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Athletes Leave Comfort Zone for UO Preview Meet
By Steve Ritchie
March 19, 2011

UO runners Melanie Thompson and Bronwyn Crossman in the 3000
EUGENE - Season-opening meets are usually somewhat lacking in drama and top-flight performances, but that doesn't mean they're not interesting or fun to watch. One of the appeals is seeing athletes move out of their comfort zones: sprinters move up in distance, which they usually hate, while 10K and 5K distance runners go shorter, which they often enjoy. Decathletes tend to use the opportunity to focus on their weaker events.

So it was at the University of Oregon Preview Meet on Saturday at Hayward Field, which took place before 5,962 spectators. Short sprinters ran the 400 meters, long sprinters ran the 800 meters, and 800 meter runners suffered through the 1,500. The periodic bouts of cold, gusty winds and torrential rains only intensified the discomfort of some.

Melanie Thompson(left) and Sarah Andrews (right) support teammate
Sarah Penney after a grueling 3000 meter race at the UO Preview.

Laura Roesler and Phyllis Francis, UO freshmen and star 800 meter recruits, put forth good efforts in the 1500, but obviously that additional 700 meters represented a huge challenge for them, negating their superior speed in the stretch run. Similarly, Duck sprinters, who were focused on 60 meters indoors, were now racing at 400 meters, and that last 150 meters looked like they were running up a long uphill at the end of the race.

One Oregon runner who seemed pretty comfortable moving up was Becca Friday in the 1500 meters. Coming off a strong indoor season, Friday moved up in distance from 800 to 1500 and ran great for 1400 meters. She went for the gusto with a lap to go, moving past Nicole Blood, and battled with two-time NCAA 800 meter champion Geena Gall on the last lap. She couldn't hold on to the pace down the final straightaway, but still ended with a 3+ second PR, 4:20.11, and, perhaps, built her confidence level another couple of notches, which never hurts at the start of a season.

Sally Kipyego in the 3000 meters

Ashton Eaton made an appearance in the men's javelin, which he has struggled with in the past. Eaton recently broke his own world record in the heptathlon, the indoor version of the decathlon. There is no javelin indoors, which is probably a good thing for Eaton. But it appears the long months of training and honing technique are paying off for him in the throwing events. Eaton's first throw sailed over 185 feet, breaking his PR. Astoundingly, at age 23, Eaton is already the best-ever in the track events of the decathlon, so if he can improve significantly in the javelin, shot and discus, and moderately in the high jump and the pole vault, there is no limit to what he might accomplish.

The women's 3000 meters was certainly the race of the day. OTC Elite athlete Sally Kipyego showed everyone her world-class form. Running completely on her own, Kipyego recorded an 8:51.07 time that seemed other-worldly on a day of struggle and rust-busting for most. Behind Kipyego, a large pack of collegiate distance runners were getting the chance to test themselves on this hallowed track. One who stood out was UO freshman Sarah Andrews, who was running unattached and presumably is red-shirting the outdoor season. Andrews, who excelled at the 10K in high school, finished third in 9:38.48 and seemed fresh afterwards. (Maybe the result of dropping down 7000 meters or so). She was sandwiched at the finish between older teammates Melanie Thompson and Bronwyn Crossman, who were 2nd and 4th respectively. It will be interesting to see more of Andrews as the season goes on, even if she is red-shirting.

Jordan Hasay with NCAA Championship team trophy.

As the temperature dropped and some thought wistfully of being indoors, the UO women's team was recognized for repeating as national champions at the NCAA Indoor Meet a week ago. Jordan Hasay, Anne Kesselring, Brianne Theisen, Melinda Gergel, Jamesha Youngblood and the other stalwarts who brought another trophy home to Eugene took their bows and were all smiles. Sprinter Amber Purvis and the 4x4 team were in action at this meet, but most of those competing last weekend were content to follow the coaches' orders and sit this one out.


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