It has been almost 30 years since Oregon won its last NCAA men’s outdoor track and field championship. The Ducks men’s team won its last outdoor championship in 1984. One of the fascinating facts about Oregon’s track and field history is that all three of its undisputed men’s outdoor track and field championships (1962, 1964 and 1984) were won at Hayward Field, while its shared championships (1965 and 1970) were won at California and Drake, respectively. That’s not to say that Hayward Field is an automatic win for Oregon. Certainly, there have been other NCAA championship meets in Eugene in which the Ducks did not win the championship. Most recently, Oregon finished third in 2010. However, the Ducks have also finished as low as 30th in 1996. Will Oregon have a shot at the men’s title this year, given that the NCAA championships return to Hayward Field? We’ll see. Oregon probably has a more balanced team this year than it did in 1984.
The 1984 championship was not one that most people expected. Oregon had finished sixth at the 1983 NCAA outdoor track and field championships, and Washington State was expected to be the top team in the PAC-10 in 1984 and a favorite for the NCAA championship. Oregon figured to be strong in all the distance races, the javelin, and pole vault. However, there were also glaring weaknesses. The Ducks would be weak in the sprints and 400 meter relay following the graduation of George Walcott. They also would not have top talent in the shot put. Oregon would have sufficient strength in the hurdles and jumps to get them through the dual meet season in good shape.
The track and field team picked up help from the football team and basketball team. J.J. Birden and Kevin Willhite joined from the football team. Birden would compete in the 110 meter high hurdles and long jump. Willhite competed in the 100 and 200 meters, and 400 meter relay. Unfortunately, Willhite was not much help as he failed to finish any better than fourth in his races, and was involved in one of the most embarrassing incidents of the year. During the dual meet with the Huskies, Washington’s 400 meter relay team was disqualified by a false start. The race was restarted with only Oregon participating. How could the Ducks lose this race? Well, it seems Willhite, running the anchor leg, failed to give an “honest effort” and the officials disqualified Oregon. Despite the disqualification, ultimately it was probably a victory for Oregon as the Huskies had been favored to win the relay. The basketball team contributed Chris Harper, who in his first meet cleared seven feet in the high jump. Unfortunately, Harper suffered a leg injury, ending a promising season in both the high jump and long jump.
Dual meets were still the norm in 1984. The Ducks opened the outdoor season at a meet in Sacramento against a number of Division II schools and unattached athletes for an easy victory. Their first true dual meet was the following week against Washington State. The Cougars were the defending national dual meet champions. Oregon had finished second to the Cougars in 1983. Washington State would continue its mastery over Oregon by winning its 38th straight dual meet, 94 to 69. That was Oregon’s only dual meet loss of the season, and the Ducks went on to defeat Washington, California, UCLA, Fresno State, and Oregon State for a 5-1 dual meet record.
Because the NCAA championships were held in Eugene, and it was an Olympic year, Oregon coach Bill Dellinger preferred to not double his runners in meets to keep them fresh for the NCAA championships, and would have some of his athletes not always perform in their main event but in secondary events. For example, Dellinger had his best 400 meter intermediate hurdler, Don Ward, run the 400 meters instead of the intermediate hurdles. Dellinger also held out some of his top performers such as Joaquin Cruz, Jim Hill, and Brian Crouser from some meets.
With the end of the dual meet season, the Ducks participated in two meets at Hayward Field — the Oregon Pepsi Relays and the Twilight Meet, in preparation for the PAC-10 championships.
The PAC-10 championships were held at Pullman, Washington, giving the Cougars a definite home field advantage. As expected, the Cougars won the meet handily with Oregon finishing second. Dellinger’s strategy at the PAC-10 championships was to have his distance runners run in only one race, with that race being the shortest distance each runner competed in. The Ducks still managed five individual champions: Joaquim Cruz (800 meters), Jim Hill (1,500 meters), Kory Tarpenning (pole vault), Brian Crouser (javelin), and Ken Flax (hammer). Cruz would be named PAC-10 Athlete of the Year, and Dellinger was Coach of the Year.
Going into the NCAA championship, Oregon had managed to qualify 16 athletes in 10 events. One of those athletes, LaMar Hurd, was unable to participate. Hurd had been a bit of a jack-of-all-trades for the Ducks. He was the top high hurdler, had regularly participated in the long jump, and occasionally the triple jump and 400 meter hurdles. Hurd’s loss meant that Oregon would not be able to pick up any points in the high hurdles. Oregon had no one in the sprints, shot put, discus, high jump, long jump, triple jump, the relays, or decathlon. Oregon instead had to rely on its deep distance running corps, javelin, hammer, and pole vault, for them to win the national championship.
Washington State was favored to win the NCAA championships. Fortunately, Hayward’s magic worked for the Ducks on this occasion. Cruz won both the 800 and 1,500 meter races. Dub Myers captured third place in the 1,500 meters. Kory Tarpenning took second place in the pole vault. There also were some disappointments. Jim Hill, who had been favored in the 5,000 meters, finished third behind two Washington State runners. Brian Crouser managed only fourth in the javelin, and Ken Flax seventh in the hammer. However, there were also some pleasant surprises. Matt McGuirk and Harold Kuphaldt finished fifth and sixth respectively in the steeplechase. The steeplechase is one event Oregon has not fared well in over the years. Of the top ten steeplechase times, the most recent top ten time was set in 1990 by Danny Lopez. McGuirk’s and Kuphaldt’s times remain among the top ten. John Zishka contributed points with a sixth place finish in the 5,000 meters, Mike Blackmore with a ninth place finish in the 5,000 meters, Frode Stormyr with eighth place in the javelin, Don Ward with eleventh place in the 400 meter hurdles, and Chris Hamilton finished tenth in the 10,000 meters.
Oregon won the 1984 championship with 113 points, followed by Washington State with 96 1/2 points, and Arkansas with 85 points. One of the interesting things about the 1984 championship is that Oregon was the first team to win the title since 1978 without having a team dominated by foreign athletes.
The 1984 men’s team had a number of athletes whose names still appear among the top performance lists for Oregon; including Joaquim Cruz, Dub Myers, Mike Blackmore, Chris Hamilton, LaMar Hurd, Don Ward, Matt McGuirk, Harold Kuphaldt, Chris Harper, Bob George, Frode Stormyr, Ken Flax, Brian Crouser, Jim Hill, Kory Tarpenning, Uchenna Agu, J.J. Birden, and Keith Washington. That’s quite a collection of talent! Of these great athletes, only Cruz made it to the 1984 Olympics. Cruz (running for his native Brazil), won the gold medal in the 800 meters. He also competed in the 1988 and 1996 Olympic games. Brian Crouser, Ken Flax, and Kory Tarpenning would go on to participate in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic games.
What will the 2013 NCAA men’s outdoor track and field championships bring for Oregon? We already know that Oregon can match up with top teams like Arkansas and Texas A&M in a “dual” meet setting, but what about the championships? Perhaps, we could see a repeat of 1984 this year.