Poor weather no hurdle for Armstrong

   WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.  Neither rainy conditions nor ruinous setbacks were going to thwart Illinois in the 1999 Big Ten Championships.

   Heck, Sherman Armstrong felt right at home.

   "Coming from Chicago, we ran in this type of weather in high school all the time," he said. "I didn''t let it affect me at all."

   The sophomore won the 110- and 400-meter hurdles Sunday to lead the Illini to fourth in the men''s standings. Illinois also was buoyed by a 1-2 finish in the 800 meters from Bobby True, who won for the third time, and freshman Jason Van Swol.

   Minnesota scored 1491/2 points to claim its second title in a row. Iowa, led by 100 champion Tim Dwight of the Atlanta Falcons, was second with 113. Wisconsin had 107 points, Illinois 77 and indoor champion Michigan State 75.

   For the Illini women, sophomore Aleisha Latimer won the 100 and ran a leg on the winning 400 relay team.

   Host Purdue scored 105 points in field events and claimed its first women''s title since 1987, beatingrunner-up Wisconsin 143-122. Illinois was fifth with 90 points.

   The Illini men, whose eighth place last year was their worst since 1967, climbed four places. Considering all their misadventures, they were relieved to finish that high.

   "In any meet, you''re going to have adversity," coach Gary Wieneke said. "That''s one of the things we talked about improving."

   Illinois lost as many as 25 potential points.

   Hurdler Randy Gillon was disqualified by a false start Saturday. Sprinter George McDonald-Ashford, the Big Ten indoor champion in the 60, couldn''t run Sunday because of a groin strain. And Babatunde Ridley was disqualified for a lane violation after finishing fourth in the 200.

   Armstrong, worried about a false start, began poorly in the 110 hurdles but gradually moved up to win in 14.24 seconds. He went over the first barrier in the 400 hurdles with the incorrect (right) leg, but he kept his equilibrium and clocked 51.08.

   Armstrong also anchored the 1,600 relay team to second place with a 46.6 carry.

   "I didn''t think I''d do anything like this until my junior or senior year," Armstrong said.

   True completed his career with five Big Ten titles, having also won an 800 and 600 indoors. Under Wieneke, Illini runners have won nine of the past 12 outdoor 800s in the conference.

   True smoothly accelerated to the lead with 250 meters left and won unchallenged in 1:49.20. Van Swol, whose 1:47.0 a week ago made him No. 8 on the all-time U.S. junior (under-20) list, clocked 1:49.81.

   The Illini scored 19 points in the 800, including an eighth place by junior Greg Schultz (1:52.62).

   True has fought allergies all spring and had a sore throat going into the meet.

   Because of that, he said, "It''s probably the best feeling I''ve had in winning a championship yet."

   True was fifth in the NCAA indoors with a Big Ten record of 1:46.96. If his health improves, he will try to improve on that in the June 2-5 outdoor NCAAs at Boise, Idaho.

   "I think come Boise," he said, "I''ll be ready to pop one."

   Latimer hasn''t popped one like the 11.19 she clocked in the 100 as a Colorado high schooler in 1997. But coach Gary Winckler said she is running as consistently as ever.

   Latimer beat teammate Kerry Ann Richards, the Big Ten indoor sprint champion, with an 11.50 in the 100. Ohio State''s Donica Merriman edged Latimer in the 200 meters, 23.59 to 23.60.

   Latimer and Richards teamed with freshmen Laura Aschoff and Chequette Bearfield to give the Illini their 12th victory in the 400 relay in Winckler''s 14 years as coach.

   "I think as a team, we competed better than in any Big Ten meet since 1996," Winckler said.

   Stacy Ann Grant was third in the high jump, in which she was defending champion, and fourth in the 400 hurdles.

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