Story written by Eric.
The 2008 NCAA Indoor Championships get underway today at the $6,5 million Randal Tyson Indoor Track Center on the University of Arkansas' Fayetteville campus, and there are no shortage of collegiate stars ready to make their marks winning ones as the indoor season concludes and makes way for an even better outdoor one in an Olympic year.
As is the nature of a championship setting, there will be plenty of excellent stories to follow as each event is contested and coaches stress over valuable team points, which will begin with today's heptathlon and conclude with the men's 4x400m on Saturday afternoon.
However varied the opportunities, however, Athletics in the News will focus its attention on three particular athletes during its updated coverage of the meet as they contest their individual events and attempt to ride the season out with gold medals placed around their necks.
Collegiate runners, throwers and jumpers from all over the United States and abroad will take their best efforts to the test, and events like the men's mile, where all 16 qualifiers in the race broke 4.01,00 this season, will provide an excitement and buzz in the atmosphere as anticipation for the final builds.
Some powerful athletes will be tipping their hat one final time as they bid adjö to their indoor careers - as collegians, and others will be stepping up and into the mix, preparing to build a base for future success.
Track & Field News and Trackshark both have excellent formcharts available for fans who would like to gain an event-by-event perspective with top national marks listed and medallists have been picked.
The NCAA Indoor Championships are as much about gut and gumption as they are about victory and the coveted team trophy, and Athletics in the News is proud to profile the following athletes it sees as deserving of special recognition as they put their skills, qualifications and their nerves to the test.
Mile Prelimary, Friday 18.45
Distance Medley, Friday 21.15
Mile Final, Saturday, 18.15
Manzano is entered in the coveted distance medley relay - one of the premiere events being held this week-end, and is also entered in his specialty, the one mile run. These will be his final NCAA indoor races in his illustrious career.
Manzano will be under the spotlight, having anchored his Texas Longhorn team to a new world indoor record (9.25,97) at the exact same location one month ago (16-February), but Arkansas and Stanford figure to be the two key teams against whom Manzano and his teammates will be forced to contend.
Manzano anchored the record-setting team in 3.57,96, and has also run an open sub-4.00 mile this indoor season -- 3.59,21 -- the fourth-fastest recorded by a collegian this year. Manzano's best indoor mile is 3.58,78 - a time which only move him up one place on the indoor collegiate leader list.
The University of Oregon's Andrew Acosta, the 2005 Footlocker Cross Country champion who broke Steve Prefontaine's school indoor mile record last week-end, leads the college ranks this season (3.58,52).
Acosta will anchor Oregon's distance medley team and run a heat of the mile before attempting to win the mile final the following day. He, like Stanford's Garrett Heath and Manzano, will have run three miles within 24 hours by the time the final event is covered.
Manzano won the 2007 NCAA Indoor mile title, running 3.59,90, and also qualified for the IAAF World Championships in the 1.500m run last season, closing out the year with a 3.35,29 personal best set at the USA Outdoor Championships.
Manzano is a two-time NCAA champion, and has earned six All-America titles as a Longhorn. He owns school records in the indoor mile, the outdoor 1.500m, and both the indoor and outdoor distance medley runs.
Top-5 Collegians in 2008:
1 Andrew Acosta SO Oregon 3.58,52
2 Garrett Heath SR Stanford 3.58,71
3 P. van der Westhuizen SR Nebraska 3.59,05
4 Leonel Manzano SR Texas 3.59,21
5 John Richardson SR Kentucky 3.59,35 02-02
High Jump Final, Saturday 16.45
Sellers was a prep sensation who is finally finding his form indoors as a third-year collegian, leading the collegiate lists with a very fine 2.29m at the Big-12 Indoor Championships two weeks ago.
Sellers, who cleared 2.19m (7-2.50) to finish ninth at his first NCAA competition two years ago, and improved one inch and six spots last season to finish third (2.22m/7-3.50), is now the second-best jumper in the United States this season behind IAAF World Championships qualifier Jesse Williams.
Sellers, who won the 2007 NCAA Outdoor high jump title, has high ambitions this season following the indoor campaign and defending his national outdoor title: he plans on making a go at the Olympic team heading for Beijing.
The 6 foot 2 inch kid out of Katy, Texas was a much-discussed prep star, having set the sophomore national record of 2.18m (7-2) during 2003 indoor season - and clearing 2.21m (7-3.25) during the outdoor season. He also established the national junior class record in 2004, clearing 2.26m (7-05.25).
Sellers' main competition will likely come from himself, but, if he falters and has an unexpected hindrance at a lower height, Nebraska's Dusty Jonas (2.26 best) may sneak in there for victory.
Top-5 Collegians in 2008:
1 Scott Sellers JR Kansas State 2.29m
2 Dusty Jonas SR Nebraska 2.26m
3 Ed Wright SR California 2.22m
4 Ivan Diggs SR Houston 2.22m
5 Norris Frederick SR Washington 2.21m
5.000m Final, Friday, 19.50
3.000m Final, Saturday, 19.35
McDougal has a tough journey ahead of him this week-end, with the 5.000m being held tonight, followed by a 3.000m race loaded with milers tomorrow.
McDougal, a senior, won't be intimidated by anyone, however, as he has superlative endurance and has mile speed - a perfect blend to run away from rivals in an open 3.000m race.
He is the American leader outright at 5.000m (13.43,26), and has not been tested at this distance this season.
Eastern Michigan's Jacob Korir (13.47,57) will be McDougal's strongest competitor, but McDougal, who has run 3.57,46 in the mile to compliment his 13.20,43 outdoor best at 5.000m, will likely put in a longer surge to take control of the race and run it his way - enough for the victory, and with reserve sufficient to enter the 3.000m with semi-fresh legs.
McDougals' 3.000m challenge will be a formidable one, as he ranks only sixth nationally this indoor season, and has a two-year-old personal best (7.53,16) which would not rank higher this season, either.
Having that time disadvantage didn't hurt McDougal last year, however, as he placed third to Northern Arizona's Lopez Lomong, who is not contesting the event this season, and Wisconsin's Chris Solinsky, runnin 7.55,40 after an eighth-place and sub-par effort at the 5.000m the previous evening (13.49,97).
Villanova's Robert Curtis, the national leader at 7.50,17, will be McDougal's biggest foe in the 3.000m despite coming back from a leg on tonight's distance medley relay.
Curtis, who has run 3.57,20 in the mile outdoors, had a terrific conference meet two weeks ago, tripling in the 3.000m, 4x800m and distance medley. Curtis won the 3.000m in 8.02,91 and returned to the track 20 minutes later to run the third leg of the victorious 4x800m relay team which ran a meet record 7.26,24.
Top-5 Collegians in 2008:
1 Josh McDougal SR Liberty 13.43,26
2 Lex Williams JR Michigan 13.47,57
3 Jacob Korir SR E. Kentucky 13.48,13
4 Michael Kilburg SR Portland 13.49,88
5 Ian Burrell SR Georgia 13.50,40
Top-5 Collegians in 2008:
1 Robert Curtis SR Villanova 7.50,17
2 David McNeill FR N. Arizona 7.50,37
3 Kyle Perry JR BYU 7.51,20
4 Brandon Bethke SO Wisconsin 7.51,54
5 Sean Quigley SR La Salle 7.52,47