UA track teams 'stunned' by news

By: Bob Holt
Published: Friday, March 13, 2020
Arkansas coach Lance Harter is shown during the NCAA South Regional cross country meet on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Lance Harter is shown during the NCAA South Regional cross country meet on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Fayetteville.

Imagine being at the starting blocks for the biggest race of the season, then being told it has been called off.

That's what happened to the University of Arkansas men's and women's track and field teams Thursday after they had traveled to Albuquerque, N.M.

The Razorbacks were going through warmups in the Albuquerque Convention Center in preparation for the NCAA Indoor Championships scheduled to start today when NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the meet was canceled -- along with all remaining winter and spring national championship events -- because of health concerns related to the spread of the coronavirus.

Both Arkansas teams were going into the NCAA Championships after winning SEC titles.

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The women's team had qualified 11 athletes in seven events for the NCAA meet, while the men's team had 11 qualifiers in eight events.

"We were really excited about this national meet," said Chris Bucknam, coach of the No. 12-ranked Arkansas men's team. "We felt good about it.

"After getting the news it's been canceled, we're all just kind of stunned right now. It'll sink in, I'm sure, in a few more hours. Right now I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around it."

Arkansas' No. 5-ranked women's team swept NCAA championships indoors and outdoors last year, and won the cross country title in November for a national triple crown in the 2019 calendar year.

"I'm just really sad for the kids," said Lance Harter, coach of the Arkansas women's team. "To put in all this work and all this preparation and be ready to realize a dream of competing in the national championships and see it taken away, you really hurt for them."

The NCAA Outdoor Championships, scheduled for June 10-13 in Austin, Texas, are among the events canceled.

"To take away the outdoor season as well, I thought that was a bit premature," Harter said. "I hope that those making these decisions were well-informed about the longevity of this virus scenario and the pandemic potential."

Harter, who has led his teams to nine consecutive top-10 national finishes indoors, said there were rumors early Thursday the meet might be canceled, but he didn't believe it would happen until the announcement was made.

"I was optimistic and thinking positively that this is going to work itself out," he said. "Now everybody in our hotel is walking around the lobby in shock. It's like, 'Seriously, this is happening? Where do we go from here?' "

Bucknam led Arkansas to the 2013 NCAA indoor title, and his teams had finished in the top five in six of the last seven years.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed for the guys on our team," Bucknam said. "It's a letdown, but we're dealing with it.

"I know that people making the decisions have the best interest of the student-athletes in mind. This is the decision they came up with, and we're going to abide by it. Ultimately, it's about the safety of the kids. There are bigger issues out there than sports right now."

The United States Olympic Track and Field Trials are scheduled for June 19-28 in Eugene, Ore. The 2020 Summer Olympics are scheduled for July 24-Aug. 6 in Tokyo.

"The next question is, what happens with the U.S. Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games themselves?" Harter said. "Are those still on? And if they are, how are the kids we have who can compete going to prepare for them?"

Sports on 03/13/2020

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