May 15, 2003
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- As Tennessee's sixth hosting of the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships began Thursday afternoon, Mother Nature threatened to steal the show from the athletes of the nation's best conference. After tornadoes ripping through the Valley of the Vols caused a three hour and 18-minute delay just after the first event of the decathlon, forcing athletes and spectators into the bowels of the adjacent HPER Building to escape the downpour and dangerous conditions, track fans were treated to a double rainbow spanning the swollen Tennessee River and later a lunar eclipse.
However in spite of the atmospheric display, the Volunteer decathletes took over the top of the playbill as soon as they retook the track. Counted on to score the most points of any Vol event, the decathletes also posted a day worth remembering as Stephen Harris rewrote the SEC first-day decathlon points record and four of the top-five finishers wore Tennessee orange. A Volunteer won each of the four events after the severe weather delay.
"We had a solid first day from everybody," head coach Bill Webb said. "I'm especially pleased to see our guys not let the weather take them out of their game. I liked their focus and competitiveness through the first five events. All of our guys competed well relative to the conditions, the wet high jump situation and the three-hour delay. We're only halfway there, though. Tomorrow is they keep their focus and direction we could do something special here.
In his SEC swan song, Harris proved plenty special as his leading 4,225
points broke LSU's Mikael Olander's 1988 SEC first-day decathlon record of
4,195 points. Harris won three of the last four events and took the lead
following the second event. Harris won the long jump with a regional
qualifying 24-0.25 mark, the high jump with a 6-10.75 leap and capped the day
with a 49.10 winner in the 400m dash.
"Despite the rain and despite the delay and everything, our guys got together and said, 'Listen, this is our moment to shine.' And we feed off each other. We feed off each other's energy and it showed in the shot put. It showed in the 400m. And it showed in the high jump. We came together and fought together and this is what Tennessee is all about--this is what the decathlon is all about. There was a lot of good individual stuff, but for us it's a team thing. We had a lot of solid marks and I couldn't ask for a better meet at this time of year.
Meanwhile, senior Kevin Thompson's runner-up stance after the first day was exactly what Webb ordered. The Germantown law student posted 3,974 points and offered up a winner in the shot put with a season-best 47-0.25 measurement.
Junior Blake Sabo rang up 3,919 points to take fourth after the first stanza. Sabo was solid through the first four events, not finishing any lower than third. He posted season bests in the 100m dash (10.91), long jump (23-1.25) and high jump (6-7) while contributing a lifetime best in the shot put (44-5.5).
Kevin Yeager gave his lifetime-best first-day performance with 3,867 points, good enough for fifth. Yeager's strong suit proved the high jump where the Farragut native leaped a lifetime-best 6-6 to tie for fourth.
Alex Hritcu continued working on his comeback with a ninth-place, 3,696-point first day, still within striking distance of scoring. Hritcu's season-best shot put mark of 43-8.5 stood good enough for fourth.
Tennessee's decathletes close the book on the final five events Friday. Additionally, the Vols get scoring chances in the hammer and 10,000m run to open and close the day. Meanwhile, preliminaries are scheduled in the 200m dash, 800m run and 400m hurdles. Tennessee will contest all events Friday.