We could have done without the hail.
The rain? You expect that in Oregon, or at least you should. At certain points Saturday, it wasn’t clear if we were watching the NCAA Track & Field Championships or swimming and diving.
When the deluge hit its peak, the only choice was to soak it in.
“I didn’t even know where the finish line was,” said 100-meter champion Aleia Hobbs of LSU. “I just kept running.”
That was the mantra for everyone on a waterlogged day at Hayward Field. The rain was blinding at times, adding to the meet’s unpredictable nature by injecting some, well, unpredictable nature.
“Probably some of the worst race weather ever,” Oregon’s Ariana Washington said. “I couldn’t see. I literally had no idea what the result was when I opened my eyes.”
You’d think the Ducks would feel right at home on a day like this. But when the skies cleared and the rain temporarily subsided, Oregon’s shot at a team title had been washed away.
The day belonged instead to USC, which closed out a century of competition at historic Hayward Field with one of the most dramatic finishes the place has ever seen.
The Trojans trailed Georgia by nine points entering the day’s final event, the 4x400 relay. To win the national title, nothing less than a first-place finish would do.
Running USC’s anchor leg was Kendall Ellis, the same runner who lost a heartbreaking race to Oregon’s Raevyn Rogers in a similar situation last year. A shaky handoff left her well behind the leaders, but she chased down Purdue’s Jahneya Mitchell on the home stretch to win by a step.
“Even though they bobbled the baton, as soon as Kendall got it safely and took off, there was no doubt in my mind that we were winning the relay and winning the team title,” USC’s Anna Cockrell said.
If you’re a fan of track and field, there’s nothing better than seeing a national championship decided with a dramatic finish in the final event. If you’re a fan of Oregon, there’s nothing worse than watching a Pac-12 rival close out your stadium by stealing the show.
“These last two days at Hayward Field — this version of Hayward — I think it was all about the Trojans,” Cockrell said.
That’s a bitter pill for the Ducks, who faded to seventh place after a strong start. But it’s not an inaccurate statement, not after USC’s men tore up the collegiate record book Friday and the women captured the team title Saturday.
The Ducks needed a few surprises to go their way in order to win the team race. That’s exactly what they got when Jessica Hull shook up the form chart by winning the 1,500.
When the skies opened, the Ducks faltered. Washington, who won the 100 and 200 as a freshman, capped a disappointing season by finishing eighth in the 100. Form-chart favorite Sabrina Southerland finished seventh in the 800. Makenzie Dunmore, projected for third in the 400, strained a hamstring and collapsed on the track before limping across the finish.
“We let one get away, for sure,” coach Robert Johnson said.
That’s about all you can say. Unlike the Oregon men, the Oregon women had the talent to contend. In conditions that should have favored them over athletes from Southern California and other warm-weather climes, they had too many missteps to overcome.
“It was really wet and nasty out there,” Washington said, “but no excuses.”
These past two days at Hayward Field have given the Ducks plenty to think about. After being at the top of their sport for several years, they appear to have new competition, both from inside their own conference and out.
Georgia, twice a runner up on the women’s side, is knocking on the door. USC isn’t going anywhere. Stanford finished ahead of the Ducks in both races and came close to winning the women's title.
Oregon has had more than its share of celebrations recently, so no one should walk away from this season feeling shortchanged. The only disappointment is that the Ducks couldn’t invoke the Hayward Field magic one last time before the grandstands come down.
For whatever reason, this year’s NCAA meet lacked the pop of previous years, at least as far as the home team was concerned. You can blame it on the weather, but that’s only part of the story.
This was an Oregon day. But it wasn’t Oregon’s day.
Follown Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email firstname.lastname@example.org