NCAA Champs Preview: Take the money and run


Clement, Williamson, Spearmon and many more at NCAA Champs - PREVIEW
Wednesday 8 June 2005
Sacramento, California - 2005 begins a new era in the NCAA outdoor championships.

Until 2004, shoe companies and agents had waited until athletes had competed their four-year university careers before swooping down on new graduates to offer them contracts and professional representation.

But last year manufacturers and agents didn’t wait.

With the Olympics coming up, they needed fresh, clean, attractive young athlete endorsers. Manufacturers made handshake deals before the 2004 NCAAs with undergraduates, and then announced the contract signings as soon as the championships ended.

Among those signing up were former NCAA champions Sanya Richards of Texas (400m) and Tiffany McWilliams of Mississippi State (1500m) - each of whom ordinarily would be here competing this week.

And after the Olympics, there was another wave of such signings, headed by gold medalists and 400m stars Jeremy Wariner and DeeDee Trotter and 100m silver medallist Lauryn Williams.

And to top things off, three months ago 18-year-old LaShawn Merritt, the 2004 men’s World Junior champion at 400m who was halfway through his first year at East Carolina University, ran a 44.93 400 on a 200m indoor track - and promptly turned professional!

A sea change has taken place - and this year’s NCAA will almost certainly have a lot less pop than if all these gifted young athletes were still competing for their universities.

Yet despite all the foregoing, there is still an amazing amount of talent here ready to roll, starting Wednesday 8 June - especially in the sprints. Here are some of the events and athletes to keep a figurative eye on.

In the men’s 100m, 2004 champion Tyson Gay of Arkansas false-started in the regional qualifying meet and thus cannot defend his title. But Jamaican Steve Mullings of Mississippi State and 18-year-old Florida State first-year student Walter Dix have both run 10.06 this spring.

Both Dix and Mullings are entered in the 200m, but they rank only fourth and fifth on the year’s performance list - behind defending champion Wallace Spearmon of Arkansas (19.97), 18-year-old Xavier Carter of Louisiana State (20.02), and Gay (20.10).

The 400m offers five men who have run sub-45.20 this year. The favourite has to be Darold Williamson of Baylor, who amazingly holds a 12-8 edge over his former team-mate, Wariner. But you can’t ignore Jamaican Ricardo Chambers of Florida State (44.87), Kelly Willie of Louisiana State (44.97), Domenik Peterson of Arizona State (45.15) and Miles Smith of Southeast Missouri (45.16).

But perhaps the most impressive CV among the men is that of Kerron Clement of Florida. The Trinidad-born Clement (now a U.S. citizen) is the defending champion in the 400m Hurdles and has run 48.29 (a PB) this spring. Moreover, in March at the NCAA indoor championships, he shattered Michael Johnson’s World indoor record for 400 metres with 44.63. But Clement says while he likes the 400, he loves the 400m Hurdles. In only his second full year of university, he plans to turn professional after the meet is over.

The featured men’s field event ought to be the High Jump, with Kyle Lancaster of Kansas State, having cleared 2.31m in April, taking on indoor champion Jesse Williams of Southern California and Mickael Hanany of Texas-El Paso, both at 2.28m. Williams is the most consistent.

The women’s field is not as star-studded as the men’s, but the top performers are as formidable. You start with sprinter Marshevet Hooker of Texas, who ought to win the 100m handily, having qualified in 11.12, and who will be a contender in the Long Jump with a best of 6.65m this year. But in the jump, she’s only second to Tennessee’s Tianna Madison, the NCAA indoor champion, who has a world-class 6.92m.

In the 400m, UCLA’s Monique Henderson, who split 49.7 in the Olympic 4x400 final, will try to add an NCAA gold medal to go with her Olympic gold medal.

The 100m Hurdles are a close 3-way contest between indoor champion Virginia Powell of Southern California (12.75), Ashlee Williams of Texas (12.83), and Canadian Priscilla Lopes of Nebraska (12.85).

Besides long jumper Madison, the closest to a world-class field eventer among the women, who has been consistent around 1.95m, and ought to go higher either here or at the USATF championships two weeks hence is Chaunte Howard of Georgia Tech.

Overall, would the meet be better if all those young professionals were still competing for their universities?

Would the men’s 400m be better if there were five or six sub-45 runners entered instead of three?

Would the women’s 400m be better if Sanya Richards and DeeDee Trotter were in it?

Of course - but it should be pretty good even without them.

Jim Dunaway for the IAAF

Mullings has withdrawn from NCAA’s because of controversy over his suspension for steroids…