No NCAA record, but Bears show off for legends in 4x400 relay

Dillon Bedell led the Bears to a win over Arizona State in the men's 4x400 relay-meter relay...
Dillon Bedell led the Bears to a win over Arizona State in the men's 4x400 relay-meter relay Saturday, as the Bears clocked in at 3:01.55(Baylor Athletics)
Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 3:21 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (Waco Tribune-Herald) - Quarter-Miler U? U Betcha.

After running a three-flat earlier this season at the Texas Relays, the Baylor men’s 4x400-meter relay squad entered Saturday’s Michael Johnson Invitational on a mission. They put it out there with a bold proclamation — they wanted to “make an assault on the NCAA record.”

While the record still stands, they still showed the type of moxie they’ll need to pursue additional wins and stopwatch-melting times this season. In the last race of the day, the Bears used a fierce anchor leg from Dillon Bedell to chase down a tough, motivated Arizona State team and win gold to close out a solid meet at Clyde Hart Track and Field Stadium.

Best of all to the Bears, they got to show off a bit for some of the best quarter-milers in U.S. history in Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner.

“This is Quarter-Miler U,” Bedell said. “This is the place where it all started, where so many coaches — even my high school coach — he learned from Coach (Clyde) Hart. To learn from these legends here, we said before the race, we’re not losing. We’re definitely not going to lose in front of the legends. So it was very awesome.”

The NCAA record in the 4x4 is 2:58.53, clocked by Florida in 2022. The Bears believed, and still believe, that record time is within their reach, and were hoping to vanquish it in front of the home fans at the MJ Invite.

Arizona State brought its own level of juice to the race, though, and held the lead for much of the race. Entering the final leg, with Hasani Barr passing the baton to Bedell, the Bears trailed the Sun Devils by a good 10 meters.

Bedell had been campaigning to run the anchor in recent weeks, and he showed he had the stuff for it. He narrowed the gap on ASU anchor Jalen Drayden within the first 200 meters, then made his move on the final curve to pass Drayden and surge into the lead, coming into the home stretch with a strong bit of momentum.

The Bears crossed in a winning time of 3:01.55, not what they were looking for, but winning the race always trumps setting a record. Joining Barr and Bedell in that winning foursome were Nathaniel Ezekiel on the leadoff leg and Matthew Moorer on the second.

“Dillon ran a great leg,” Baylor head coach Michael Ford said. “They’d been talking about breaking the record since indoor ended, and they went for it. I think that was the fastest time we’ve run at home in quite a long time. But I think just to run a 3-flat and then to come back with a 3:01 with a different order from how we ran it at Texas Relays, that was good, and getting more depth as we go.”

It’s always special when the namesake of the MJ Invite makes an appearance. Baylor honored Johnson, one of the most successful sprinters in U.S. track history, as one of its “Legends of the Meet,” along with former Olympic gold medalist Wariner and school record shot put holder Skylar White.

“It’s always fun coming back,” said Johnson, who made a nostalgia-soaked visit to Baylor’s old Hart-Patterson Track on Friday. “It’s always good to be back on campus. Good track meet. Always good to catch up with a lot of the old track legends. I think we have a really good bond. I come back every two or three years, so a lot of people come back every couple years. So, when we get back, it’s always nice.”

Like Johnson, Wariner built his reputation at Baylor’s old Hart-Patterson facility. But he was honored to be recognized on Saturday at Hart Stadium.

“Oh, it means a lot. I didn’t know Michael was getting it,” Wariner said. “I knew he was going to be here, but I didn’t know he was getting the Legends award. But after being here for so long and seeing all the stuff that’s been going on, just to add another thing to my wall with the Legends award, it’s a great honor. And I’m glad to see the program getting back to where it used to be.”

In the women’s 400, Baylor’s Imaobong “Ima” Uko engaged the final curve with ideal execution in motoring to gold with a season-best time of 51.66. Uko maintained her lead coming down the home stretch, as the sophomore from Nigeria held off a strong closing push from pro sprinter Shiann Salmon of Adidas in lane nine, who took second at 52.04.

“I would say all the college athletes are basically pro because they’re running really fast,” Uko said. “So, seeing a pro in my heat wasn’t all that big because all these girls are running like pros. So, there was no difference. Just go out there and do your best.”

Uko was also part of the BU women’s 4x400 relay team that placed second to Kentucky with a season-best clocking of 3:29.75. The Wildcats finished in 3:28.21, holding off a blazing closing leg from Baylor anchor Mariah Ayers. The Bears were running without one of their top quarter-milers in Kavia Francis, who was out with injury.

Chinecherem Prosper Nnamdi powered to the win in the men’s javelin for Baylor. Nicknamed “Zaza,” the sophomore from Nigeria threw with his usual eye-opening zeal, tossing 254-3 to edge out Nebraska’s Arthur Peterson (252-10) for the win. Zaza didn’t quite approach his own school record of 266-6, but he still looked plenty impressive.

In the men’s pole vault, Baylor junior Ben Conacher captured a silver medal, clearing a personal-best 17-8.25. The public address announcer repeatedly encouraged fans to “give ‘em a clap-clap” throughout the day during various events, but the crowd needed no coaxing when Conacher cleared that bar.

He finished behind only Kentucky’s Keaton Daniel, who went 18-0 for the win.

BU junior Koi Johnson finished second in the women’s triple jump, as she flew 43-0.5. Nebraska senior Ieva Turke won gold by jumping 43-3. Johnson celebrated her birthday on Friday, finishing fourth on that opening day of the meet in the long jump in 20-5.75.

In Friday’s opening day action on a picture-perfect evening at the track, Noah Monroy highlighted the performances for Baylor by winning the 5,000-meter run in a time of 14:28.91. Monroy, a graduate student from San Diego, Calif., picked up his pace with 300 meters to go to push to the win.

“Of course, Zaza was a big highlight for me,” Ford said. “Ima, they’re rounding in at the right time, running at the right time. The girls’ 4x4, I thought they ran awesome, considering we didn’t have Kavia Francis on the relay. I thought today was a good day. Yesterday I thought we were a little flat. It was a home meet, you’ve got to get pumped for a home meet, but overall we had a decent meet. We’ve now just got to keep preparing to get better for the Big 12s.”