Frank Fredericks, BYU's superb sophomore sprint sensation, came to the Clarence Robison Invitational Saturday at BYU looking for a little competition - something he hasn't had much of this year. Through six outdoor meets this year, Fredericks was unbeaten and rarely had been tested. "Coach (Willard) Hirschi says there will be some good people here," said Fredericks earlier in the week.
But, as it turned out, none were good enough to run with Fredericks. First in the 4 x 100-meter relay, then in the 100-meter dash, and later in the 200-meter dash, he put his rivals in his rear-view mirror quickly and kept them there. So where was the competition?"Well, there just are not that many people who run that fast," said Hirschi with a laugh.
Fredericks was not without a few minor scares. Running the anchor leg of the relay, he got the baton some four meters behind the lead team - a group of unattached athletes. Fredericks, in his distinct galloping sprint style, accelerated gradually and midway through the home stretch he was out front, pulling away.
But Fredericks' biggest scare of the day came at the start of the 100-meter dash. At the sound of the gun, he stumbled and nearly went to a knee. Remarkably, he not only caught Ken Henderson at 50 meters, but clocked a superb time of 10.26. Henderson, the BYU school record-holder who competes unattached, was a distant second, in 10.59.
"I think my blocks slipped," Fredericks explained.
Fredericks then finished up another day at the office with a ho-hum stroll through the 200. He sprinted hard on the turn and then shut down on the homestretch, and still he managed 20.97. Second place was well back, at 21.87.
"Frank Fredericks is something else," said Clarence Robison, the meet's namesake and BYU's coach for four decades until last year. "He's phenomenal, and he's going to keep getting better, too."
Fredericks, a 21-year-old sophomore from Namibia, was easily the feature attraction at Saturday's meet, which attracted full or partial teams from Florida State, Arizona, Wyoming, Nevada-Las Vegas, Idaho State and all of the in-state schools.
Many of the athletes came to the meet hoping to reach the stiff NCAA qualifying marks on the fast BYU track, but only Fredericks in the 100 and Per Karlsson in the hammer (209-11) managed as much, and both had already qualified.
"I love the track, but the weather . . . ," said UNLV sprinter Carey Franklin.
"We need some Florida sunshine," said FSU hurdler Rodney Lawson, the high-hurdle winner, in 13.91.
Cool, swirling winds all but killed any hope for qualifying marks. And with the NCAA meet, set for Provo, just one month away, time is running out.
And BYU's Ted Mecham knows it. A year ago he finished second in the NCAA championships steeplechase race and clearly this year he rates the early favorite. And yet he has yet even to qualify.
"I had the flu at Christmas and then tried to come back too soon," he says. "I overtrained and got myself in a hole."
Mecham, still not back to full strength, hoped to qualify Saturday, which would require a time of 8:59 at Provo's 4,500-foot altitude (or 8:48 at sea level). Mecham won easily, but, with a time of 9:15.31, he never threatened to qualify.
"If I had had someone to run with it would have helped," said Mecham, who, like Fredericks, won going away.
It seemed a day for runaway races. When BYU's Shaun McAlmont and Utah's Eric Chesley hook up in the 400-meter intermediate hurdle race, as they have for three years, it usually goes to the wire. Not this time. McAlmont took the lead as usual and then awaited Chesley's predicted homestretch charge, which he used to run down McAlmont in the finals of the WAC championships last year. "I felt him coming," said McAlmont, but then Chesley hit a hurdle. McAlmont, who has lost only once all season, finished in 51.63, Chesley 52.24.
After the race they continued their long, friendly rivalry.
"Hey, I hit that hurdle or I would have been with you," Chesley told McAlmont, as they shook hands.
There was another friendly rivarly in the 800-meter run, where Doug Padilla, the Olympic 5,000-meter runner, was taking on Russ Muir, BYU's half-miler. Muir took the lead at the pole and held on until Padilla, with 200 meters to go, tiptoed past him through a small gap on the inside.
"By the time I saw him it was too late," said Muir.
But Padilla wasn't going to leave him behind. "Let's go," he told Muir as he shot past him. Muir did just that, but never could catch Padilla, who won in 1:50.63 to Muir's 1:51.48.