NCAA Conference Madness: Athing Mu Breaks 50, Terrance Laird Amazes, Brandon Miller Breaks Through, Wesley Kiptoo Wins ‘Em All, & More

By LetsRun.com
May 17, 2021

Call it “May Madness.” 

This past weekend, the biggest track & field conferences in America held their conference championships, and there were so many incredible performances that, frankly, it was a bit overwhelming. From Notre Dame’s Yared Nuguse’s NCAA 1500 record in Raleigh on Thursday to Isaiah Jewett’s NCAA-leading 800 in Los Angeles on Sunday, the action was nonstop for four straight days.

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Since it’s impossible to watch 5+ conference meets at once (if you found a way, please let us know), you probably missed something from last weekend. But that’s why you come to LetsRun.com. We’ve combed through all the results; below, we present the highlights from a wild conference weekend.

Terrance Laird & Tamara Clark rip off incredible sprint doubles; JuVaughn Harrison posts high jump world leader

The SEC is the best track & field conference in America (more on that later), and the performances of a couple of sprint sensations and one remarkable field athlete made that clear over the weekend at the SEC champs in College Station, Tex.

The performer of the meet was LSU’s Terrance Laird, who won the 100, 200, and anchored the Tigers’ winning 4×100 relay all in the span of two hours and 20 minutes on Saturday. After the relay, which LSU won in 38.87, Laird dominated the competition in the 100, running a wind-aided 9.80 (+3.2), the fastest all-conditions time in the world this year. +3.2 is a fair amount of wind, but Laird’s run was still world-class; his time converts to 9.94 in still conditions…which is .01 faster than what Trayvon Bromell’s world-leading 9.88 (+1.5) is worth with no wind.

An hour after his 100 win, Laird returned for the 200 and blasted a wind-legal 19.82, which is #2 in the world this year behind only…Terrance Laird’s 19.81 from the Texas Relays (Laird ran another 19.82 — this one with +2.4 wind — on April 24). Ato Boldon is a Laird believer — and why shouldn’t he be?

On the women’s side, Alabama’s Tamara Clark replicated Laird’s 100/200 double, running super fast (albeit wind-aided) times of 10.87 (+2.7) and 21.89 (+4.1). In the field, reigning NCAA long jump champion JuVaughn Harrison of LSU was surprisingly beaten — it took a great 8.34m leap by Tennessee’s Carey McLeod to better Harrison’s 8.24 — but Harrison more than made up for it in the high jump. Harrison took seven jumps and cleared all of them, and his final clearance of 2.36m (7-8¾) was a 2021 world leader and moves him into a tie for second on the NCAA all-time list and seventh on the US all-time list.

Watching Harrison clear the gradually escalating bars is a thing of beauty:

Don’t forget about Alabama’s Eliud Kipsang

We feel a little bit sorry for Alabama freshman Eliud Kipsang. He’s running very well but gets very little attention as indoors his runner-up 3:55 was forgotten about due to Cole Hocker’s 3:53 mile win.

This weekend at SECs, he did a great Yared Nuguse impersonation on Friday as he went out and soloed a 3:36.84 in the prelims. Kipsang is amazing at running super fast all by himself as this is the second time this season he’s run 3:36 in a 1500 in a race where second place was 3:46. He also did it in early April at the Crimson Tide Invitational when he ran 3:36.00.

In the final at SECs,, Kipsang won comfortably in 3:37.99 over Ole Miss’s Waleed Suliman (3:38.86), who came into the weekend as the US leader at 1500 with a 3:36.53.

After four years of stagnation, Texas A&M freshman Brandon Miller is having an incredible season

Kipsang also blitzed two quick 800s this weekend as he won his prelim in 1:46.99 and was second in the final in 1:47.16. The winner of the 800 was Texas A&M true freshman Brandon Miller, who dominated in 1:45.95.

Miller has been talked about a lot over the years on LetsRun.com as he was an age-group phenom. He holds both the age-13 (1:56.41) and age-14 (1:51.23) world records in the 800, and  as a 15-year old he broke Michael Granville’s freshman class record of 1:51.03 by running 1:50.84 before lowering that to 1:49.87 later that summer. 

The problem was he didn’t run much faster after that. His high school PB ended up being 1:49.55 and some totally wrote him off as yet another teen phenom who didn’t get much better.

But he’s absolutely flourished this year at Texas A&M. Indoors, he ran 1:48.94 and won SECs (but didn’t make NCAAs) but has gone absolutely berserk outdoors. 

He’s now PR’d in four straight races as he ran 1:48.25 on April 10, then 1:47.33 on April 17 before running 1:46.06 in the prelims of SECs and 1:45.95 in the final.

Speaking of Texas A&M, what has happened to Devin Dixon? The 2019 NCAA runner-up behind Bryce Hoppel, Dixon was only 8th in the SEC final, four seconds behind Miller. His 1:48.97 sb is more than four seconds slower than his 1:44.76 pb.

Past MB Talk Regarding Miller

The 800 is really starting to heat up

Miller was far from the only 800 runner to blitz a good two-lapper over the weekend. The best results came at the Pac-12 meet where USC senior Isaiah Jewett destroyed NCAA indoor champ Charlie Hunter of Oregon, winning in 1:45.16 to Hunter’s 1:46.34 to mark himself as someone who could end up on the US Olympic team this summer. 

Clemson grad student Kameron Jones is also a name you might want to remember. Primarily a 400-meter man at Maryland, he came to Clemson this year with only a single season of outdoor eligibility and he has made the most of it. His 800 pb coming into the year was 1:49.79. Headed into ACCs, his pb was 1:47.49. Now it’s 1:45.47 as he won by 1.39 seconds.

In women’s action, Clemson’s Laurie Barton (2:00.70) became the fourth woman on the year to go sub-2:01.

Your weekly Athing Mu update

These days, it’s become expected of Athing Mu to break a record every time she steps on the track, and she didn’t disappoint at SECs. After running 50.04 in the 400 prelims, she blitzed a 49.84 to win the final — a US U20 record and the #3 time in NCAA history. Mu is just the eighth woman to have broken 50 in the 400 and 2:00 in the 800, and at 18, by far the youngest to do it (h/t Jon Mulkeen).

As impressive as her run was, after the race, Mu confirmed that she will run the 800 at next month’s US Olympic Trials. 

Cole Hocker gets beaten…but still amazes

Cole Hocker was “only” third in the Pac-12 800m final in Los Angeles, but it can hardly be said that the 19-year-old Oregon phenom had a bad weekend. After all, he still managed to run a pb of 1:46.39 and was just .05 behind his teammate Charlie Hunter — the NCAA indoor 800 champion.

And Hocker wasn’t done. An hour later, he returned to the track for the 5,000 and took down teammate (and Pac-12 1500 champ) Cooper Teare to win in 13:32.68, closing in 25 seconds for his final 200. It’s rare for any collegian to even attempt the 800/5k double, let alone perform with distinction in both events. His recent defeat to Yared Nuguse showed that Hocker is mortal, but he remains a serious threat to win the 1500, 5k, or both at NCAAs this year.

Speaking of Oregon, props to the Duck men on their 14th consecutive Pac-12/Pac-10 title. Oregon did it in style, scoring a meet-record 185 points. For any team to win its conference meet 14 years in a row is impressive, let alone a power conference such as the Pac-12.

The depth in Pac-12 distance running is crazy…13:40 and 28:51 get you 6th place

The SEC may be the greatest overall track & field conference, but the Pac-12 is tops when it comes to distance running and one need only look at the results of the distance races for proof. The winning times were quick, but what really stands out is the depth. In the men’s 10,000, six guys ran 28:51 or faster. The men’s 5,000 was even deeper, as 12 guys ran 13:47 or faster (Stanford alone had five of them). On the women’s side, six women ran 15:50 or better. 

Wesley Kiptoo wins ‘em all at Big 12s

Iowa State’s Wesley Kiptoo likes to do two things: run fast and win races. At last weekend’s Big 12 meet in Manhattan, Kan., he did plenty of both as he became the first man to win three individual events at a single Big 12 championship, sweeping the steeple, 5k, and 10k. Even more impressively, he broke the meet record in each event, running 8:31.82 in the steeple (#2 in the NCAA), 13:29.92 in the 5k, and 28:22.98 in the 10k.

The addition of the steeple to Kiptoo’s repertoire makes for an interesting decision heading into NCAAs. Kiptoo is the NCAA indoor 5k champ, but he was only 4th when he ran the 5k at the Oregon Relays in April, losing to Oregon’s Cole Hocker and Cooper Teare as well as his Iowa State teammate Edwin Kurgat. If he decides to “only” double, and not triple at NCAAs, will Kiptoo consider the 10k/steeple double instead of the 10k/5k? 

MB: Old-timers, is Wesley Kiptoo like Prefontaine…. just much better? Kiptoo had unreal 28:22, 8:31 st, 13:29 TRIPLE at Big 12s.

The most obvious DQ we’ve ever seen

Things got testy in the men’s middle distance finals at Big 12s. It began in the 1500, where Texas’s Yusuf Bizimana and Iowa State’s Festus Lagat were battling it out for the win in the final meters. The two men eventually collided just meters from the line, with Bizimana crossing first in 3:44.87 to Lagat’s 3:44.97 as Lagat went sprawling to the ground.

That collision looked mostly incidental — both men were veering toward each other, resulting in a collision (4:40 mark):

Less than 90 minutes later, the two men met in the 800 final. That time, it was a little easier to see who was at fault (3:04 mark):

Lagat, unsurprisingly, Lagat  was DQ’d as Bizimana completed the double in 1:46.84.

The SEC is insanely competitive

Some here at LetsRun.com had the opportunity to watch the SEC meet on Saturday and it was a lot of fun. If you have the opportunity to watch it next year, do yourself a favor as the meet is insanely competitive.

How good is the SEC?

Above, we talked about how great the SEC is. There are a couple of ways to analyze how great. One way is this. Cloudtrainingsystems.com has an online tool where you can score a conference meet based on the descending order list. We decided to put the women of Duke into the SEC meet and see how they’d do.

We picked Duke as we wanted to give them a shout out as they had a great weekend, winning their first-ever ACC track title — a great result for coach Shawn Wilbourn, who just recently had the interim tag removed removed and was named permanent director of the program (Florida State also won the title as for some idiotic reason ties aren’t broken in track. We think they should break ties and it should be based on the 4×400 — which Duke won).

If you score the SEC meet with Duke and Florida State in it, Duke finishes just 10th with 36.83 points (FSU was 6th with 64.5).

If that seems crazy to you, consider this. The Vanderbilt women are far from terrible. They have a few really good athletes/relay teams and scored a grand total of zero points at SECs.

This year they’ve had athletes run 11.52 in the 100, 23.22 in the 200, 52.65 in the 400, 2:04.35 in the 800, 4:16.74 in the 1500 and had relay teams run 45.81 and 3:36.27. Yet they were totally shut out.

In the end, we decided to put all of the women’s Power 5 conference champions into the SEC and score the descending order list. The best projection for any other conference winner was Texas, who was projected to get third. Most of the others would likely finish just 5th or 6th in the SEC.

Projected SEC Finish For Women’s Power 5 Conference Winners If They Were In the SEC
Texas 3rd (103.5)
USC 5th (81.5)
FSU  6th (64.5)
Ohio State 6th (65.5)
Duke 10th (36.83)

Arkansas’ winning score varied depending on who was put into the conference but normally it was in the low 120s.

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