Track Town, USA Buzzing For NCAAs

By's Emory Mort
June 8, 2010

Country music DJ's are mentioning it, Thai restaurants have its banners on their doors and even the hotel room keys say it - the NCAA Championships are here in Eugene, and there will be packed stands, close team championship races and great head-to-head distance races.

Things kick off on Wednesday and Thursday with mostly prelims and a few finals. Rain is forecast for the first two days but as Oregon coach Vin Lananna said at the press conference today, "The crowd, whether it's rainy or cold, they'll sit through it." The finals days on Friday and Saturday look to be nicer weather after weeks of cloudiness in Oregon.

The first thing Texas A&M coach Pat Henry mentioned in his opening statement was a congratulations to Eugene. As Henry said, "When you walk into the facility it feels like a championship environment." The whole town is buzzing about track.

Wheating: "I couldn't be more excited for a track meet."
Seniors Andrew Wheating, Ashton Eaton, Michael Maag, Jordan McNamara and Cyrus Hostetler hope to lead the distance-heavy Oregon men to an underdog team victory over favored Texas A&M and Florida with their sprint and field event strengths. For coach Lananna, the outdoor team crown would be his first since 2000 at Stanford, and is the only piece missing in his Eugene resume. The men's crown is going to be very tough, but the Oregon women have a much better shot (though Amber Purvis false-starting at regionals didn't help things).

Like Galen Rupp in 2009, Wheating will attempt a tough double starting with the 800 on Wednesday/Friday and the 1500 on Thursday/Saturday. In the 800, assuming both make the final, he'll again face off with Virginia freshman Robby Andrews who is the only collegian to defeat Wheating this year on a big stage - the first time in the 800m NCAA indoor meet and the second time in the Penn Relays 4x800 Championship of America anchor leg. This looks to be, by far, the biggest individual matchup of the weekend.

I asked Wheating if he has done anything special to prepare for his rival Andrews and he responded diplomatically. After mentioning how talented Andrews is, Wheating talked about his approach to the challenge. "I'd be more than thrilled to see him [in the final] just because - I'm not one to make excuses - but there's a few things I made mistakes on and tried to learn to take lessons from. I'd like to get another shot at [beating Andrews] knowing what I know now, and see maybe if the result will be any different."

Wheating talked about the regional meet where he ran a 3:37 pr and 1:46-low to take the 1500 and 800m races. He said the meet showed him that doubling is tough, but doable. At regionals he had 4 races in 3 days. At nationals, he'll have 4 days over which to spread the work. It should be noted that this represents a big step for Wheating as he tried to double last year at PAC-10s where he got 3rd in the 1500 final (behind 2 teammates in 3:51) and 1st in the 800 using a miraculous kick to win in 1:49. So this year he's doing the same thing against better competition and winning "easily" (meaning it looked easy) in 3:37 and 1:46. He deserves a lot of credit for getting much stronger this year.

That being said, we think he's still beatable in the 800 unless he takes it out hard and stays on the gas. Wheating has lived and died with his kick but has found out - twice - that Andrews has a better last-second kick. We'll see if his front-running tactics that he practiced at regionals come in handy at nationals or if he instead tries to sit and kick on Andrews - a tricky thing because you're essentially basing your whole race tactic on a freshman who has already shown the ability to outkick you.

Eaton Is A Champ
The last time Ashton Eaton was at NCAAs he broke the world heptathlon record. This year, according to this article from The Oregonian's Ken Goe, Eaton asked Lananna if he should try 4 or 5 individual events to try and score maximum points for the team. Lananna refused to let the decathlete give up his best event, at home, at NCAAs, in his senior season. You know you've got a good program going when you have to convince your stars to do their best event. Eaton will do the long jump after the decathlon and says he's not expecting any records or shooting for any records. He's not had much time to think about records partly because his last final exam is Wednesday morning. Oregon has very late exams.

Coaches Bash Regionals
While Florida coach Mike Holloway said most people get too caught up in the different processes that ultimately lead to the best people making the national meet, Lananna and Henry more passionately stated that the regional system stinks. Vin Lananna led with a charming line, "Well you know I've been vocal as someone who opposes the regional qualifying system. But I will say, having now looked at it, I'm REALLY opposed to regional qualifying." Then he went on to say that he thinks the right athletes got selected through the regional process and that since all 24 athletes in each event are fit it will probably make for probably "the most exciting NCAA meet we've ever had". (Note: At this point I was wondering whether he was arguing for or against regionals as it seemed like those were great reasons to have a regional system)

It was this moment when the complaints came pouring out. The reasons from Lananna and Henry against regionals went something like this (in no particular order):
1. There weren't any fans in the stands
2. It's too expensive
3. It's "bad for the sport"
3. Some kids ran just to make top-12 rather than win
4. It's not geographically fair to teams far away from the regional meet
5. Lananna: Disproportionate talent pool in some events at the 2 sites makes it inherently an unfair system for kids because it's based on geography (like the west 1500 clearly being better than the east 1500 this year)
6. Kids are being "taken to the line" (Henry) at conference, regionals and NCAAs (my explanation: he is implying that having kids compete hard - doubling or in some cases tripling 100/200/4x100 - 3 times in a season is too much)

You can read the extensive exclusive analysis of the regionals qualifying debate on our homepage or at the links below.

Coaches Disagree On NCAAs In Eugene Every Year
When asked about holding the NCAA outdoor meet at the same place every year, much like NCAA baseball has their world series in Omaha every year, Florida coach Holloway said it hurts the collegiate experience if you have the NCAA meet at the same place every year. Coach Lananna said he'd rather not comment. Coach Henry said he'd like to see the NCAA meet held in Eugene every year because they do a great job of hosting and pack the stands and the whole town seems excited about the meet.

*Live NCAA Results/Schedule
*Men's Startlists *Women's Startlists

LRC Editorial:
The Case For (Pure) Regionals

By comparing regionals to the NCAA basketball tournament, we tell you why we think the Pure Regional system of qualifying for NCAAs is a winner and tell the BCS coaches to stop whining.

LRC Exclusive 
Unbiased Research of Current and Proposed 24/8 Regional System: Men
LRC Exclusive Unbiased Research of Current and Proposed 24/8Regional System: Women
We have finished up hours and hours of research and analyzed how the first year of Pure Regionals worked out. We show you what percent of the top 10 and top 24 on the descending order list in each event (and event group) made it to the show in Eugene. We also conclude our analysis of the 24/8 Plan and show you which conferences would benefit from that proposed plan the most. See how many (if any) of the conference champions that might get in next year, got in this year. And Preview NCAAs

Much More:
*NCAA Women's Form Chart From Eugene's Register Guard

*NCAA Men's Form Chart From Eugene's Register Guard

*Ex-Duck Coach Martin Smith Doing Well At Oklahoma Smith was run out of Eugene but it's been a win-win for both the Sooners and Ducks.

*Eugene Writer: Oregon Should Be The 'Omaha' Of NCAA Outdoor Track

*Ken Goe's 10 Athletes To Watch At NCAAs Goe looked outside of Eugene for a diverse group of track stars.

*Athletes Excited As Florida, Texas A&M, and Oregon Set For Team Battles 

*Experienced Eugene Writer Predicts Oregon Women, But Not Oregon Men

*Front Page Ashton Eaton Piece From Ken Goe and The Oregonian



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