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Good Friday Goes Great With Clay

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Photo by Joe Reinsch
Former Olympic gold medal decathlete Bryan Clay and Azusa Pacific track and field hosted the reigning Olympic decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton in his first 110-meter hurdles race of the year Friday at the Bryan Clay Invitational.

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April 18, 2014
Joe Reinsch
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AZUSA, Calif. -- The sixth annual Bryan Clay Invitational started with an early cameo from Clay’s Olympic gold-medal successor, Ashton Eaton, and over 1,600 other athletes provided an entertaining, action-packed day which featured five meet-record performances.

“Bryan’s name goes a long way as a gold medalist with a meet named after him,” Azusa Pacific director of track and field Mike Barnett said. “With what we did today, I think the word will continue to get out about the caliber of meet we have here.”

The meet format shifted to a noon start for the track events, the latest in the eight-year history of the Invitational (which began in 2007 as the Azusa Pacific Invitational), which allowed the meet to accommodate a larger, faster field of distance runners in the cooler evening hours.

“When we were approached last year about running the distance events later, we decided to go for it,” Barnett said. “The coaches were excited for this, so it was obviously a success. This was a great meet that ran smoothly with perfect weather. Coaches were excited about how we do things, especially with a meet this big.”

The result was a fast, energetic conclusion to the high-paced competitive atmosphere of an afternoon which kicked off with Eaton, the reigning Olympic decathlon gold medalist.

Eaton’s appearance in the 110-meter hurdles was his first time racing that event this year, and his duel with 2014 world indoor champion (60-meter hurdles) Omo Osaghae captivated the full house at Cougar Stadium. Osaghae set the meet record and tied the stadium record with a time of 13.49 seconds, and Eaton took second in 13.54 seconds.

“In the first meet of the season, you’re looking for some kind of rhythm and competition,” Eaton said. “We knew this meet draws a lot of names and would be good competition. Coming here and seeing Bryan made me feel very welcome. Knowing the place a little bit and having Bryan’s backing is special. I looked up to Bryan when I was coming up and I still do, so to have him cheer me on while I’m still competing is special.”

Shortly thereafter, LaKeisha Lawson took over the spotlight in the women’s sprints, claiming a meet-record in the 100-meters (11.17) and coming within five-hundredths of a second from the 200-meter meet record when she posted a time of 23.09. Lawson is the stadium record holder for both events, establishing both marks at last year’s Last Chance Qualifier.

Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the 2014 world indoor pentathlon silver medalist and 2012 Olympic heptathlete who is married to Eaton, ran the 200 meters, as well, posting a time of 23.79 seconds to take second in the event behind Lawson.

Another meet-record was beaten by the top three finishers in the men’s 4x400 meter relay, with Azusa Pacific’s PacWest rival Academy of Art picking up the win with a time of 3:11.81, which is a top-10 NCAA Division II qualifying time for the Urban Knights. Alaska Anchorage finished second at 3:12.22, and Chadron State was in third at 3:13.07 to beat the previous meet record (3:13.68) set by Northern Arizona in 2008.

Ruky Abdulai, a former Canadian long jump record holder who still holds the Bryan Clay Invitational meet record with her 2008 leap of 22-feet, 0.75-inches, won the women’s long jump event again with back-to-back jumps of 19-feet, 9.5-inches.

A year after a new women’s 3000 meter steeplechase record was set, North Dakota State sophomore Erin Teschuk shattered the meet- and stadium-record with a time of 10:23.75 in the new early-evening time slot. Nicola Hood, a junior from the University of New Mexico, was also ahead of last year’s record pace, clocking 10:26.00 to finish runner-up.

A combined 225 athletes ran the men’s and women’s 1500 meters as darkness fell on a cool Southern California evening. Ben Saarel, a freshman at the University of Colorado, won with a time of 3:41.54, and the runner-up was Wisconsin junior Austin Mudd, who registered 3:41.61 as the top two finishers both came within a half-second of both the meet and stadium records which were set in 2012. The women’s 1500 was won by Arizona sophomore Kate Penney, whose winning time of 4:21.71 was just 57-hundredths of a second off the meet-record.

A meet-record performance in the 5000 meters from University of Missouri freshman Evan Chiplock (14:26.56) shaved almost six seconds off the previous meet-best, and the next 22 finishers after Chiplock all finished with times of 15 minutes or better.

Azusa Pacific takes part in next week’s Pacific West Conference Track and Field Championships at Fresno Pacific University before wrapping up the season at the 2014 National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Outdoor Championships in early May.