CORVALLIS, ORE - The revival of track and field at Oregon State took another big step forward on Friday evening with the inaugural High Performance Meet at the Whyte Track and Field Center on the OSU campus.
On a perfect evening, with the OSU football spring game going on nearby, several hundred fans packed the temporary bleachers along the home stretch of the track to see 240 collegiate and post-collegiate athletes from the Northwest compete. Many of the runners, jumpers and throwers used this opportunity to gear up, and, in some cases, qualify, for their conference, regional and national meets coming up in May and June.
While the three-way meet hosted by the Beavers last month - their first home meet in nearly 25 years - felt like a celebration, the High Performance Meet was all about the competition.
Among the most noteworthy performances was a personal record in the discus by UO sophomore Sam Crouser, perhaps the most acomplished athlete competing Friday evening. Runner-up in the javelin at the 2012 Olympic Trials and 2010 national Track & Field News boys' prep athlete of the year, Crouser made himself right at home in OSU's new discus ring. He created a buzz on his second throw with a new personal best of 176'-8". He then unleashed an even better throw, 179', on his sixth attempt, capping his best series of throws ever in the discus, which has not been his primary event.
"I'm really pleased," Crouser said. "I'm definitely throwing both (discus and javelin) at Pac-12s, and will hopefully make it in discus at regionals and maybe at nationals if I keep improving."
With many UO athletes headed for the Penn Relays in Philadelphia and the Payton Jordan Meet at Stanford over the weekend, Crouser was one of a sizeable group of Ducks making the trip to Corvallis to compete at OSU for the first time since 1987. Chris Stubbs was another Duck who had a big day, winning the 400 in 47.87 and the 200 in 21.39, and UO freshman Ryan Hunter-Simms won the shot with 52'-02.5" and placed second behind Crouser in the discus with a PR of 167-03.
The OSU women were led by freshman Michele Turney, who won the triple jump with a leap of 38', and distance runners Emily Weber and Kinsey Gomez. Weber, a freshman from South Salem High School, continued her stellar season, placing second to Gomez in the 1500 meters.
Coming into the season with a personal best of 4:43 in the 1500, Weber has turned some heads by dropping her time in that race by 14 seconds, with her biggest meets still ahead. OSU Head Coach Kelly Sullivan was impressed.
"Kinsey and Emily have done nothing but PR in every race," Sullivan said. "Emily Weber, every time she has worn a uniform for us now has run a PR. 4:29 is tremendous for a freshman at any level, especially for someone with a high school PR of 4:43."
Sprinter NyEma Sims, a former two-time 5A state champion for Jefferson High School, won the women's 100 in 11.96 and the 200 in 23.93. Sims, who ran unattached, is looking to turn pro and qualify for the U.S. nationals in June. She said she and other post-collegiate athletes appreciated the opportunity the High Performance meet presented.
"It's an amazing opportunity. It's a brand-new surface, the track is nice and soft and it feels good to run here. I like the track a lot . . . I know OSU used to have a really good program and it's nice to see them rebuilding their dynasty."
OSU might not be a dynasty in track and field just yet, but Sullivan is excited about his young athletes, the direction of the program and the future potential of such meets as this one.
"We're young. This is the youngest team we've had since our very first year . . . it's really a freshman and sophomore dominated team. Our future is really bright. And what this new facility is going to do for us in the future I can't even imagine.
"We had great results tonight. This meet will eventually end up as a premiere meet on the west coast in the future," Sullivan said.
Silverton High School grad Morgan Anderson, who is redshirting her freshman season at OSU, placed fourth running unattached in the 800 in 2:15.35. After her race, she spoke with pride about the emerging OSU program.
"I was so happy to see so many people here . . . We want to defend our track," Anderson said. "We want to win and show people we deserve to be here. We deserve this track and we can do everything we say we're going to do."
Sam Crouser said he looks forward to returning to OSU, and even mentioned the word "rivalry."
"Coming up here is real nice," Crouser said. "It's a real nice facility, I was actually surprised. If they can just put in some stands it will be a great rivalry the next few years."
An OSU-UO rivalry in track and field? Wouldn't that be something to see again!
Notes: . . . Former McKay High School standout Ryan Bailey anchored the U.S. 4 x 100 meter relay red team to a victory at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia on Saturday. Bailey, who also anchored the silver medal winning U.S. 4 x 100 relay in the 2012 Olympics, teamed with Mike Rodgers, Justin Gatlin, and Doc Patton to run 38.26 and win easily over a quality international field . . . Also at the Penn Relays, former University of Oregon teammates Andrew Wheating and Matthew Centrowitz ran against each other as opening legs for the U.S. red and blue squads, respectively, in the distance medley relay. Wheating got the best of the matchup with Centrowitz, as he was in second place when he handed off the baton, while Centrowitz ended his leg a half-second back in fifth. Wheating's team went on to place third behind Ethiopia and Kenya, a few meters in front of the U.S. blue team, which was anchored by Bernard Lagat . . . Led by a 3:59.9 leg from Matt Miner, the UO men picked up a Penn win in the 4 x mile relay, while the UO women got a big win in the 4 x 400 relay in a stunning mid-season time of 3:26.73, edging a strong Jamaican team and rival Texas A&M . . . The UO women also finished second in the 4 x 800 relay, just .17 seconds behind Villanova.