By Jonathan Gault
June 4, 2019
AUSTIN, Tex. — Within an hour of landing in Texas today I had eaten barbecue and observed a guy sitting down with a handgun tucked into the waistband of his jeans. Add in the humidity, which was apparent the second I stepped off the plane — as I type this, it’s a sticky 83 degrees (71% humidity, 72 dew point) — and I’m very clearly not in Oregon anymore, which has hosted the last six NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
In case you missed it, the big news today is that the schedule for day 1 of the meet, which kicks off tomorrow, has been pushed way forward as there are thunderstorms in the forecast on Wednesday. Every event has been moved up two hours and 30 minutes, meaning the first track event, the men’s 4×100 prelims, now begin at 4:02 p.m. CT as opposed to 6:32. The one exception is the men’s 10,000 final, which remains at its originally scheduled time of 9:08 p.m. CT. You can review the full updated schedule in its entirety here.
(If you want to make NCAAs a bit more interesting and play in the LRC $200,019 Running Warehouse NCAA prediction contest you can do so here. You don’t need to know anything about NCAAs to play. You just pick the winners from our picking guide)
Speaking of the meet: it’s going to be awesome. NCAA outdoors is one of my favorite events to cover — this is my sixth for LetsRun.com — because year after year, it delivers. The NCAA doesn’t just serve as the development program for the United States, which produces more track & field talent than any other nation, but also attracts its share of international stars as well, such as Divine Oduduru of Texas Tech and Nigeria, the world leader in the men’s 200 (19.76). 2018 record-breakers such as Sydney McLaughlin, Michael Norman, and Rai Benjamin may have departed for the professional ranks, but they’ve been replaced by athletes like Grant Holloway, Daniel Roberts, and Mondo Duplantis. And when those guys leave next year (Holloway and Duplantis are as good as gone; Roberts is a junior at Kentucky but could follow suit with a strong summer), there will be new athletes to take their place.
You may have noticed that I didn’t include any distance runners in that paragraph. We do love the distance races at LetsRun.com — we’ve got full breakdowns of all the events on both the men’s and women’s side, which I’d encourage you to read — but the fact is that while athletes like Dani Jones, Morgan McDonald, and Grant Fisher may develop into future international stars, there are sprinters and field eventers at NCAAs that are already there. Two events at NCAAs (M110H, MPV) feature the top two men in the world squaring off; two more (W100, M200) feature the 2019 world leader.
Those are among my three biggest reasons to be excited for the 2019 NCAA outdoor meet, which I’ve conveniently listed below.
1) Holloway vs. Roberts
Before last year, it had been 39 years since a collegian had broken 13.16 in the 110 hurdles. Then Holloway ran 13.15 at SECs and went on to win his second straight NCAA title and miss out on the US title by a whisker to Devon Allen.
But that was just a prelude to the insanity of 2019. After one sub-13.16 in 39 years, we’ve seen five in 2019 alone: three from Holloway of Florida, and two from Daniel Roberts of Kentucky. They share the collegiate and world lead at 13.07, but Roberts prevailed in their most recent encounter, handing Holloway his first collegiate hurdles loss in two years.
Holloway has tremendous respect for Roberts, and at today’s pre-meet press conference he called himself the underdog at NCAAs.
“I think once someone loses a major conference or major championship, they’re always considered the underdog,” Holloway said.
But the underdog’s role doesn’t suit Holloway, who has never lacked for confidence. He said that he “ran like shit” in the SEC final, and proceeded to list off all the mistakes he made — he didn’t do anything with his first three steps, he didn’t have enough momentum at the end of the race, his hands weren’t positioned correctly…
“That’s just the naked eye,” Holloway said. “You go into real detail, we’d be here all day.”
Just a reminder: Holloway still ran 13.12 in that race. Roberts is the only man on the planet who has run faster this year.
By itself, the Holloway-Roberts showdown is must-watch. But add in that both men are chasing the NCAA record, and it becomes even more tantalizing. And it’s no ordinary record either; it’s Renaldo Nehemiah‘s legendary 13.00. When Nehemiah ran that time in 1979 — 40 years ago — he broke the existing world record by a monstrous .16 of a second. Only Henry Rono‘s collegiate steeple record has stood for longer. It’s a truly ridiculous mark. But that’s what it may take to win the NCAA title on Friday. Holloway and Roberts are that good.
2) Duplantis vs. Nilsen
The men’s 110 hurdles isn’t the only event in Austin in which the top two men in the world will square off. NCAA indoor champ Mondo Duplantis of LSU, who owns the world lead (and collegiate record) thanks to his 6.00-meter clearance at SECs, takes on reigning NCAA outdoor champ Chris Nilsen of South Dakota, who is the world #2 in 2019 thanks to his 5.85 at Drake. Throw in Zach Bradford of Kansas (#6, 5.77), KC Lightfoot of Baylor (T-#9, 5.71), Jacob Wooten of Texas A&M (T-#9, 5.71), Clayton Fritsch of Sam Houston State (T-#9, 5.71), and 2017 champ Matt Ludwig of Baylor (5.83 pb, #8 all-time NCAA) and this may be the most loaded event at NCAAs.
Duplantis, who hasn’t lost since his indoor season opener way back on January 18, will be favored because he can reach heights no one else can — as good as the rest of these guys are, none of them have ever sniffed six meters. But he expects a tough competition this week.
“It’s a great facility,” Duplantis said of Mike A. Myers Stadium. “I think it’s probably the best place I’ve ever jumped, ever. And I think, not only me, but we’re going to see some very high bars in the pole vault…The runway, the box, just everything about it is just, for some reason, everybody just gets on stiff poles and everybody just jumps really high.”
Duplantis has jumped a PR the last two times he’s competed here, clearing 5.90 at the 2017 Texas Relays and 5.92 a year later. Another PR would require something truly spectacular — his current 6.05 best is tied for #2 all-time outdoors — but I’m not ruling anything out when Mondo is involved.
One more thing: this will almost certainly be Duplantis’ final meet for LSU, so savor him, NCAA fans. Duplantis wouldn’t commit to turning pro when asked at today’s press conference, saying “nothing’s official yet.” But “nothing’s official yet” sure sounds like “nothing’s official yet (because I can’t officially turn pro until the meet is over).” Duplantis wanted to come to LSU and win an NCAA title because his brothers and parents all went there. He’s done that and broken the collegiate record to boot. He has nothing more to prove at this level; turning down money to stay in college in an Olympic year just doesn’t make sense.
3) Collegiate record watch
Last year’s NCAA meet produced four collegiate records in the sprints, despite wet, chilly conditions in Eugene. With highs in the 80s and 90s this week, more could fall this year in Austin. I already highlighted two events where the collegiate record could fall. Here are five more where the record is under threat.
Texas Tech’s Divine Oduduru (19.76) is .07 off the NCAA record of 19.69 set by Florida State’s Walter Dix in 2007.
Women’s pole vault
Washington’s Olivia Gruver already has the NCAA outdoor record thanks to her 4.73m clearance earlier this year. The overall record is 4.75, which doper Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin set indoors in 2015. Four-time NCAA champ Lexi Jacobus of Arkansas is #4 on the all-time NCAA list at 4.68 (also indoors).
Women’s triple jump
Florida’s Yanis David, the NCAA indoor champ, got out to 14.35 at SECs, good for #2 on the all-time NCAA list, but she’s still 27 centimeters short of the CR set by Georgia’s Keturah Orji last year.
The NCAA record dates back to 1990, when Patrik Boden threw 89.10 for Texas. Mississippi State’s Anderson Peters is #3 on the all-time list at 86.07, so he’s got a ways to go, but his 86.07 was in Austin earlier this year.
Full men’s pre-meet press conference
Full women’s pre-meet press conference