Paul Merca is a great friend of the sport. His first Olympic Trials was in 1980. Paul’s blog is well-followed and well-recognized. Paul will be writing for RunBlogRun in Eugene for the NCAA Championships, one column a day. 

NCAA Track & Field Championships, Division 1, Observations on Day 1, from Paul Merca, paulmerca.blogspot.com,

Hello from Eugene and the NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships, the first of a three-course meal being served to track and field fans making the sojourn to the Pacific Northwest in June at Hayward Field.

 

The NCAA Championships are the opening course, followed by the NIKE Outdoor Nationals/USATF U-20 Championships next week and the US Olympic Track and Field Team Trials, which start June 21st and run until the 30th.

 

To make it easier for collegiate track and field fans to follow the progress of their favorite school, the four days of competition are split up, with Wednesday and Friday solely belonging to the men and Thursday and Saturday the domain of the women. The only event that crosses over from a scheduling standpoint is the combined events, with the men’s decathlon on the first two days of the meet and the heptathlon taking the last two.

Leo Neugebauer, 100 meters of the Decathlon, photo by Paul Merca/Paul Merca Blogspot

 

One of the biggest stories on the men’s side is Texas’ Leo Neugebauer, who is looking to repeat as decathlon champion after winning the title last year on his home track in a collegiate and meet record score of 8836 points.

 

At the end of day one, the Germans scored 4685 points, the best first-day score in collegiate history.

 

His first-day totals included a run of 10.64 in the 100 meters, a long jump of 25-9.5 (7.86m), a throw of 57-3.5 (17.46m) in the shot put, a clearance of 6-9.5 (2.07m) in the high jump, and a time of 48.03 in the 400 meters.

 

After finishing third in the 100 against a field of 23 other multi-event specialists, Neugebauer rattled off three straight wins in the long jump, shot put, and high jump before finishing sixth in the 400.

 

In four of the five events, he scored 908 points or better, with only the high jump producing his lowest score of the day at 868.

Leo Neugebauer, shot put, Decathlon, photo by Paul Merca/Paul Mercablogspot

If he were to replicate his second-day score of 4245 points from last year, that would give him a score of 8930. To put things in perspective, only six men have ever scored 8900 points or more in a decathlon.

 

That said, consistency across the board in the five remaining events is the key to the decathlon, especially when things go wrong. A decathlete must be able to forget a bad event once the next event begins and not let it linger.

 

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Many track and field aficionados know of my work from my website, paulmerca.blogspot.com, where I write and photograph stories about the pro and collegiate scene in the state of Washington.

 

One of the guys I’ve been tracking is the University of Houston’s Louie Hinchliffe, a British import who began his collegiate career at Washington State University in Pullman.

 

Hinchliffe qualified for last year’s NCAA championships, where he promptly was eliminated in the semifinals.

 

At WSU, he had a solid season as a freshman, running a best of 10.17 in the 100 meters at the NCAA West Regionals to claim the twelfth and final spot to the nationals in Austin.

 

As he lined up Wednesday night for the semifinals in the 100 meters, I happened to run into Houston head coach Carl Lewis, who told a fascinating story about how Louie ended up transferring from Washington State to Houston.

Louie Hincliffe, NCAA Regional 100 meters, photo by Paul Merca/PaulMercablogspot,

 

According to Lewis, Hinchliffe got his phone number from someone and contacted one of our generation’s greatest track and field athletes while he was on vacation.

 

He asked Lewis one question. and that was, “Can you fix me?”

 

After the conversation, Hinchliffe took a leap of faith and decided to transfer from Washington State to Houston with little knowledge of the program other than what he knew of Carl Lewis and the team, which includes Shaun Maswanganyi from South Africa, who finished third at last year’s NCAA championships in the 100, and qualified for last year’s world championships in both the 100 and 200.

 

At the Big 12 championships, Maswanganyi and Hinchliffe went 1-2, running 10.11 and 10.16, a personal best.

 

In the last two weeks, Hinchliffe has opened some eyes, running an unlooked-for 10.00 at the NCAA West Regionals in Fayetteville and getting the Olympic standard in the first round. He broke 10 seconds in the semifinals for the first time, albeit with an aiding wind of +2.5, running 9.84.

 

On Wednesday, Hinchliffe ran 10.09, the fastest time of the night, beating Maswanganyi and moving him into Friday’s finals.

 

A solid showing puts him in the mix for the British team for this summer’s Olympics.

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