May 15, 2003

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With severe thunderstorms and tornadoes buffeting the Knoxville area Thursday evening, multi-event action at the 2003 Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships was interrupted for three hours and 18 minutes at the University of Tennessee's Tom Black Track.

The 100m dash, the first competition of the men's decathlon, had just been completed when inclement weather forced everyone to leave the track area to take cover at 4:42 p.m. ET. Heavy rains fell and left some puddles, and the wind blew over a couple of small tents, but there was no major damage to report. A swift and well-executed evacuation plan also prevented any of the athletes, meet officials or spectators from being in harm's way.

After four events, Tennessee's Caitlin Ward stands in 12th place with 2614 points. Hyleas Fountain of Georgia, the SEC Indoor champ in the pentathlon, claimed the day-one lead with 3550 points after claiming wins in the 100m hurdles, high jump and 200m dash. Antoinette Wilks of South Carolina was second at 3236, followed by Vanderbilt's Josie Hahn in third at 3178.

The women's 100m hurdles, originally slated to start at 5:15 p.m., finally got underway at 8 p.m. after a magnificent double rainbow appeared overhead, providing a reassuring all-clear sign. Ward, taking part in her first-ever heptathlon, registered a 16.82 reading in the initial event with a legal wind of 0.5 meters per second to tally 617 points and sit in 13th place.

Ward, from Gibsonia, Pa., then managed to clear 4-10 1/2 in the high jump to place 12th and collect 610 points. Her two-event total of 1227 was good for an improvement to 12th place after two events.

Next up in the shot put, the rookie landed throws of 34-5 and 34-0 3/4 before letting go of a 35-2 heave to place third in event three with 577 points. She remained in 12th place at 1804 but moved to within 85 points of Georgia's Jessica Bartlett.

Finally, Ward clocked a 25.85 in the 200-meter dash with a legal wind of 0.2 to take fifth in that event with 810 points and close out the night in strong fashion. Day one of the heptathlon and a strange day of atmospheric phenomena were capped around 11:20 p.m., as fog began to roll in at Tom Black Track and a total lunar eclipse occurred in the skies over the facility.

Under more normal conditions, hopefully, Ward will compete in the final three events of the heptathlon on Friday, beginning with the long jump at 5 p.m. She will finish the seven-event competition with the javelin throw at 6:15 p.m. and the 800-meter run at 8:05 p.m.

The first competitor for UT on day two, however, will be junior Janine Tessarzik (Altamont, N.Y.) who is slated to throw the hammer at 10 a.m. Tessarzik set the school record on April 27 this season, when she stretched the tape measure to 175-9 at the Knoxville Invitational.

The only other event contested as a final on Friday will be the 10,000 meters at 9:50 p.m. Junior Jessica Southers (Ashland, Ky.) and freshmen Katie Flaute (Dayton, Ohio) and Felicia Guliford (Gallup, N.M.) are entered in that race. Flaute covered the distance in 36:30.89 to finish 22nd in the invitational division at the Penn Relays in her only other attempt at that race. Guliford and Southers are logging their first 10K of the season, but Southers took sixth a season ago at SECs, finishing in 37:23.33.

Those running in preliminary events on Friday evening include defending SEC champ Nicole Cook (Petersburg, Va.) and Antoinette Gorham, both sophomores, in the 800 meters at 7:15 p.m.; sophomores Toyin Olupona (Orillia, Canada) and Dee Dee Trotter (Decatur, Ga.) in the 200 meters at 7:50 p.m.; and junior Christina Billings (Madison, Wis.) in the 400m hurdles at 8:35 p.m.





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