The University of Georgia Bulldogs won their first-ever national team title at the 2018 NCAA Men’s Outdoor Track & Field Championships on Friday, but they were far from the only team celebrating.
USC finished fourth with 34 points, but they climbed onto the awards podium in spectacular fashion with three collegiate records.
Georgia built a 34-point lead after a solid opening day performance, and never dropped from first place throughout the two days of competition. The Bulldogs tallied a winning total of 52 points in front of the 11,644-person crowd at Hayward Field.
Two-time defending champion Florida placed second with 42 points for its 10th straight podium finish, while Houston was third with 35, matching its best NCAA team finish in school history.
“It’s pretty special,” Georgia head coach Petros Kyprianou said. “It’s extremely fulfilling right now.”
Four hundred meters may be just be one lap, but Friday night, the Trojans dominated the distance every chance they got.
Starting in the 400 meters, sophomore Michael Norman wowed the crowd with a winning time of 43.61 seconds.
It was more than just a personal best for Norman. He broke a 26-year-old meet record (USC’s Quincy Watts, 44.00), a 25-year-old Hayward Field record (Michael Johnson, 43.74) and the collegiate record set last year by Texas A&M’s Fred Kerley (43.70).
Norman’s time puts him as the No. 7 all-time performer in history and makes him the fastest American in the event since Jeremy Wariner in 2007.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Norman said. “Coming into the race I knew the field was so deep, so I knew that it was going to be a challenge coming in, so they elevated me to this next level and we really worked off of each other.”
In the 400-meter hurdles, USC sophomore Rai Benjamin placed first with a personal best of 47.02. Besides breaking the NCAA meet and collegiate record of 47.56 set by Florida’s Kerron Clement in 2005, he also shattered the 25-year-old Hayward Field record of 47.69 set by Kevin Young. Most impressive, his performance is now equal to the No. 2 performer in world history, tying Edwin Moses’ all-time best mark.
“I saw 47.02, and I was just like, ‘okay that’s cool,’” Benjamin said. “It didn’t really hit me until the announcer said everything, and I walked over to the board and saw 47.02, and was like that’s a big leap from 47.98. I couldn’t be happier, and I think it’s still kind of soaking in.”
The Trojans weren’t done.
In the final event of the meet, the 4x400m relay, USC once again came out on top in record-setting fashion. With Norman and Benjamin both running sub-44 legs, the Trojans posted a winning time of 2:59.00, breaking the meet and collegiate records (LSU, 2:59.59, 2005), and the Hayward Field record (Texas A&M, 2:59.60, 2014).
“While we were warming up, we were watching them run and halfway through we walked over and watched Rai (Benjamin) win and we were like, ‘Alright, now it’s our time to get it,’” said USC freshman Zach Shinnick, who ran the third leg on USC’s relay.
Houston also started the day making history.
Winning their second consecutive NCAA outdoor 4×100-meter relay title at 38.17, the time marked more than just a season best. The Cougars walked off with a meet and collegiate record as they broke the old mark of 38.23 set by TCU in 1989. It also beat the Hayward Field record of 38.42 established by LSU in 2016.
“It was crazy, but it wasn’t anything that we hadn’t expected,” said Houston junior John Lewis III. “If you go in believing that you’re going to do something great, then you have a better chance at doing something great, and we did something great today.”
With four collegiate and six NCAA meet records, plus a school winning its first NCAA title, the final NCAA Men’s Outdoor Track & Field Championships at historic Hayward Field will go down as one of the best ever.