At their worst, track and field meets can be a disconnected jumble of confusing times and distances, performed by individuals. Placed in the context of college, with emotion and rivalries to lend weight to each event, track meets can be thrilling.
Such was the case Sunday at the Pacific 10 Conference championships at UCLA, as the men's and women's team titles came down to the final events. UCLA's men came from behind to win, and USC's women did the same.
UCLA won with 151 points, followed by Oregon with 131, Washington with 97 1/2 and USC with 96.
It was the fifth consecutive conference title for UCLA.
The women's team race was also close. USC won with 151 points, Oregon was second with 144 and UCLA was third with 117.
Both the men's and women's title races ebbed and flowed throughout the day. Dope sheets were consulted and, mainly, tossed out as emotion and conviction took over.
UCLA's fortunes got a boost when Rich Pitchford and Ed Barnett placed second and third, respectively, in the high jump.
Ato Boldon did his job, winning the 100 meters in 10.03 and the 200 in a personal-best time of 20.00. Boldon's performance continues to bode well for his Olympic medal hopes.
The next breaking point came in the 5,000 meters, in which Oregon put four runners on the line to the Bruins' one. At one point in the race, the Ducks were running 1-2-3 and UCLA's frail-looking Mebrahtom Keflezighi was tucked in the pack, biding his time.
His finishing kick was powerful and insistent. To the delight of a crowd of 1,578, Keflezighi ran away with the race in 14:15.20 and allowed himself a celebratory fist pump at the finish. It was an unexpected 10 points.
The final blow was delivered by senior Mike Terry, who went into the 800 meters with the 10th-fastest time. But he stayed within striking distance and blew off the final turn to win in 1:48.92
His 10 points put the Bruins, who had started the day in third place, in a tie for the lead, which they soon clinched.
USC, a faded power in track and field, served notice that its program is back, having finished eighth in this meet last season. It was the first Pac-10 title ever for the Trojan women and it was gained not only by sprinters--a traditional strength--but by middle distance runners, throwers, jumpers and multi-event performers.
USC's women began the day with a major disappointment in the hammer throw. Collegiate and U.S. record holder Leslie Coons fouled all three throws. Suddenly, a sure 10 points had been lost.
Women's Coach Barbara Edmonson said the team had a meeting and rallied around Coons. The theme was simple: "We win together, we lose together," Edmonson said.
With that, a freshman began to lead them. Torri Edwards got upset wins and career bests in both the 100 and 200, and ran on two relays.
Teammate Grazyna Penc won the 1,500 meters, then got back on the track an hour later to place second in the 800.
Nicole Haynes, who won the heptathlon, likewise pitched in and competed in three other events, part of USC's slow trickle of points.