June 12, 2003
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Stephen Harris authored a storybook ending to his collegiate career by claiming the NCAA decathlon championship after four tries with 8,061 points Thursday night at Sacramento State's Hornet Stadium.
In his final chapter as one of the greatest Volunteers, the Tennessee captain strode to the top of the awards podium as the best collegiate decathlete in the land after fourth-place finishes in 2000 and 2002 and a runner-up finish in 2001. Harris became the fourth Tennessee decathlete in 12 years to take the NCAA title and the only four-time decathlon All-America in Tennessee's storied history in the event, including two Olympians in Aric Long and Tom Pappas.
"I can't remember a more deserving guy for an NCAA championship than Stephen Harris," head coach Bill Webb said. "There will be a lot of people back in Knoxville glad to hear the news that Stephen is the national champion. Stephen is known and well-liked by people from President Shumaker to Provost Crabtree to rising AD Mike Hamilton to Kay Shanahan and all our other academic people. Stephen is a class act. No wonder he was selected captain by his teammates twice and UT's nominee for SEC athlete of the year in 2003. He's added to a great Tennessee tradition at the NCAA level in the decathlon."
The Volunteers currently stand second with 10 points after the decathlon and 10,000m run were scored. However, the Vols probably need a few more aces in their hand to stay in the team title race. After the decathlon, Tennessee held the team lead for two hours and 15 minutes until the conclusion of the 10,000m run. Arkansas leads after scoring 18 points with a 1-2 finish in the 10,000m run to end the night.
The Vol captain's title keeps a Tennessee streak alive in which a Vol has won an NCAA individual title in each NCAA indoor and outdoor meet since Justin Gatlin won double sprint titles in June 2001 in Eugene, Ore. Harris becomes the fourth different decathlete Webb has tutored to the NCAA title since 1991. Also, Webb's four NCAA decathlon champions are the most of any multievent coach in the modern era according to announcer and decathlon statistician Frank Zarnowski.
Harris set the standard after the first day by taking three of the first five events. The score tightened up considerably with Auburn's Maurice Smith and Connecticut's Will Thomas pushing Harris. Running against a strong headwind, Harris won his heat and took third overall in the 110m hurdles in 14.50 to start his day. Harris took 12th in the discus, not one of his strongest events, with a 131-1 mark and his lead was slashed to seven points with Auburn's Smith closing hard. In the pole vault, Harris made a bold move. In a feat of pole-vaulting prowess rarely seen by any vaulter, much less a decathlete, a razor-sharp Harris cleared six consecutive heights after passing on the first seven heights. Harris cleared a lifetime-best 15-5 before ever missing. The senior built his lead before bowing out with three misses, including a strong third attempt, at 15-9--eight inches higher than he had ever jumped before Thursday. Adding to his impressive feat, a crosswind made the skies over Sacramento even more difficult to navigate in the pole vault, often catastrophe's calling card for a decathlete.
The top trio of Harris, Smith and Thomas continued to head for a collision as each posted a decathlon personal best in the javelin. Harris launched a 192-7 decathlon PR in the javelin on his final throw to add some padding going into the 1,500m run. Entering the last event, the point differential between Harris and then runner-up Thomas translated to a 24-second safety net for Harris in the 1,500m run. Running in the second section, Harris clocked in at 4:33.73, three seconds ahead of Thomas to slam the door, and take the sixth-fastest overall time.
With the title in the bag, Harris found Webb for a celebratory hug. After doing a handful of interviews, Harris also got some congratulatory hugs from his family and high school coach who had traveled across the country from Norcross, Ga., to see his Tennessee swan song. His high school coach started Harris' track and field career with a recruiting pitch after a basketball practice.
Harris' victory took the sting out of more tough luck for the Volunteers in the Golden State. Tennessee's qualifying effort cooled slightly since Wednesday, but the Vols still advanced two of four sprinters/hurdlers seeking qualifiers Thursday thanks to Gary Kikaya in the 400m dash and Karl Jennings in the 110m hurdles. However, more illness in the decathlon and an unusual occurrence in the high hurdles further slashed Tennessee's team-scoring firepower.
|Tennessee head coach Bill Webb congratulates Stephen Harris after he captured the NCAA Decathlon title. (AP Photo)|
With little margin for error in the team championship race because of former NCAA 800m leader Marc Sylvester's illness-induced nonqualifier Wednesday, Tennessee lost two solid scoring chances in NCAA 110m hurdles leader Jabari Greer and decathlete Kevin Thompson on a heaping helping of bad luck.
For the first time in his brief but brilliant college track career, NCAA leader and national indoor champ Greer lost his balance and nearly crashed to the ground in the 110m hurdles semifinals to miss the cut for the finals. Known for his clutch performances in championship meets, Greer lost his rhythm going over the sixth of 10 hurdles despite leading at that point. After coming down with a bug, decathlete Kevin Thompson, in eighth place with a realistic chance to move up in scoring position following the first day, spent Wednesday night fighting dizzyness and dehydration instead of getting needed rest. In a tough end to a senior season where he tackled law school and the decathlon's 10 events, Thompson was forced to pull out of the meet entering Thursday's action.
"I'm disappointed that in his fifth year Kevin Thompson battled all year long to get here and got sick the night after his first day [of the decathlon]," Webb said. "I'm also very disappointed for Jabari Greer. He was leading and looked like a strong qualifier for the finals before he came down wrong after a hurdle."
However, Patrick Gildea's gutty run in the 10,000m run, in the day's only other final besides the decathlon, stood as a bright spot. Gildea overachieved with a 29:12.18 time, just three seconds off his lifetime best, to finish 15th, despite entering the meet with the 21st-best time. Gildea ran the 10,000m run this season faster than any Vol since the mid 1990s under assistant coach George Watts' direction.
In a strong qualifying success, Kikaya's season-best 45.37 stood as the day's second-fastest overall qualifier in the 400m dash. Running from the inside in lane three, Kikaya won the fourth of five preliminary heats.
"I just wanted to get a good time to set me up for the semifinals," Kikaya said. "I felt good at 300 meters coming into the straightaway. I kept my form like Coach [Anderson] told me to."
Thanks to senior Jennings, the Vols did get one man in the 110m hurdles finals after Greer's tough break. After getting into the NCAA meet on an at-large bid, Jennings' nabbed the spot in the finals after taking the sixth qualifier in 13.85, two-hundredths of a second faster than his Wednesday prelim time.
"I'm glad I got in," Jennings said. "I know I can run faster. I've got to get with Coach Anderson and figure out what I'm doing wrong from practice to the track. I'm looking forward to doing something big in the finals."
Wade opened the day for the Volunteers at 10:48 a.m. PT with a resounding qualifier in the 200m dash preliminaries. Wade's 20.95 against a slight headwind won his second heat and finished as the round's second-best overall qualifier in the 27-sprinter field. However, the 6:50 p.m. 200m dash semifinals proved to be a bit too tough of a field. In the semifinals, Wade came off the curve strong with the leaders. However, the freshman lost ground on the straightaway and finished sixth in the first heat and 12th overall in 21.04 against a whisper of a headwind.
However, the Vols weren't the only team to suffer the unpredictable. In proof positive of the NCAA Championships being an impossible meet to predict, Auburn's Gabor Mate, one of the strongest favorites in the entire meet, didn't qualify for the finals in the discus. Mate led the nation by about 17 feet, a monstrous distance between the NCAA's No. 1 and 2 competitors, entering the NCAA meet, but he won't around for the finals of the event. Meanwhile, Mississippi State came in with the nation's third-best 4x100m relay time but didn't make the finals cut.
On Friday, Tennessee gets four chances to score, the most of any day for the Vols. In finals action, Tennessee suits up Sean Lambert in the 100m dash, Greer, Kikaya, Lambert and Wade in the 4x100m relay, Rocky Danners in the pole vault and Leigh Smith in the javelin. Additionally, Kikaya sprints for a chance at a lane in the 400m finals in the semifinals of the event. The meet ends Sunday with one or two chances to score for the Vols, depending on Kikaya's 400m dash semifinal results. However, Jennings' finals lane in Sunday's 110m hurdles finale is secure. Meanwhile, the team scoring situation should begin to shape up after the points from nine men's finals get distributed Friday.
**The NCAA will provide two highlight feeds Saturday night after the conclusion
of the NCAA Championships. The feed times are Saturday, June 14 at 10 p.m. ET
and Sunday, June 15 at 2 a.m. ET. The early feed includes as many highlights
as possible from the races completed at that time. The late feed includes the
full highlight package. The satellite coordinates are SBS 6, Transponder 05,
Downlink Frequency 11823 MHz (H). Transmission and production by Pac Sat at