Review of ESPN coverage of Friday night NCAA Outdoor Track & Field

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Ed Cheserek.jpgEd Cheserek, photo by Cheryl Treworgy/Pretty Sporty

RunBlogRun opines: This is the review we asked Jeff Benjamin to do regarding NCAA Outdoor Track & Field's Friday night on ESPN. The Thursday NCAA broadcast had a higher rating on ESPN than the COPA Soccer coverage.

The Friday night ESPN broadcast of the (mostly) Men's component of the NCAA Outdoor track championships once again paired the duo of Dwight Stones and Larry Rawson together. If ever there were two announcers who seem to compliment each other almost on cue with their play calling and insight, it's these two veteran announcers, whose expertise carries over into all of the events shown. With Jill Montgomery on the track handing post- race interviews, the meet, which took place in historic Hayward Field in Tracktown, USA (aka Eugene,Oregon) got off to a slamming start on television!


The broadcast opened up with the Men's 4X100 final, where
Stones took the lead in calling the play-by-play in describing 's LSU outstanding 38.42 victory with a dominant anchor by Mitchell-Blake, which beat Houston (38.44).

After ESPN showed quickly the Pole Vault victory of Tennessee's Jake Blankenship (18' 4 1/2"), Soph Curtis Thompson of Mississippi State' Javelin victory (254'- 9") and the beginning of Arkansas' Jarrion Lawson versatility with his Jesse Owens Long Jump Pursuit and victory (26' - 9") it was on to the Men's 1500. With Akron's Clayton Murphy Jr. Towing the field through the first lap (56.8), Rawson noted that, "this is no slouch race."


Then, Izaic Yorks of Washington took charge early, just as he said in the pre-race preview interview, although, as stated by both Rawson and Stones, the 1:56.2 800 split meant the field had slowed a bit. At the Bell it was Murphy still running strong in a pack of 4 but then Henry Wynne took the lead in the backstretch passing 3/4 in 2:53.5. But the University of Virginia miler could not hold the lead as Murphy came off the final time dnd blasted to the finish, clocking a time of 3:36.38 and, according to Stones, "Made it look easy". Stones then strongly said that Murphy could factor in the Olympic Trials in a few weeks, which will be held right here on the same Oregon track.

In the Men's Steeplechase, it was Rawson's turn to discuss his expertise, as one of his gifts throughout his successful broadcasting career is explaining training and racing principles in basic ways so that the viewer, regardless of age or experience in the Sport, can latch on to and appreciate what is happening in the competition.

With the opening of the race showing the competitors all in a tight pack, Rawson stated from his experience in running the steeple that "you do not want to be in the middle with all those guys around you" as he emphasized that the focus has to be on clearing those barriers.

After a few more laps it was Michigan's Mason Ferlic who, like Murphy in the 1500, was making a strong Olympic Trials statement as well as he surged to a big lead. Once again, to make sure the audience appreciated the efforts of the steelers, Rawson cited the example that, "If you removed these barriers they'd probably run their 2 mile time" .

With a 60 meter lead at the bell, Ferlic started showing signs of fatigue as his last two jumps were a little shaky, but he still hung on to run a personal best time of 8:27.16. In that last part of the race, Rawson gave advice for any race with the finish line in sight. "You think of anything inspirational at the end- your coach, friends and family!" Postrace Jill Montgomery caught up with the exhausted Ferlic. Asked how he went from 12th last year in the NCAAs to a Champion, Ferlic fm said it was due to "Lots of strength, speed and all- around focus".

In a pre-taped piece called "planning for success" Stones asked Kentucky head coach EJ Floreal, Mike Holloway of Florida and Chris Bucknam of Arkansas separately about the importance of keeping the athletes first in their programs, where they all seemed to be on the same page, emphasizing the work ethic, business-like approach, but also giving individual attention and having fun.


After this intervening piece viewers watched the 110 hurdles where Devon Allen of Oregon won in a time of 13.50.

After a commercial break two throwing events were shown quickly as Nick Miller Hammer of OKlahoma State won the Hammer throw (242' 7") and Filip Milhaljevic of UVA won the Shotput (67-11 1/2) . Then it was on to the Men's 100 which dramatically showed a photo finish with Jarrion Lawson of Arkansas besting Tennessee's Christian Coleman by times of 10.22--10.23. Stones and Rawson both chimed in that Lawson had already won the Long Jump earlier as well.


Like a fan in the stands Rawson immediately stated after the race that contender Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake of LSU who started out with the field but then slowed significantly, " must be injured!" as he finished in 12.05.

In this slam bang track format ( not uncommon when watching the Sport on television) The focus then shifted, albeit quite quickly, to Latario Collie of Texas A&M winning Triple Jump of 55' -8 1/4". Then Arman Hall''s 44.82 400 victory showed that the Florida Gstor was also sending an Olympic Trials statement as well.

The telecast then showed a 10,000 flashback from a few days earlier with a lap to go as Oregon's "King Edward"Cheserak took a few looks around and then took off looks with 250 to go to win his 12th individual NCAA title and 14 overall, clocking 29:09.57. With Rawson stating Cheserak still had one more year in college to break Sulemain Nyambui' colegiate record of 15 NCAA victories Stones told viewers to stay tuned for "King Edward" to try and tie Nyambui later on in the 5000!

Following another commercial ESPN showed a historical piece on Hayward field. The usual suspects - Bill Hayward, Bill Bowerman, Bill Dellinger and, of course Pre - were all showcased in the piece. As Stones said at the conclusion of it," I've been here to Hayward Field for 45 years - the building never fails to inspire!"

After a quick men's Decathlon first day summary of events it was on to the spectacular men's 800 When Frosh Donovan Brazier of Texas A&M passed the Senior Brandon McBride on the final turn and really made it look easy with his Outstanding NCAA record time of 1:43.55 breaking Jim Ryun' 50 year old record on the same day. As Rawson and Stones led the wow factor from the booth, it was Rawson who chimed in, "That is an O-M-G folks!!


Showing his in depth knowledge of all things track and field, Stones remarked that the last time a Frosh won this event was Paul Ereng who the went on to win Olympic gold in a few months later in 1988!

After the commercial break the aura of Brazier's performance still had not worn off as Rawson discussed the impact of the record along with showing Drew Ryun's tweet message - "Dad's 50 year old 800 record goes down in the day of its 50th anniversary"


Leading Rawson to exclaim, "How cool is that?!"

In the 400 Hurdles it was a 1-2 Florida punch as Eric Futch and teammate TJ Holmes led the Gators to times of 48.91 and 49.31 respectively. Equally exciting to the crowd and the broadcasters was
Jarrion Lawson's 200 victory on a late race surge, a victory which Stones pointed out "equals Jesse Owens 3 wins". Rawson then said of Lawson's 20.19 that he "bided his time well".


Then it was on to the Women's Heptathlon 200 heats which served the viewer as a precursor for tomorrow's NCAA program, where the women will get their fair share. The Men's Decathlon winner Lindon Victor of Texas A&M scored 8379 points in a true feat of athletic strength and endurance ESPN went to one commercial break early in the 5000 and the timing was good because a large pack stayed together until 2 laps to go which dwindled down to 3 competitors with 1 lap to go. But it was all "King" Edward Cheserak made the same move as in the 10K and got space between him and Sean McGorty of Stanford and Villanova's Patrick Tiernan, winning in 13:25.59 and tying Nyambui's 15 NCAA wins with Rawson stating that the last 800 was run in 2 minutes.


With the 4X400 coming up as the last event ESPN Replayed Triple Jump Latario Colle win of 55' 8 1/4" along Nicholas Percy's Javelin performance . The Nebraska Soph's first attempt wound up being the winning throw, a personal best of 201' -0". This collage then ended with the High Jump, as USC's Randall Cunningham cleared 7'-4 1/2" to win the event.

With Arkansas leading Florida by 2 points, it was time for the last event, and one could forgive Stones and Rawson for losing their composure in the 4X 400 as Jamaican Fitzroy Dunkley clocked a 44.29 split and took over on the final straightaway to lead LSU to a 3:00.69 victory. Rawson could not contain himself, as he exclaimed about Dunkley, "How is that for running by a guy who came into the school as a high jumper and a long jumper?!"

Stones then mentioned that Dunkley could be on the Jamaican 4X4 relay for Rio. Stones also pointed out that the Florida Gators had won the team title. It was then stated that a protest was being filed and Stones, in dramatic fashion, said to the viewers to stay tuned after the commercial break. But it was all for naught, as there apparently wasn't any protest, leading Stones to quip, "Well the existence of a protest was an urban myth"


With Montgomery commenting there ensued the Florida celebration with the Trophy presentation conducted by Andy Eggerth of the NCAA, who gave the award to an emotional Coach Mike Holloway. Holloway then spoke with Montgomery about his team and then his recently deceased brother. "I know he's smiling down today", he said. As viewers await the Women's portion tomorrow, one would think that others were smiling down as well.

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