In most of Stanford’s track athletes’ season finale, many managed to step up to the spotlight in the storied Hayward Field at the NCAA National Track & Field Championships this past weekend in Eugene, Oregon.
The Cardinal finished without a national title winner, but the combined effort of all of its athletes comprised a result that far surpasses any individual accolade.
Starting with sophomore decathlete Harrison Williams, whose two-day performance advanced him to the Olympic Trials in three weeks on this same track. He earned fifth, except it was the highest-scoring fifth-place finish in NCAA history, competing against the highest-scoring field in NCAA history. All five of those top-finishers will advance to the Olympic Trials, with the first four already having hit the Olympic standard of 8100 points and Williams’ 8,032 leaving him on the brink.
This performance was the fourth time Williams broke his own Stanford record in the decathlon, which lasted 62 years before his arrival. He set personal records in the 100m (10.69s), the 400m (47.06s), shot put (44’ 4 ¼"), 110m high hurdles (14.07s), discus (136’ 8"), and the 1500m (4:27.88s).
According to Palo Alto Online, Stanford’s multi-events coach Michael Eskind praised Williams’ performance:
"An 8,000-point score is certainly a big step toward being truly world class. That was the best NCAA decathlon from top to bottom, so for him to finish fifth behind four who have the Olympic standard (8,100), was amazing."
Next up was the men’s 5000m, where Stanford sent two competitors: junior Sean McGorty and freshman Grant Fisher.
Leading the pack was the seemingly untouchable Edward Cheserek, the most dominant runner in collegiate history. Cheserek took the victory, but half a second behind him was McGorty at 13:26.10.
According to GoStanford.com:
"You can’t be intimidated by him," McGorty said. "You have to run your own race. This time, he only pulled away in the last 100, and maybe that’s all he needed to do. But I’m trying to get closer and closer. Hopefully, at some point, I’ll be able to finish right next to him."
Cheserek ran smart to ensure his victory, but McGorty certainly gave the future Olympian a challenge. Expect the two to go at it again in each of their senior seasons next year.
Finishing close behind in sixth was Grant Fisher, whose 13:30.13s time made him the third-fastest American junior (19 and under) ever, passing the likes of runners like Garry Lindgren, Galen Rupp (winner of this year’s U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials), and even McGorty.
An even closer finish left the world with a classic photo moment in the women’s 1500m.
Stanford sophomore Elise Cranny took second to Mississippi State’s Marta Freitas by only 0.004 seconds! Cranny’s 4:09.534s still managed to set a school record, but that finish did not even seem possible if the race was rewound to its earlier stages. Freitas opened a substantial gap on the opening homestretch, but Cranny managed to keep her composure and stick to her strategy in spite of adversity. Cranny narrowed the gap in the final 100m after sticking to Freitas’ inside shoulder for most of the race. Freitas’ premature celebration pictured above also gave Cranny the opportunity to cover a bit more ground, and given 10 more meters, Cranny believes she could have grabbed that national title.
In the women’s 800m, Olivia Baker took second in 2:02.65s, with Claudia Saunders two spots behind at 2:02.99s.
Valerie Allman took the bronze in the discus and further cemented her No. 2 spot on Stanford’s all-time leaderboards with a 201’ 6" throw in the discus.
Except, her greatest memento was probably her quote after the meet.
"There is no better feeling than wearing the Stanford uniform, and today is one I’ll remember for the rest of my life."
That, captures this 2016 Stanford Cardinal spring season, and year perfectly.