three in each heat automatically qualifying for the next round, along with the next six fastest times, every heat was very competitive. Each of the six heats, until the last, was faster than the heat before, as runners pushed the pace, hoping to qualify by time if they couldn’t advance by place.
In the day’s final event, the men’s 10K, Luke Puskedra of Oregon decided to break the mold of runners just trying to safely qualify. He took off on the 4th lap (of 25) and built a huge lead of 100 meters by the mid-point of the the race. Then, it was just a matter of seeing if he could hold off the peloton. The pack really started to close on him in the fifth mile.
Puskedra looked like toast, barely holding on with a mile to go. The pack caught him, passed him and left him for dead. Somehow, he rallied over the last lap, passed a couple runners and held off his teammates, finishing 11th and punching his ticket for the NCAA Finals. Finally, some drama!
By the end of the men’s 10,000, nearly an hour later than scheduled, it felt more like January than May outside.