Elite Performers highlight Kansas Relays Saturday

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(Courtesy: KU Athletics)

LAWRENCE, Kan. – A world-leading 400-meter hurdles time by Michael Tinsley and three individual titles by Lawrence Free-State’s Alexa Harmon-Thomas earned the two Outstanding Performers of the Meet as the 86th edition of the Kansas Relays came to a close Saturday.

With seven-time KU Relays champion Bershawn “Batman” Jackson and a host of 2012 Olympic Trials finalists in the 400-meter hurdle field, Tinsley rose to the challenge as he led from start to finish in what ended up being one of the most thrilling races of the weekend. Tinsley held off talented Kansas sophomore Michael Stigler down the homestretch to win the event with a time of 48.77, which not only is the fastest race by an American in 2013, but is the No. 1 time in the world this year.

Tinsley’s performance earned him Outstanding Male Athlete of the meet honors as he dethroned the reigning KU Relays Outstanding Male, Jackson, who finished fifth in the all-star event.

Harmon-Thomas was nothing short of spectacular in the high school portion of the meet, collecting three individual titles. The junior first won the high jump Friday with a top leap of 1.73 meters (5’8”). She returned Saturday morning to run away from the field in the 100-meter hurdle final, tallying a time of 14.30. She rounded out her weekend with a win in the long jump on a meet-record tying mark of 5.90 meters (19’4.25”). Harmon-Thomas’ honor marked the fourth time in the last five Kansas Relays a high school female was named the meet’s most outstanding performer.

Perhaps the most highly-anticipated event of this edition of the Kansas Relays was the Glenn Cunningham men’s mile run. A host of professional and collegiate athletes were entered in the race, looking to break the meet’s oldest standing record, Jim Ryun’s 1967 mile mark of 3:54.7. Among the field were 2012 Olympians Leo Manzano and Nick Symmonds as well as former Oregon All-American A.J. Acosta.

With the field tight throughout the race it was Cory Leslie that pulled away from the pack in the final 300 meters. The former Ohio State All-American increased his lead down the homestretch and crossed the finish in 3:58.18 to take the title and become just the sixth winner in Kansas Relays’ history to break the elusive four-minute barrier. Manzano ran a closing lap of 58.98 seconds to finish as the runner-up in 4:00.13, while Symmonds claimed the bronze in a time of 4:00.21.

The 2011 Outstanding Male Athlete returned to again dazzle the Memorial Stadium crowd as Para Olympian Blake Leeper competed in the 100-meter dash. The double amputee shot down the track in an incredible 11.24 to earn his second Relays title in three years.

Outside the stadium at McCook Field, Geneva McCall claimed her second win in a throws event in as many days when she earned the discus title. McCall was the shot put champion Friday and the hammer throw runner-up Thursday. Saturday in the discus it was McCall’s third attempt of the day that eventually earned her the win. The former Southern Illinois national champion heaved the discus a distance of 54.05 meters (177’4”) to outpace Kansas junior Jessica Maroszek, whose top throw was three feet shorter than that of McCall’s.

Elsewhere on the field it was Mary Saxer who turned in the top clearance in the women’s invitational pole vault. The former Notre Dame star fouled just twice through her first three heights and needed only two attempts to get over the eventual winning bar of 4.50 meters (14’9”). The clearance tied Saxer for the meet record, set by Kylie Hutson in 2011.

The women’s middle distance races also proved to by noteworthy as Saucony’s Nicole Sifuentes posted one of the fastest times in meet history in the 1,500 meters. The former Michigan All-American was never challenged in the race as she turned in a time more than five seconds faster than the runner-up finisher. Sifuentes crossed the finish in 4:14.54 for the win and notched the fastest time in the event since 1983.

Sifuentes went on to claim her second KU Relays title just an hour later when she took home gold in the 800 meters. She completed the two laps in 2:04.17.

Earlier in the day it was the high school 4×100-meter relays that turned some heads. Lincoln-Way East’s (Ill.) girl’s squad smashed the previous record as the Griffins got the baton around the oval in 47.36, besting Tulsa Union’s 2006 meet best of 48.21. On the boy’s side, Papillion-LaVista (Neb.) sped to an easy win, clocking in with a time of 41.60 and beating the rest of the field by a full second.

In men’s relay action the host Kansas Jayhawks returned to the winner’s circle of the 880-yard relay after a nearly 25-year absence. The KU quartet of Dalen Fink, Nick Seckfort, Ben Brownlee and Dominique Manley combined to run the two-mile race in 7:44.08 to claim victory. The win was the first for a KU men’s team in the event since 1989.

The meet finished out with the KU 4×400-meter relay teams sweeping the event. On the women’s side, Denesha Morris, Diamond Dixon, Taylor Washington and Paris Daniels teamed up to run the second-fastest mile relay in meet history, clocking in at 3:32.94.

The Jayhawk men’s team of DeMario Johnson, Michael Hester, Michael Stigler and Kyle Clemons held off a pesky Nebraska team as KU crossed the finish in 3:07.78. The Cornhuskers’ 3:07.95 time earned them the runner-up finish.

In all, the 2013 Kansas Relays saw six meet records fall or were tied, and an additional three NCAA or world-leading performances. Over 5,000 professional, collegiate and high school track & field athletes saw four days of intense and entertaining competition that will surely make this year’s Kansas Relays as one to remember.

The 2014 Kansas Relays are slated to take place April 16-19 next spring.

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