True right on track for Illinois

   The 89th men''s Big Ten Indoor Championships underscored the unique properties of track and field.

   On a day when coaches scribbled updates on notepads and athletes strained for every possible point, the team and individual aspects of the sport converged into a memorable Sunday at Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center in Madison, Wis.

   "I knew our team had a chance to win a title," Illinois senior Bobby True said. "That was my main focus."

   Such resolve resulted in a collegiate record in the 600 meters, capping a riveting 30 minutes in which Illinois won four successive events on the track.

   Michigan State surprisingly won its first team title since 1972, scoring 75 points in four distance races and a total of 107. But the Illini weren''t in despair after scoring 89 points in a bid to win their first title since 1989. Defending champ Minnesota was third at 83 1/2.

   Illinois finished second just nine months after an eighth-place outdoor finish and one day after staring at a scoreboard in which it was dead last with six points.

   "I think we made some major strides as far as becoming a championship team," Illini coach Gary Wieneke said. "I would call this a championship effort that just fell short."

   The rich tradition of track at Illinois was enhanced in a half-hour of power.

   First, George McDonald-Ashford bolted to the lead out of blocks and scored a dominating victory in the 60-meter dash. His time of 6.74 seconds broke his own school record of 6.75.

   McDonald-Ashford joined Buddy Young, Cyril Pinder and Mitch Brookins in the elite corps of Illini football players to win Big Ten sprint titles.

   "I was embarrassed about how I ran yesterday," McDonald-Ashford said. "But I''m happy I came back and ran a (personal record) and maybe showed some of the people that disrespected me that I am a champion."

   Next, Jason Van Swol led virtually all the way in winning the 800 in 1:51.81. He is the first Wieneke-coached half-miler to win indoors as a freshman, something even Olympian Marko Koers couldn''t do.

   Sophomore Sherman Armstrong took the 60 hurdles in 7.91, much to his relief. He was the favorite, a role new to him.

   "I just had to stand tall and do what I needed to do for the team," Armstrong said.

   Finally, there was a True story. Unlike a week ago, when he ran his first 400 in 48.9 and hung on to clock 1:17.76, he followed the crisp pace of Minnesota''s Tom Gerding. True ran the first 400 in 50.2 and finished in 1:17.35.

   His collegiate record is the first set by an Illini since Craig Virgin ran 10,000 meters in 27:59.43 at the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials.

   True''s time broke the NCAA mark of 1:17.38 set by Jackson State''s Olsen Barr in 1985 at Louisville, Ky. The world and American records are 1:15.77 and 1:15.80, respectively.

   True is No. 6 on the all-time U.S. list and has the No. 3 time in the world this year.

   "I actually almost slowed down with 100 meters left to save a little bit for the 4x400," True said. "But then I kicked myself in the a-- right there because I did that about three other times in a Big Ten meet and could have qualified for national meets."

   Tyrone Jones (49.2), Van Swol (48.7), True (47.1) and Armstrong (46.9) brought Illinois victory in the 4x400 relay for the fifth time in six years, clocking 3:11.94.

   Besides the five victories  more than any other team  Illinois had third places from Randy Gillon in the hurdles and Cortney Lamb in the 800.

   "Everything happens for a reason, I feel," True said. "Even though we didn''t win, I''m sure everyone is going to go home happy."

Speedsters sparkle in women''s track

   Kerry Ann Richards and Aleisha Latimer finished 1-2 in the 60 meters Sunday, helping the Illini to a sixth-place finish in the 18th annual Big Ten Women''s Indoor Track and Field Championships at Columbus, Ohio.

   Richards, the Illini''s lone Big Ten champion, provisionally qualified for the NCAA indoors with a time of 7.38. Latimer, last year''s Big Ten champ at 55 meters who already has qualified provisionally in the 60, finished in 7.42 in the same heat.

   Latimer also played second fiddle to teammate Lydia Martin in the 200, Martin finishing sixth in 25.07 and Latimer seventh in 25.15.

   Other scorers Sunday for the Illini, who finished with 70 points: Tara Mendozza, second in the mile at 4:48.15; Lindsay Martin, eighth in the 600 at 1:36.59; Stacy Ann Grant, third in the high jump at 5 feet, 8 1/2 inches; Candace Nicholson, fourth in the 800 at 2:12.36; Tisha Ponder, fifth in the triple jump at 39-3 3/4; and the 4x400 relay team, third in 3:46.64.

   Defending champion Michigan won the team title.

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