(courtesy of www.Pac-10.org)

 

By Bob Burns

EUGENE, Ore. - Tradition is nice, and Oregon certainly has a long, storied history in this sport. But tradition cuts both ways, as USC and Arizona State demonstrated Sunday at the Pac-10 Track and Field Championships.

On a gorgeous afternoon at venerable Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus, a men's program with incomparable tradition and a women's program with practically no tradition celebrated like champions on the infield afterward.

USC withstood a fierce challenge from defending Pac-10 champion Oregon to win its record 32nd men's conference title. The Trojans scored 140 points, clinching the title with a rousing win in the final event, the 4 x 400 relay.

Oregon finished second in both the relay and the overall team race, scoring 133 points. With a final-day crowd of 7,060 cheering them on, the Ducks were trying to win their first conference title at Hayward Field since 1967.

"This is a special win," USC coach Ron Allice said. "To beat a very talented (Oregon) team in front of their crowd ... this is something our men can think about for a long, long time."

At the opposite end of the tradition spectrum, Arizona State rode the tireless legs of its distance runners to claim its first-ever Pac-10 women's title. The Sun Devils finished with 140 points to edge defending champion Stanford (133).

"I'm thrilled to death, but I'm not surprised," ASU coach Greg Kraft said. "This was our goal at the start of the season."

UCLA senior Chelsea Johnson had a goal of her own - to reclaim the national collegiate record in the women's pole vault. Johnson was successful in her quest, sailing cleanly over 15 feet, 1 inch.

Johnson was the first female collegian to clear 15 feet, hitting that milestone in 2004. But Florida State's Lacy Janson took the record away when she jumped 15-0 on April 20.
 


  

After clearing a meet-record 14-10 on Sunday, Johnson had the bar raised to 15-1. She cleared it on her second attempt and then had a narrow miss at 15-3.

"I wanted to get the record back as soon as possible," Johnson said. "It's been a long time coming since my sophomore year. I feel like I'm a much better jumper now. I wasn't surprised when Lacy broke it, but I feel like I deserve the record."

Johnson knows something about tradition. Her father, Jan Johnson, won a bronze medal in the pole vault at the 1972 Olympics. He cleared 18 feet for the only time in his career to qualify for the U.S. team - at Hayward Field.

"Why shouldn't I be able to set the record today?" Chelsea said. "Perfect weather, tailwind ... why not?"

Oregon fans were thinking the same thing when their Ducks opened the second day of competition with an unexpected win the 4 x 100 relay. Matt Sherer then won the open 400 in a career-best 45.19 seconds. Eric Mitchum and Akobundu Ikwuakor placed first and third in the 110-meter high hurdles.

But the Trojans were unfazed by their second-place finish in the sprint relay. USC sprinter Philip Francis won the 100 in 10.25 and the 200 in 20.39. Duane Solomon and Raphael Asafo-Agyei ran one-two in the 800 meters.

Galen Rupp's third-place finish for Oregon in the 5,000 meters raised Oregon's point total to 125 entering the climactic 4 x 400 relay. USC had 130 points with one event remaining.

To win the team title, Oregon would have to win the relay while USC finished fourth or worse. That was an unlikely scenario, but the race still provided a memorable finish to a terrific conference meet.

Sherer's 45-flat split on the second leg moved Oregon in front of USC. Washington moved past both teams into the lead with one lap remaining. The final leg featured three lead changes as Kent twice moved ahead of USC anchor Lionel Larry, once on the first curve and again on the second turn.

But Larry was stronger in the homestretch, giving USC the victory in 3:05.74. Oregon was second in 3:06.75.

"To have it come down to the relay - you couldn't write a script better than that," said Oregon coach Vin Lananna. "Our guys were disappointed to come up a little short, but their effort was fabulous."

The women's team race was effectively decided in the 5,000, when Victoria Jackson led Arizona State to a 1-3-5-7-8 finish.

Stanford won the concluding relay, but ASU kept the Cardinal within its sights by finishing second.

Arizona State dominated the three longest races, scoring a combined 68 points in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, 5,000 and 10,000. But the Sun Devils also received a heroic effort from Jacquelyn Johnson.

Johnson won the Pac-10 heptathlon title the previous weekend in Eugene. On her second trip north in nine days, Johnson placed second in the high jump, third in the 100 hurdles and sixth in the long jump.

"You can't do something like this without a team effort," Kraft said. "That's why Stanford is so strong - they've got balance."

Stanford's top scorer was Erica McLain, who added the triple jump title Sunday to her long jump win of the day before.

Arizona's Robert Cheseret repeated his Pac-10 distance triple of 2005, winning the 1,500 and 5,000 meters on Sunday. He won the 10,000 on Saturday. For his career, Cheseret has won nine individual Pac-10 titles.

In the 1,500, Cheseret kicked fluidly and powerfully over the final lap, winning in 3:41.88 over Stanford's Russell Brown (3:43.49). Cheseret used the same strategy in the 5,000, sprinting past teammate Obed Mutanya to win in 13:47.50.

The distance-savvy Oregon fans accorded Cheseret a standing ovation when he accepted his third first-place award on the podium in front of the west grandstand.

"I like how the people of Oregon support me," Cheseret said. "I'm very happy."

Virginia Powell of USC successfully defended her conference titles in the 100-meter hurdles (12.64) and the 100-meter dash (11.10). She also ran a leg on the Trojans' victorious sprint relay team.

USC freshman Eva Orban won the women's hammer throw with a meet-record toss of 221-6.