CHAMPAIGN – If Bobby True could set a school record in the 600 meters and come within eyelash of doing the same in the 1,000, what would happen when the University of Illinois junior got rolling in his favorite event.
True provided the answer Saturday by ripping off the fastest time ever by a Big Ten Conference runner in the indoor 800.
"He had pretty much set himself up to run a great 800," Illini coach Gary Wieneke said this week of True's clocking of 1 minute, 47.46 seconds. "Between his other two performances, you knew if he got in the right (800) race, he would be darn tough."
True found himself in just such a race at the Cyclone Classic track and field meet in Ames, Iowa. The field for the 800 included Arkansas' Senica Lassiter, the defending NCAA champion in the outdoor 1,500, as well as SMU's Roman Oravec, a former member of the Czech Republic's World Junior Championships national team.
Together, the trio blazed a trail that led each to an automatic berth in next month's NCAA Indoor Championships and spurred True to a bit of Big Ten history.
Oravec led the way in 1:46.46, just 0.5 seconds head of Lassiter. Then came True with what now ranks as the 10th-fastest time in the world this year in the event.
"To say this is satisfying is an understatement," True said. "I feel like I've reached the next level I want to be at, and it starts from here. Like I made breakthrough, and I think I can continue to do that."
Because the race was run on an oversized track (over 200 meters), True's time will not be recognized as either a Big Ten or school record. Neal Newman's 1:47.83 clocking for Michigan in 1991 will remain the conference standard, as will the UI mark of 1:48.30 set by Dutch Olympian Marko Koers in '94.
But that in no way diminishes the feat in Wieneke's eyes.
"It really is a great achievement considering the tremendous 800 runners that have not only competed at Illinois, but at schools in the history of the Big Ten," he said.
Saturday's accomplishment continued a remarkable season for the Big Ten's defending champion in the outdoor 800. On Jan. 17, True ran the fastest 600 meters (1:18.01) in Illini history. A week later, the versatile junior clocked in at 2:23.46 in the 1,000. That was a mere 0.07 seconds slower than Koers' school record.
"After the 600, I got a lot of confidence," True said, "and after the 1,000, I got even more. I'm hoping it will continue that way."
True will find out Saturday, when the Illini make their final home appearance of the indoor season in the Carle/Busey Invitational at the UI Armory. Certainly, the former All-Stater from Glenbard West should be more relaxed now that he's gotten the NCAA's automatic qualifying time out of the way in his specialty. Just not too relaxed, True hopes.
"It is a relief," he said, "but sometimes that can be bad. Sometimes you can say now you don't need to do anything until the national meet. I think the biggest challenge now is keeping the fire and the aggressiveness, and thinking, 'Why not achieve more?' "
In women's track and field:
Although Aleisha Latimer already has tied the school record in the 55 meters, the Illini freshman still is chasing her own mark.
Coach Gary Winckler's prized recruit has run it as fast as 6.69 seconds.
"I think she can achieve that before the year is out," Winckler said.
If so, the 1997 U.S. World Indoor Championships team member will stand alone atop the UI career list in the 55. Currently, Latimer shares that distinction with 18-time All-American Celena Mondie-Milner. When Latimer ran a 6.73 in Colorado last week, she tied the record set by Mondie-Milner in 1989.
Now that Latimer is assured of a berth in the NCAA Indoor Championships, Winckler is looking for the Colorado native to help his 4 x 400 relay achieve the same. That unit is hopeful of reaching the automatic qualifying standard today during the Carle/Busey Invitational. Winckler will pair Latimer and Yvonne Harrison with Apsen Burkett, Stacy Ann Grant or Candace Nicholson.