The Nike Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays have been around for 89 years, but the 21,006 fans that filled Mike A. Myers Stadium on Saturday afternoon saw something that’s never happened in the event’s history.
Texas senior Morolake Akinosun flew by the packed and brightly colored east stands of the stadium and cruised by her competition in the women’s 100-meter dash. The senior crossed the finish line with a time of 11.07 seconds, taking her third-straight win in the race — a first for the Texas Relays.
“I realized about halfway through the training season that I could be the first one to ever do that,” Akinosun said. “It’s an incredible feeling.”
The moment, however, was slightly bittersweet for the Illinois native. Her teammate, freshman Teahna Daniels, was scheduled to start alongside Akinosun in the race after the two pushed each other during the indoor season.
But Daniels fell in the first handoff in the women’s 4x100-meter relay with a pulled quad, according to head coach Mario Sategna, forcing her to miss the rest of the meet.
“It broke my heart to see Teahna go down like that,” Akinosun said. “She’s been such a tremendous training partner for me. I was looking forward to that race with her.”
Still, Akinosun’s win capped off a strong day for the Longhorns in their home meet.
Akinosun and Daniels started the final day of the event strong for Texas, helping the women’s 4x200-meter relay team to a second place finish behind Louisiana State University. Akinosun then ran a strong third leg in the 4x400-meter race, while senior Courtney Okolo pulled away in the anchor leg to lead Texas to a win with a time of 3:26.54 seconds.
“You just try to open up the gap a bit so that it doesn’t leave any room for a battle at the end,” Okolo said.
Meanwhile, the men’s relay teams barely missed out on two wins. The 4x100-meter relay team beat perennial powers LSU and Texas A&M, but just missed on the win by .1 seconds as TCU surprised the field.
Texas led for most of the 4x400-meter relay, the last race of the day, but LSU senior Michael Cherry passed Texas junior Zack Bilderback in the last leg. Bilderback fought back in the final 200 meters, but couldn’t retake the lead as the Longhorns finished .36 behind the Tigers.
“I just tried to hang onto him on the hip,” Bilderback said. “At the end, I tried to feed off the crowd, but my legs just weren’t there today.”
Freshman distance runner Alex Rogers nearly took first in his first Texas Relays mile run, but couldn’t close the gap on University of Texas at El Paso’s Johan Koech in the final 50 meters.
“Coming into that last 50, I was like ‘You can pass him, you can do it, just maintain your form,’” Rogers said. “But I just couldn’t do it.”
Freshman John Burt struggled in the 110-meter hurdles. He finished the final race in last with a time of 14.18 seconds. But Burt, who’s splitting time between running hurdles and spring football, said that while it was “an honor” to make the finals, he’s pushing himself to be better than his last-place finish.
“I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t want to win,” Burt said. “What’s the purpose if you’re not going to compete at the highest level?”
The meet is just the second of the outdoor season for the Longhorns, but Akinosun already has her eyes on a much bigger prize. Not an NCAA title, but a spot in the 2016 Olympics in Rio in August.
After her performance Saturday and with more meets to come against top-level athletes, Sategna said it’s more than just a dream for Akinosun.
“That’s a definite benefit,” Sategna said. “If you can get through the trials and to the final, anything can happen.”