UI relay changes on the fly

UI relay changes on the fly

   CHAMPAIGN  The distance medley relay just isn''t what it used to be.

   Neither are the top times in the event entering this weekend''s NCAA Indoor Championships at Indianapolis.

   Of the 10 teams that will run in the men''s DMR, including the University of Illinois, none achieved the automatic qualifying standard.

   "Those standards are set to make at least some automatic times," Illini coach Gary Wieneke said this week, "so you can tell there''s a little difference."

   What''s different is the race itself. Or, more specifically, the order of the legs in the race.

   In the past, the opening leg was 800 meters, followed by the 400, 1,200 and 1,600. This year, the distances of the first and third legs were flip-flopped.

   The reason? To try to spread out the field more before the first baton exchange.

   "Last year, everybody in the 800 came in really grouped up and it made for some interesting baton drops," recalled senior Barry Pearman, who ran on the UI''s fifth-place DMR team in the 1996 national meet. "With the 1,200 first now, it''s going to allow the race to spread out a little bit."

   The change means that Pearman is first up for the Illini when the DMR is run Saturday night at the RCA Dome. He''ll be followed by Dorian Green, Bobby True and Cortney Lamb.

   The group ran a provisional qualifying time of 9 minutes, 42.39 seconds last Saturday at the University of Michigan''s Last Chance Meet.

   The DMR is one of two events Illinois qualified for this weekend. Freshman Babatunde Ridley is entered in the long jump.

   Except for Green, Illinois'' DMR personnel is the same as it was for last year''s national meet. And Green is no stranger to the event, having run on this relay when it qualified for nationals in 1995.

   That unit, minus Green, went on to place third in the NCAA meet. Green would have run in that race, too, except that he was on the awards stand at the time after placing fourth in the 400. Wieneke had to hastily insert Ben Beyers into the lineup in Green''s place.

   With all four members of the Illini DMR lineup running only this race at Indianapolis, there''s no chance of a similar snafu. That also means Illinois should have a relay that''s as fresh as any in the distance medley field. It''s Wieneke''s understanding that all of the DMR teams except the Illini and Purdue will have one or more members running in other events at nationals.

   From a tactical standpoint, Pearman''s leg may be the most challenging.

   "If they''re packed up early and somebody doesn''t take off," Wieneke said, "he''s got to be in a position to get out and kick when they take off with a quarter(-mile) to go or whatever. He can''t be locked in and let the leaders get away and (then) he can''t get to them."

   Pearman says he''s ready to go hard the entire distance of his leg if that''s called for. Since he ordinarily runs longer distances in individual events  the mile and 3,000  the 1,200 should seem less taxing in comparison.

   "For a miler, you go all out from the gun (in the 1,200) because you have the endurance and speed," he said.

   Green''s task will be what it always is  to run as fast as he can. After enduring hamstring problems earlier this season, the senior sprinter says he''s healthy again. That much was apparent two weeks ago in the Big Ten meet, when Green placed second in the 400 and third in the 200.

   True is coming off a particularly strong performance (1:48.9) in his leg when the DMR ran in Michigan.

   And Lamb is more comfortable with his role as the DMR anchor. In that role, he must be able to respond to a variety of scenarios.

   "His attribute is his speed, so if that leg becomes tactical  or even if it isn''t  he''s got the ability to shift through some gears," Wieneke said. "We think we''re set up to do well."

   Though sophomores, True and Lamb enter with valuable experience in this race. They should have valuable confidence, too, having run on the UI''s Big Ten champion DMR in February.   "As freshmen, they did yeoman duty," Wieneke said.

Added Lamb: "This year, we''re not just happy to be there, we want to do something."


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