Originally created as an alternative to the Texas Relays, the Rafer Johnson-Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational at UCLA’s Drake Stadium has been the site of some impressive performances over its 16 previous editions. Another one happened last Saturday.
In a meet which ran late because of a lack of hurdle crew, the final event started well after 5 p.m. and a team called “UNAT-UCLA-A” finished second in 3:11.92, behind the winning Cal State Fullerton squad (3:10.11).
Completely wrong. What actually happened was amazing.
UCLA has nothing to do with this team; in fact, it was a pick-up team called the “Odd Squad,” consisting of Taylor Ros (best of 46.94 ‘16), Jeffrey Fisher (age 36, best of 48.21 from 2004), the 400 m Hurdles women’s world leader from 2018, Sydney McLaughlin, and Paralympic star Blake Leeper (best of 44.42 ‘18).
McLaughlin got the stick in third place – running against men – and ended up fourth, but ran her leg in 49.83!
Now it’s true that she had a running start, but only six women in the world broke 50 seconds last season, and McLaughlin ran 50.07 in her only 400 m race in 2018 (on 30 March).
The initial reports on the leg were 49.6 and McLaughlin reported that time on her Instagram page, along with a video of her leg (see it here), but announcer Alan Mazursky – who made an excellent debut on the mic – looked at the timing system images of each leg of the race afterwards and calculated the correct split at 49.83.
Leeper, who has two prosthetic legs, was sharp too and finished in 45.45, bringing the Odd Squad home second in 3:11.92.
It’s the first indication that McLaughlin’s training under new coach – and former Bruin – Joanna Hayes is paying off. What’s next?
In addition to what we reported last Saturday from the Grenada Invitational, there were more world leaders to note.
At the Gamecock invitational in Columbus, South Carolina, USC junior Quincy Hall claimed the world lead in the 400 m in a lifetime best of 44.53, and ex-Harvard star Gabby Thomas rode a barely-legal +1.9 m/s wind to a personal record (and world leader) of 11.10 in the 100 m.
In Coral Gables, Florida at the (Miami) Hurricane Alumni meet, Steven Gardiner of The Bahamas took the world lead in the 200 m at 20.04.
And Australia’s Melissa Duncan took the world lead in the women’s 5,000 m at 15:20.88 in Kunamoto (JPN).
There was also a new name to look for in the men’s shot: Arizona junior Jordan Geist, 20, threw the ball 21.59 m (70-10) to move to no. 3 in the world for 2019 and no. 10 all-time among American collegians.
There is still more to report on the marathon scene from Monday’s Boston Marathon, as 1979 women’s champion Joan Benoit Samuelson came back to mark the 40th anniversary of her victory.
Wearing bib no. 1979 – of course – she finished in 3:04:00 at age 61, no. 253 in the women’s division! “TrackSuperFan” Jesse Squire noted on his Twitter account that an “age-grading” equivalent of her time for a women under 35 years old would have been in the 2:19 range! Wow!
There was more hot marathoning in the last 10 days and while not on par with the rocket-fast Dubai race in January, still impressive:
● 2:04:11 for Marius Kipserem (KEN) to win at Rotterdam (NED) on 7 April;
● 2:04:46 for Titus Ekiru (KEN) to win in Milan (ITA), also on 7 April, and
● 2:05:33 for Felix Kiprotich (KEN) to win in Seoul (KOR) on 7 April.
Those times ran 3-5-11 on the 2019 year list.
The top women’s times from the last 10 days were 2:22:12 for Nancy Kiprop (KEN) to win at Vienna (AUT) and 2:22:25 for Vivian Kiplagat (KEN) in her win in Milan. The Rotterdam race, famous for its pancake-flat course, was won by Ashete Bekele (ETH) in 2:22:55. Those marks rank 8-9-13 on the 2019 world list.