Security allowed a protester with a homemade “Save Hayward” T-shirt to make a political statement during his deliberate lap around the soggy track.
Then USC’s dynamic 4x400-meter relay made its own statement during the final men’s event at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships on Friday at Hayward Field.
The Trojans set a collegiate record with a blazing time of 2 minutes, 59 seconds to put an exclamation point on their historic afternoon.
Sophomore Michael Norman won the 400 in an NCAA record time of 43.61 seconds, which also broke the meet standard of 44.00 set by USC’s Quincy Watts in 1992. Norman also broke former world record-holder Michael Johnson's Hayward Field record of 43.74.
In the 400 hurdles, junior Rai Benjamin also set an NCAA record with a time of 47.02. Florida’s Kerron Clement (47.56) had held the mark since 2005. Only world record-holder Kevin Young (46.78) has run faster in the 400 hurdles, and Benjamin broke Young's stadium record of 47.69.
“It means a lot just to close out historical Hayward,” Benjamin said. “I know they’re going to close it down and make some new changes. I’m happy that I got to run my last season’s race here at Hayward.
“I couldn’t be happier or prouder of my group. It’s hard to assemble teams like this.”
Norman set a world record in the 400 at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in March in College Station, Texas, where Benjamin won the 200. They also helped the Trojans set an indoor record on the 4x400 relay team.
“It’s special,” Norman said. “To be out here with my brothers is something I couldn’t even dream of.”
Despite USC’s fantastic finish, Georgia methodically won the team title with 52 points, outlasting SEC rival Florida (42). Houston (35) was second and the Trojans (34) were fourth.
The Cougars were in contention as Brian Barraza appeared to be cruising into the winner’s circle.
Then Houston’s senior steeplechaser had a problem.
On the final lap, Barraza tripped over a barrier and went from a comfortable lead to a painful 10th-place finish.
Minnesota’s Ali Obsa took advantage to win the national championship with a time of 8:32.23.
“It’s unfortunate (Barraza) had to go down,” Obsa said. “I saw it and I just took the opportunity. I was fighting for it.”
Three of Houston’s sprinters were watching the steeplechase while warming up for the 100.
Moments later, seniors Cameron Burrell and Elijah Hall finished 1-2 with times of 10.13 and 10.17 seconds, respectively. Mario Burke was eighth, giving the Cougars 19 points in the event, moments after Barraza’s miscue cost the team 10 points.
“Brian is a great dude, he’s one of the greatest guys ever. It’s just sorry that that thing had to happen for him,” Hall said. “We came out there for the 100 and we ran our butts off for Brian.”
Burrell’s father, Leroy Burrell, held the 100 world record twice and won a gold medal on the U.S. 4x100 relay team at the 1992 Olympics. His mother, Michelle Finn-Burrell, also won a gold medal on the 4x100 relay at the Barcelona Games.
“It’s an honor just following in the footsteps of good ol’ mom and dad,” Burrell said. “This has been on my mind since I was a child. I wanted to come and be a champion just like them. I’m ecstatic about it.
“It hasn’t quite hit me yet, but when it all settles in this is something I’ll die happy about that I made my family proud.”
Houston’s 4x100 team — comprised of John Lewis, Hall, Burke and Burrell — set an NCAA record with a time of 38.17 seconds to outrun Ohio State (38.75) and Florida (38.89) on the wet track.
“This is what we’ve been working for all year,” Burrell said. “We’ve kind of spoken this one into existence.”
In the 110 hurdles, defending champion Grant Holloway of Florida repeated with a winning time of 13.42 seconds. Illinois’ David Kendziera (13.43) and LSU’s Damion Thomas (13.45) made it a photo finish.
“I had a good start, the best I’ve had in a couple weeks,” Holloway said. “The end got a little sloppy, but at this point I don’t really care.”
Texas Tech’s Divine Oduduru won the 200 in 20.28, Penn State’s Isaiah Harris won the 800 in 1:44.76 and Stanford’s Sean McGorty won the 5,000 in 13:54.81. In field events, Friday's winners were Kansas State's Tejaswin Shankar in the high jump (7 feet, 4¼ inches), Texas A&M's Tahar Triki in the triple jump (55-1) and Memphis' Luke Vaughn in the discus (198-2).