AUSTIN — Wil London is not afraid of heights. He wanted to climb high, all the way to the top of the medal stand.
He didn’t quite reach that summit, but he still ascended higher than he’d ever reached on this stage.
Showing plucky resolve down the home stretch, London sprinted to a third-place finish in his final collegiate 400-meter dash race in the final of the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on a hot, muggy Friday night at the University of Texas’s Mike A. Myers Stadium.
After finishing eighth in each of his previous two NCAA meets, the effort represented a significant vault forward for London, who clocked a season-best time of 44.63. Houston senior Kahmari Montgomery held off North Carolina A&T’s Trevor Stewart for the national title, as Montgomery ran 44.23 to Stewart’s 44.25. Both were personal-best times.
“I executed all right,” London said. “I just let (Montgomery) get a little too far ahead. I didn’t win, so it’s not what I wanted. But I’ve got to put it behind me and get ready for the 4x4.”
Baylor wanted to send veteran coach Clyde Hart, who is retiring, off with a golden sunset in the men’s 4x400 relay. But the Bears instead finished sixth, nevertheless giving Hart his 35th outdoor All-America performance in the event.
In the 400 final, London, a senior from Waco, darted off to a brisk start, but UH’s Montgomery took firm command of the lead about 50 meters into the race. Stewart made up some ground on the final curve and nearly pulled even with Montgomery, while London hit his higher gear on the home stretch.
Texas freshman Jonathan Jones made a sudden burst to threaten London, but the Baylor veteran held tough. He didn’t relent from his pace, and showed a savvy lean at the line to nudge Jones for the bronze. Jones finished with a personal-best 44.64.
“I ran against Jonathan, he’s been doing great all year,” London said. “This is his first time going 44, and he did it at the right time. He’s a freshman, so to see the field that we’ve got, the guy Stewart is a junior. They’re going to be crazy fast next year.”
Here’s how ridiculously fast a 400-meter race it was — each of the top four finishers moved into the top 10 in the world this year with their times. London’s clocking currently ranks seventh in the world. Montgomery’s time is second best, behind only pro Michael Norman, formerly of USC, who has gone 43.45.
One of the best in the country, one of the best in the world. Not a bad place to be for London, yet still not what he wanted.
“I’ve been there before,” London said. “I’ll take top 10, but I want the first spot. I don’t come to practice every day for a top 10 spot, I come out and go hard every day for the first spot. I didn’t get it, and I’m disappointed, but I’ll take it.”
In the 4x400 final, Baylor had to feel lucky just to be in the field in some respects.
In Wednesday’s semifinal race, one of BU’s top runners Trey Fields tweaked a hamstring injury, and had to limp his way through his lap to get the stick around.
Senior Caleb Dickson replaced Fields for the final, but he didn’t provide enough of a boost. After the first two legs from Matthew Moorer and Chris Platt, the Bears stood in fifth place, a reasonable hunting position for London on the anchor.
But on the third leg, Dickson seemed to run out of steam on the curve, falling into eighth by the time he got the stick to London.
The BU senior finished with a flourish, passing two runners down the homestretch. However, the leaders were way out in front, and Texas A&M won the race in a blistering, facility-record 2:59.05. Florida was second at 2:59.60.
Baylor finished at 3:03.32.
“We’d have liked to have been a little bit closer in that 4x4,” Baylor head coach Todd Harbour said. “But what can you say about Wil London? He’s one of the all-time great competitors.”
In other buzzworthy action at the NCAAs, Texas Tech’s sprint stud Divine Oduduru put on a heavenly show. Looking like he was shot of a gun, Oduduru accelerated to the 100-meter title in a wind-legal time of 9.86, the second-best clocking in NCAA history.
Oduduru had a nifty encore in store, too. He later added the 200-meter title, breezing to a meet-record 19.73. He’s just a junior, so unless he turns pro, he’ll have a chance to add more NCAA hardware next year.
Oduduru’s gold medal double also helped spur the Red Raiders to the NCAA men’s team title.
The NCAA meet concludes Saturday with women’s finals. Baylor’s only entry on Saturday is its 4x400 relay, which will run at 7:51 p.m.