Competition was simply outstanding in the Kentucky Invitational, with eight Southeastern Conference schools (UK, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt), two from the Big Ten (Michigan State, Ohio State), two from the Atlantic Coast Conference (Georgia Tech, Miami) and three in-state visitors (Louisville, Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky). Add to that post-collegiate Olympians such as Reese Hoffa, Perdita Felicien, Hazel Clark and Dee Dee Trotter, to name a few.
Hoffa, a world champion indoors and outdoors, as well as a two-time Olympian, blasted the Nutter Fieldhouse record in the shot put with a final-attempt distance of 69-6 3/4.
Nutter records also fell to Florida’s Mariam Kevkhishvili in the women’s shot and Western Kentucky’s Janet Jesang in the women’s 3,000 meters.
“An excellent field for an early season meet,” said Don Weber, UK head coach. “Obviously, very few if anybodyis where they want to be at this time of year, just coming back from Christmas break. To be competitive in a variety of events is certainly an encouraging start. So I feel pretty good about it, and when you look at some individual situations, (there has been) some significant development from one year to the next.”
Most noteworthy, he said, is Kristin Smith, who set a school record of 64-1 3/4 in Friday’s weight throw.
“She said, ‘as a freshman, rather than just focusing on me, I worried about how good everybody else was and that really was intimidating to me, and interfered with my development’,” Weber said.
No more, which is a lesson the coach hopes the rest of his team will get after a competition such as the one this weekend. Focus on improving your own performance rather than worry about what someone else.
Some event-by-event highlights from Saturday, with ladies first:
60-meter hurdles — Felicien (8.13) prevailed in a photo finish over Danielle Carruthers (8.1311) and Vonette Dixon (8.1391).
“I totally didn’t react to the gun,” said Felicien, the 2003 world champion, eight-time Canadian national champion and former University of Illinois standout. “I’m happy to come out with a win. First race of the season.”
Felicien was the Olympic gold-medal favorite going into the 100-meter hurdles finals at the 2004 Athens Olympics. However, she clobbered the first hurdle and fell. She missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to a foot injury.
“We don’t need to talk about that. That was six years ago,” Felicien said of her Athens mishap. “There’s always going to be motivation, but it’s been so many years and I’ve done well since then that I’m not using that as a centerpiece or focal point of my season or my career. Just race my race.”
Her light at the end of the tunnel this season is the Indoor World Championships, March 12-14 at Doha, Qatar.
“The plan is to go there, be ready for Doha, be on the podium,” Felicien said.
Carruthers, a former Kentucky high school (Paducah Tilghman) and Big Ten (Indiana) champion, is Felicien’s club teammate (Speed Dynamics) and training partner. Carruthers lives in Atlanta now, but spent the last week training at Naples, Fla., due to cold weather.
“We’ve been training really hard,” Carruthers said. “I had some great sessions before I came (up) here. … We did a lot for about a week and a half, every day — hard, hard, hard! Then I drove 10 hours back to Atlanta, had Thursday off, drove five hours here, and race the next day. I’m just trying to get in shape and get ready for Millrose.”
60 — Carruthers also competed in Saturday’s 60-meter dash, placing second in the consolation heat and ninth overall (7.53).
Auburn junior Shaniqua Ferguson won in an NCAA provisional-qualifying 7.28, ahead of Speed Dynamics’ Ebonie Floyd-Broadnax (7.34).
800 — Tennessee sophomore Chanelle Price (2:06.95) and Middle Tennessee senior Zamzam Sangau (2:07.23) both posted NCAA provisional marks. Former Frankfort High School and UK performer Jackie Gordon was third (2:10.87).
3,000 — WKU’s Jesang, a senior from Uganda, blazed to an NCAA automatic qualifying mark of 9:11.09. New Balance’s Sarah Bowman, who won the NCAA mile title for Tennessee last March, was a distant second in 9:28.63.
4-by-400 relay — Kentucky got its lone win of the day from the foursome of Jenna Martin, Jazmyn Shorter, Brittany Cabbler and Precious Nwokey, 3:39.94 to Florida’s 3:39.96. All are juniors except for Nwokey, a sophomore from Houston.
Nwokey had the Wildcats’ fastest split, 54-flat, and was recognized by Weber as someone who has made “dramatic improvement” since last season.
High jump — Chaunte Howard, a 2004 Olympian out of Georgia Tech, topped former Auburn star Raevan Harris, 6-2 to 6-0 3/4. Howard barely missed at 6-4, which would have tied the fieldhouse record.
Shot put — Florida’s Kevkhishvili, with a put of 60-7 1/4, won by exactly six feet over Tennessee’s Annie Alexander. Kevkhishvili also set a national record for the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. (No, not the Bulldogs.) UK had a good showing as Ashley Muffet and Jennifer Svoboda placed 4-5, just ahead of Louisville’s Jere’ Summers.
Long jump — Miami (Fla.) got its only win from Deandra Doyler (20-4 1/4). Rachel Gehret, who placed fourth in the high jump, and Louisville teammate Amaka Omenyinma placed 2-3 at 19-10 1/4 and 19-8 1/4.
60 hurdles — Eric Mitchum (7.72), an all-American out of Oregon, bested former Tennessee standout Karl Jennings (7.85).
60 — This was an SEC trifecta. Mississippi State sophomore D’Angelo Cherry zipped to the win (6.65), trailed by Alabama senior Ray Jadusingh (6.69) and Auburn sophmore Harry Adams (6.73). After Miami’s Cory Nelms in fourth, SEC sprinters from six schools took the next nine spots.
200 — More SEC domination of the sprints here. Ex-Seton Hall blazer Obra Hogans, fourth in 21.44, was the only non-SEC runner to crack the top eight. Georgia sophomore Torrin Lawrence ruled in 21.29, followed by Tennessee senior Evander Wells in 21.20. Both are provisional qualifying marks.
800 — Things got crazy here when a photographer strayed onto the track near the finish line with a lap left, triggering a collision that knocked out a pair of runners. Kentucky junior Sharif Webb, a junior college transfer, avoided the pileup and went on to win the first heat in 1:51.07.
What Webb didn’t see coming was that the supposedly slower second heat would knock him down to third place. Georgia sophomore Aaron Evans wound up winning (1:50.65), with the Indiana Invaders’ Juan Carrillo in second (1:50.95).
Mile — Former Tennessee performer Andrew Dawsom (4:11.52) won out over a pair of Michigan State runners, freshman Isaiah VanDoorne (4:12.12) and Spencer Beatty (4:12.35).
3,000 — One of the more exciting finishes came with Louisville junior Matt Bruce (8:13.50) holding off UK sophomore Luis Orta (8:14.11).
4-by-400 relay — Florida led from the second exchange on and finished in 3:06.40, fourth-best in Gators history. Mississippi State (3:09.80) rallied for second, followed by UK (3:11.64). A dropped baton on the final straightaway cost Alabama a chance to hold off Mississippi State.
Shot put — Hoffa led all the way despite a worthy challenger in Shore Athletic Club’s Rhuben Williams, the runner-upat 65-11. Georgia senior Israel Machovec was third (58-1 1/4), followed by UK junior Colin Boevers (57-6 1/2).
“It was a good opener. I threw well,” Boevers said. Doug Reynolds, UK throws coach, “told us to execute what we do in practice, and I feel like I did it pretty well. I didn’t quite connect on any throws, so I know there’s more in the tank.”
“Reese Hoffa, he’s really a hero in this sport and he’s incredible to watch,” Boevers said. “This is my first time competing with him. I was kind of jittery at first, but I settled in. I did my thing and he ended up with a great throw, and it was an honor to compete with him.”
Hoffa would like to add a World Championships indoor gold to the one he won in 2006. (He won silver medals in 2004 and 2008.)
“World Indoors in Doha, that’s where my eye’s on right now,” said Hoffa, who represents the New York Athletic Club.
Hoffa says he’s better equipped now than he was in 2008, when he won the U.S. Olympic Trials but finished seventh at the Beijing Olympics.
“I think I’m more comfortable being in a limelight position,” Hoffa said. “Beijing, although I had had some success, it was nothing like having everybody have their eye on you. And, if you’re not used to that, there’s no way to prepare for that. You’ve just got to experience it, live through it and learn from it.”
Long jump — How about a 1-2-3-5 finish for Louisville? Wesley Smith, a sophomore, led the pack at 25-4 1/2. Tone Belt, who won Friday’s high jump, was second (25-2 1/2), followed by Rudon Bastian (25-1 1/4), UK’s Keenon Hall (24-7 1/4) and Friday’s runner-up in the triple jump, Andre Black (24-3 1/2).
“It was pretty good. That’s our second meet,” said Jake Jacoby, U of L’s jumps coach. “We’re still working on things and they’re dialing in fairly well. I was very happy with the way we performed tonight.”
Daily competition in practice keeps Jacoby’s group sharp.
“They’re jawing all the time,” he said. “It’s a day-to-day thing. They challenge each other in the weight room and on the track, and it makes for a good, solid corps.”
Pole vault — Florida junior Eric Foran won in a jumpoff, clearing 16-2 3/4 after tying with Georgia sophomore Allen Brandon at 16-0 3/4. Third-place Logan Lynch of Michigan State also cleared 16-0 3/4, but had one more miss.