The men’s 4×100-meter relay team put together a performance Saturday that UCLA track and field had not seen since 2012.
At the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten Invitational, sprinters senior Leon Powell, sophomore Rai Benjamin, senior Darnell Roberson and sophomore Damion Marshall took second place finish with a time of 39.91 seconds.
The Bruins finished just under three-tenths of a second behind event champion Penn State, who took first at 39.65, and their first sub-40 second outdoor time of the year currently stands as the 17th fastest relay in the nation.
“We wanted to come in under 40 seconds,” Marshall said. “Once Leon handed the baton off to Rai I knew we secured (the time) for sure.”
Two other teams in addition to Penn State and UCLA – Nebraska and Arizona State – posted times that put them in the top-35 in the country, making the heat one of the fastest in the country thus far this season.
UCLA went on to score points in nearly every event, the lone exception being the women’s 1500-meter, and two of the runners from the same men’s relay would go on to record several first place finishes.
Benjamin ran a personal best in the outdoor 400 meters, claiming first place with a time of 46.17. He also won the 400-meter hurdles, clocking in at 50.40.
Benjamin’s 400-meter time was the fastest recorded by any Division I collegiate athlete in the entire country so far this year. In addition, he is now the second fastest 400-meter runner in school history.
Powell, carrying some momentum from the relay, racked up a win in the 200-meter and a second place finish in the 100-meter dash, posting times of 21.06 and 10.49 respectively.
“The positive energy kind of conveyed over to the events after (the 4×100),” Powell said. “The race definitely encouraged me for my open events as well.”
On the women’s side, sophomore sprinters Suzie Acolatse and Schuyler Moore placed second and third in the 100-meter, finishing with nearly identical times of 11.87. They were separated by thousandths of a second.
UCLA did not bring a full fleet of distance runners to the event, entering only in the 1500-meter on both the men’s and women’s sides. Redshirt freshman Jackie Garner came in 13th place with a time of 4:36.90 and was the quickest of the seven runners who represented UCLA in the event.
For the men, redshirt senior Austin O’Neil ran his first 1500-meter race in almost two years after redshirting 2016 outdoor season to train for the steeple chase. He took first in the 1500-meters with a time of 3:48.16.
“The goal out here for me was just to win the race, time wasn’t really much of an issue for me at all,” O’Neil said. “Training has been going so well that I’m pretty confident in my ability right now.”
In the field events, freshman high jumper Isaiah Holmes took third place with a height of 2.10 meters. Despite coming in a three-way tie with the first and second place finishers, Holmes lost a jump off to give him the lowest finish.
Redshirt sophomore Ashlie Blake recorded a personal best in the discuss throw, covering 49.80 meters and coming in fourth. She came in third in the shot put with a distance of 16.19 meters.
“Overall it was a good opener. I’m excited for the rest of the season,” Powell said. “Especially when all of us start running the open meets at UCLA.”
The Bruins will host their first meet of the 2017 season this weekend.