Report08 Jun 2024

Neugebauer and Morales-Williams underline world-beating form at NCAA Championships


Leo Neugebauer at the NCAA Championships (© Kirby Lee)

Georgia’s Christopher Morales-Williams entered this week as the world leader at 400m and left it as the best in the NCAA. The performance underscored the question of how he, and other collegiate stars with world-ranking marks, could fare later this summer at the Paris Olympics.

The Canadian sprinter bolstered his case as a medal contender in Paris – joining other performers who did the same, including Texas decathlete Leo Neugebauer – by winning the 400m at the NCAA Championships in 44.47 on Friday (7) in Eugene.

The leaders were five-wide with 50 metres to go, and still three across into the final 30 metres before Morales-Williams gained the last step needed to beat Alabama’s Samuel Ogazi, the runner-up in 44.52. Morales-Williams, whose apparent world indoor 400m record earlier this year could not ultimately be ratified due to a starting-block problem, won the NCAA indoor crown, then solidified his candidacy on a global level with his world-leading 44.05 run on 11 May.

One day earlier on Thursday (6) Neugebauer also put on a display of potential things to come in the decathlon by securing a world-leading 8961, breaking the collegiate and German records to win his second consecutive decathlon title and move to sixth place on the world all-time list.

Neugebauer – who set a German record of 6347 to win the NCAA indoor heptathlon title in March – set season’s bests of 10.64 in the 100m and 7.86m in the long jump before throwing a PB of 17.86m in the shot put. He then equalled his outdoor best of 2.07m in the high jump and ended the first day with a 48.03 run in the 400m.

He started day two with a season’s best of 14.36 in the 110m hurdles, and then came the highlight of his competition as he set a world decathlon best of 57.70m in the discus. An equal pole vault PB of 5.21m kept him on track for a big score, and he rounded out his series with a 56.64m javelin throw and a 4:44.61 run in the 1500m.

With the US Olympic Trials less than two weeks away, Texas Tech’s Caleb Dean displayed why he, too, should be considered in the mix for Paris by winning the 400m hurdles in 47.23, the fourth-fastest time in the world this season behind only Alison Dos Santos, Rai Benjamin and Karsten Warholm, the trio who have pushed the event to faster times than ever. In collegiate history, Dean’s time ranks behind only Benjamin’s 2018 NCAA record of 47.02.

A familiar face was celebrating at the finish of the 100m final when Houston’s Louie Hinchcliffe won in 9.95. Hinchcliffe, who is coached by Carl Lewis, now moves to sixth on the British all-time list and 10th on this year’s world list.

In the 110m hurdles, Nebraska’s Darius Luff ran 13.19 with a lean at the tape to edge the favourite, Ja’Kobe Tharp of Auburn, by 0.01. Tharp had run 13.18 twice this year, making him the second-fastest U20 athlete in history over behind Liu Xiang.

Every point mattered in the team race, which Florida won with 41 points, just one ahead of Auburn. Florida clinched the team title by finishing third in the 4x400m – a race won by Texas A&M in 2:58.37 after Auhmad Robinson ran an anchor-leg split of 43.20.

Cheickna Traore of the Ivory Coast won the 200m from the sixth lane in 19.95, just 0.02 off his season’s best.

The men’s 800m produced the day’s most sensational finish and one of the meeting’s most improbable champions. In ninth place off the final curve, Virginia’s Shane Cohen – whose PB before this year was 1:48.25 – stormed down the final straight while straddling the line between the third and fourth lanes to win in 1:44.97.

Salif Mane took the triple jump with a first-round leap of 17.14m, winning by one centimetre from Russell Robinson of Miami.

On Wednesday’s first day of men's competition, New Mexico’s Habtom Samuel won the 10,000m in dramatic fashion. He stumbled with two laps to go, recovered and ultimately sped away to a victory in 28:07.82.

On the first day of women’s competition on Thursday (6), Rhema Otabor and Parker Valby stole the show.

Otabor, who represents The Bahamas internationally but Nebraska collegiately, threw 64.19m to add two metres to the collegiate record. Otabor’s farthest throw through her first four attempts was 56.95m before she unleashed her stunning record-breaking mark on her fifth.

Valby’s 62-second final lap in the 10,000m helped her cruise to her fifth career NCAA title in a championship record of 31:46.09.

Elsewhere, Jaida Ross took the shot put title with 19.57m and Chloe Timberg added 11cm to her PB to win the pole vault with 4.71m.

The championships conclude on Saturday (8) with the rest of the women’s finals.

Andrew Greif for World Athletics

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