The Ducks’ head track & field coach Robert Johnson has to be happy. This wasn’t necessarily supposed to be a championship year for the Oregon Women’s Indoor Track Team. At the start of the year, it was believed that the Ducks would certainly be in the mix for a fifth straight NCAA championship, but many believed that Oregon’s run would likely end. This year’s team, after all, didn’t have the bona fide stars that some of the previous teams had. By the end of the year, however, that perception had changed dramatically.
Enter Phyllis Francis. She was a true hero for this squad, and if it weren’t for her efforts in the 400 (where she set the U.S. Indoor record) and especially in the 4X400 relay, Oregon’s amazing streak would have ended.
Oregon has a superstar now.
Entering the final race, the 4X400 relay, Oregon was sitting in fourth place, with Georgia, Florida and Texas all ahead of the Ducks. It came down to Texas and Oregon, but Texas had established the best time in country in that particular race. It didn’t look good for Oregon.
It looked even worse when Francis took the baton a couple of meters behind Ashley Spencer, the Texas relay anchor. In fact, it looked so bad that the announcers for ESPN declared there was little chance for Francis to make up the distance. But meter-by-meter, she chipped away at Spencer’s lead, and caught her just as the two approached the finish line. A lean by Francis gave Oregon the win, and the Ducks tied an NCAA Indoor Track and Field record for Most Consecutive National Championships.
In an era when championship streaks are increasingly more difficult to attain, the Ducks’ record places them in lofty company. It is fair to consider the women’s team a dynasty in Indoor Track and Field. Yet outside of track aficionados, little has been said about this remarkable accomplishment. Certainly a lot of that has to do with indoor track and field not being a particularly high profile sport, a situation that is not helped by Oregon’s lack of an indoor track facility, which of course means no home meets.
Even outdoor track and field’s popularity pales in comparison with football or basketball, but popularity or the lack thereof does nothing to diminish the accomplishments of this team. Coach Johnson deserves a huge amount of praise for the job he has done.
So while Oregon fans focus primarily on the achievements of the football, basketball or baseball squads, every person who loves the Ducks and bleeds Yellow and Green should be rejoicing in this victory, and the huge historical accomplishment that comes along with it. Few teams in any sport are able to repeat as champions year after year, and to do it for half a decade is an achievement that deserves far more praise than it has received.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove