Sunday, January 6, 2019
The Most Memorable Sports Performance of 2018--The Envelope Please!
by Harry Cummins
On a wet and windy night in early June, the world of sports unfurled its most compelling performance of 2018.
With wrecking balls at the ready and water-logged lanes glistening on the track, 99 year-old Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon was about to stage the final foot-race ever contested at this historic oval. What transpired in the ensuing 3 minutes and 27 seconds left spectators stunned in disbelief and elevated the women's 4x400 relay team from USC into a revered place in the annals of sport.
The Women of Troy entered the final event of the 2018 NCAA D1 Track and Field Championships with a team total of 43 points. They were in 3rd place, trailing Georgia who had 52 points and Stanford, who had 51 points. Neither Georgia or Stanford had qualified for the 4x400, meaning USC could win the national championship by 1 point, only with a first place finish and a resulting 10 points.
USC anchor runner Kendall Ellis gathered her teammates for a pre-race prayer, then watched from the side of a track made slick by sleet and hail as Kyra Constantine and Anna Cockrell had the Trojans positioned in 4th place after the first 2 legs, trailing Purdue, Oregon and Florida. One of the top sprinters in the nation, Deanna Hill took the baton for the 3rd leg for USC and virtually pulled even with the 3 teams ahead of her and she approached Ellis for the final baton pass. What happened next resulted in a post race protest, a photo finish, and the final, and perhaps most memorable, 'miracle' in Hayward Field's magical history.
Suddenly, Hill and Ellis collided and bobbled the baton in a crowded exchange area.. Ellis' start of the final 400 meters was critically delayed and conjured memories of last years crushing NCAA final when she lost in the final few strides of the final 4x4 lap to Oregon's Raevyn Rogers. Finally grasping the elusive baton, Ellis found herself a distant 4th place with virtually no hope of winning the race. The Trojan mantra of 'Fight On' would be severely tested.
Ellis soon caught 3rd place Kentucky but still was 20 meters behind the leaders as she entered the home straightaway. Purdue's Jahneya Mitchell was so far ahead entering the final 100 meters that ESPN announcer Dwight Stones declared that "there is no way" Purdue can loose this race. Ellis, now in full flight, caught Oregon mid-way thru the final straight and looked like she had bravely secured a second place finish for USC despite overwhelming adversity.
For the best description of the final 50 meters of this race, one needs only to listen to the words of Stones as he described what he was seeing for the TV audience:
"She's not going to pass Purdue.......I don't think"
"Oh my goodness"!
"Oh my goodness"!
"Oh my God"!
Ellis flung herself at the finish tape and fell to the ground. Bedlam ensued as officials began to sort thru the photo finish and protests. Then the announcement that USC had indeed secured the NCAA team championship on the last meter of the 4x4 and that Ellis had clocked a final split of 50.05, a time that was faster than the 50.19 she had clocked hours earlier when she finished second in the women's 400 meter final.
A modern stadium is now under construction at the site of the old Hayward Field. There will be no track and field season here in 2019. Still the ghosts of past greats haunt these grounds where old grandstands once stood and the memory of the final race ever run here will long endure beyond simply the best moment in sports, 2018.