Keturah Orji in action on the final day of the NCAA Championships in Eugene (© Kirby Lee)
A US triple jump record from Keturah Orji of the University of Georgia and a dominant sprint double from University of Oregon sprinter Ariana Washington highlighted the final day of the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday (11).
Orji's jump of 14.53m broke Tiombe Hurd's 12-year-old national mark of 14.45m by eight centimetres and moved her to seventh in the world this year. The 20-year-old, who finished fourth in the triple jump at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland earlier this year, had a previous best of 14.29m, which didn't appear to be under threat after a foul and three jumps of 13.93m, 13.98m and 13.96m during Saturday's competition.
However, in the fifth round Orji broke new ground, leaping out to 14.53m (1.2m/s) to set a US record, which was more than good enough to take her second successive NCAA title ahead of runner-up Simone Charley of Vanderbilt, who jumped 13.77m.
"I can never tell how far I jumped, but I can tell if it was a good jump, and that fifth-round jump I was really happy with," Orji told reporters afterwards. "When I fouled my first jump, it messed up my run-up to the second, so my timing was off for a bit. This is a really good ending to my collegiate career and hopefully I can carry this into the [Olympic] trials."
On the track, Ariana Washington was the undoubted star performer, the 19-year-old student thrilling the crowds at the University of Oregon with a commanding sprint double.
Washington came from behind to win the 100m title in 10.95, a run aided by a following wind of 2.6m/s, just holding off Ashley Henderson of San Diego State, who was runner-up in 10.96.
Just 45 minutes later, Washington was back on track for the 200m final, and this time her closest challenge was presented by a teammate, Deajah Stevens. However, Washington was once again too strong, too fast, and looked composed as she stormed across the line to win in 22.21 (1.9m/s) ahead of Stevens, 22.25, the fifth and sixth fastest times in the world this year. Harvard's Gabrielle Thomas took third in 22.47.
World lead for Little, Okolo a class apart
In the women's 400m hurdles, there was never any doubt where the title was headed, as world silver medallist Shamier Little appeared to have that secured, barring an injury or accident. The only question was how fast the Texas A&M student could go.
The answer: very fast.
Little powered around the track and left her competitors trailing as she clocked a world-leading time of 53.51, a personal best by 0.23 which gave her a third successive NCAA title. Behind her there was a yawning gap back to the second-placed athlete, Kentucky's Kiah Seymour, who ran 54.67, while Arizona's Sage Watson took third in 54.85.
Little's brilliance was matched in the other one-lap event, the 400m, as Courtney Okolo of the University of Texas blazed to a 50.36-second clocking to retain the title she won back in 2014.
Okolo, 22, is currently the second fastest 400m runner in the world, having run 49.71 in Baton Rouge in April, but windy conditions prevented her repeating that sub-50-second performance in Eugene.
After a steady opening 200 metres, her acceleration on the turn carried her clear of the field, and she came home well ahead of runner-up Taylor Ellis-Watson of Arkansas, who ran 50.86.
"I didn't run the first part of my race as I should have, but I'm happy," said Okolo. "I wanted to get the meet record, but I'll have other opportunities to run fast."
A little over an hour later, Okolo returned to the track to anchor Texas in the 4x400m, and when she received the baton just 10 metres in arrears for the final leg, the fate of her competitors looked to be sealed.
Okolo once again ran a steady opening 200 metres, before blasting to the front midway down the home straight, carrying her college to victory in 3:27.64 ahead of the University of Arkansas, 3:27.94.
In the 4x100m, Louisiana State University continued their dominance, powering to victory in 42.65 ahead of the University of Southern California in 42.90. Aided by their individual sprint stars, the University of Oregon finished a close third in 42.91.
While the US may dominate the present in terms of the 100m hurdles, Kentucky's Jasmine Camacho-Quinn showed the powerhouse may come under threat in future. In a race where the first six athlete smashed the 13-second barrier, aided by a wind of 3.8m/s, the Puerto Rican took a decisive win in 12.54.
Collegiate steeplecase record for Frerichs
Courtney Frerichs enjoyed a solo run to victory in the women's 3000m steeplechase, but in truth, the New Mexico student had more than just the NCAA title in her sights.
Frerichs had in mind the collegiate record of 9:25.54, run by Jenny Simpson back in 2009, and after seven-and-a-half laps of composed running, it was mission accomplished as she came home a distant winner in 9:24.41.
There was an equally dominant winner in the women's 800m, albeit one who employed very different tactics. Shea Collinsworth of Brigham Young University led through 400m in 59.40 and 600m in 1:30.95, but it was then that Raevyn Rogers of the University of Oregon surged to the lead, opening an immediate advantage and running a 29.64 last 200m to take the title in 2:00.75.
After a two-day duel between pre-event favourites Akela Jones and Kendell Williams, the heptathlon came to an exciting end on Saturday.
Williams took an early lead in the 100m hurdles, the event in which she is the world junior champion, after clocking 12.83 to Jones' 13.10. Jones closed the gap to just three points after the high jump, clearing 1.81m to Williams' 1.78m, and then went into a clear lead after producing 14.75m in the shot, more than two metres farther than Williams' best effort.
Jones ended the day by posting a marginally faster time than Williams in the 200m, 23.73 to 23.78, to bring her day-one tally to 3951, 141 points in front of the defending champion.
The second day started with the event in which Jones is the world junior champion, the long jump. As was the case in the high jump, the Kansas State student was some way down on her best, but her 6.37m leap kept her comfortably in front of Williams, who managed 6.13m.
Williams closed the gap a bit in the javelin, throwing 40.30m to Jones' 34.56m, but still faced the tough task of having to beat Jones by 7.59 seconds in the 800m to challenge for the overall victory.
In the final event, Jones went off too quick and paid the price for it, having to jog the final 200m to cross the line in 2:39.04. Williams judged her effort much better and came home in 2:17.89 to successfully defend her title with a score of 6225. Jones' mistake proved costly as she slipped to third with 6063, 25 points behind Erica Bougard.
South African distance star Dominique Scott made it a distance double in the 5000m, employing similar tactics that carried her to victory in the 10,000m earlier in the week, changing gears on the penultimate lap and breezing to victory in 15:57.07.
The women's 1500m saw Mississippi State's Marta Freitas take victory in 4:09.53, a win she almost gifted to Stanford's Elise Cranny after celebrating early. Cranny finished just one hundredth of a second behind in 4:09.54.
Wisconsin's Kelsey Card took victory in the women's discus, her best effort of 63.52m coming in the fifth round, while in the women's high jump, the title went to Kansas State's Kimberly Williamson, who cleared 1.88m.
The University of Florida won the men's team title, while the University of Arkansas won the women's team event, taking victory ahead of the hosts, the University of Oregon.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF