Teamwork trademark for Illinoia

Teamwork trademark for Illinoia

   IOWA CITY, Iowa  Facts can be cold and without context.

   So that Illinois finished fifth Sunday in the 100th men''s Big Ten Track and Field Championships reveals little about what really happened.

   So what if the Illini have been in the first division 25 times in Gary Wieneke''s 26 years as head coach? Or that they have the conference''s best aggregate record in that period?

   Wieneke was gratified about what mattered more.

   "We can''t be disappointed, the way we fought today," he said.

   Sherman Armstrong won a second straight hurdles double, and Jason Van Swol added to Illinois'' legacy at 800 meters.

   Now, for the rest of the story.

   The Illini opened the 400-meter relay with these three legs:

   An out-of-shape quarter-miler who played spring football (Kendall McCroy), an intermediate hurdler (Armstrong) and a triple jumper (Charles Burton).

   Finally, on the anchor leg, there was a true sprinter, Babatunde Ridley. Even Ridley was only sixth in the 100 meters.

   The Illini finished second. The time: 40.15 seconds, creditable for any college.

   "That''s nothing but coaching," Illini assistant Tom Doyle said.

   Diligently preparing for the relay was Willie Williams, the former NCAA sprint champion who returned in 1982 to coach at his alma mater. He is retiring after this season.

   Illinois senior Tyrone Jones hadn''t raced since he was injured a month ago. He was fifth in the 400.

   One Illini vaulter, conference indoor champ Justin Norberg, suffered from a hamstring injury. He hadn''t been on a pole in two weeks. He was second.

   Another Illini vaulter, Matt Lasley, was seventh  in the javelin. He improved 19 feet to 200-11.

   "They are showing character today," Doyle said.

   Armstrong showed he is not only a contender to win an NCAA title in the 400 hurdles, but also to score in the 110 hurdles.

   He won the 110s in a wind-aided 13.72 and took the 400s in 49.64  not far off his school-record 49.20.

   "I consider myself a complete hurdler," Armstrong said.

   Van Swol won wire-to-wire, just as he did in clocking 1:47.89 at Saturday''s trials. He came back with 1:48.09 in the final.

   "Except for the Drake Relays sprint medley, I haven''t run a decent race all year," he said. "To put two together like this and to qualify for nationals all on the same weekend gives me a lot of confidence."

   Van Swol''s bleached hair and earrings might not conform to his coach''s style, but he falls right in line with his predecessors. Wieneke''s half-milers have won five conference titles in a row, 10 of 13 and 15 of 30.

   Wisconsin won the men''s title with 155 points to 1051/2 by Minnesota and 103 by Ohio State. Illinois scored 84.

   Athlete of the championships was Ohio State''s Andrew Pierce. He broke Butch Reynolds'' meet record with a 44.87 in the 400 and followed that with a sizzling 43.9 relay leg.

   Indiana won its first outdoor women''s title, outdistancing Minnesota 135-118. Jennifer Brown of St. Joseph-Ogden was second in Saturday''s shot put for the Hoosiers.

   Illinois was eighth  its worst finish in Gary Winckler''s 14 years as head coach. The Illini have promising young athletes and are counting on a top recruiting class, but this one hurt.

   "I''m embarrassed for Illinois," Winckler said. "We knew we weren''t going to be title contenders. But we should have done better than this."

   Kerry Ann Richards'' disqualification in the 100 for a false start typified Illinois'' day. Before that, she had anchored the 400 relay team to second.

   Illini freshman Perdita Felicien, with Ohio State''s Donica Merriman and Dominique Calloway in lanes on either side, stayed poised in the 100 hurdles. Felicien, a Canadian Olympic hopeful, clocked a wind-aided 13.05 to place second to Merriman''s 12.89.

   "I got out of the blocks well and was clean over every hurdle," Felicien said. "That''s the best you can ask for."

   Finishing third were Tisha Ponder in the triple jump (41-83/4) and Centennial product Gia Lewis in the discus (163-7).

Comments embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments