ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs made some history out in Eugene, Ore., on Friday, and they hope to make even more on Saturday.
The Georgia men captured the first outdoor track and field national championship in school history, collecting 52 points to swamp the second-place Florida Gators by 10 points. The title was made possible with a 20-point start from junior Denzel Comenentia, who swept the hammer throw and shot put. It was the first national championship of any kind on the men’s side since tennis in 2008, and the 14th crown overall.
None of it was official until nearly midnight Eastern Time.
“Not much sleep,” Petros Kyprianou, Georgia’s third-year coach, said via telephone Saturday morning. “We’re running around like zombies out here. But that’s OK. We couldn’t be happier about what happened.”
There wasn’t much rest to be had because Kyprianou and the Bulldogs are focused on recording a rare double-championship as the No. 1-ranked women’s team wraps up competition Saturday in Eugene. Georgia’s women, who won the 2018 indoor championship earlier this year, are in position to contend for the outdoor title as well. They’re currently in third, but it will take a perfect day to best Stanford, Oregon and especially Kentucky, which has several more athletes in the finals of the remaining events.
“We have a chance to get another trophy, I just don’t know what color it will be,” Kyprianou said with a laugh.
Regardless of how that turns out, the men’s performance represents an incredible accomplishment for Georgia track. Previously, the Bulldogs’ previous best for a men’s team was a pair of sixth-place finishes, including last year. But then Georgia put together a perfect storm of strong performances in the meet this year, which began Wednesday at the University of Oregon.
First, the Bulldogs got an unexpected score in the 100-meter dash from senior Cejhae Greene, who finished seventh. Then Comenentia, who swept the hammer and shot put in the SEC Championships, came through on the national stage as well. The junior from The Netherlands nailed a personal record of 250 feet, 8 inches on his fifth attempt in the hammer throw, which improved his No. 2 spot in the school record books and improved his No. 10 spot as the all-time collegiate performer. It was the first NCAA outdoor title for the Bulldogs since Maicel Uibo won the 2015 national decathlon crown.
Then Comenentia returned several hours later in the shot put and muscled up a mark of 67-7.50 in the fifth of six rounds to vault to the top of the pack. It was just the third time since 1921 a male athlete swept those events and the first time the Bulldogs had two national individual champions in the outdoors competition. More importantly, it gave Georgia a 20-point base.
Where Georgia closed out the championship was on the high-jump apron, however. The Bulldogs got an expected third-place finish and the points that come with it from junior Keenon Laine. But it was freshman Antonios Merlos who put them over the top. The freshman from Corinth, Greece, came in ranked 31st in the event but recorded a personal-best of 7 foot, 1.75 inches to finish fifth. Expected to score two points in the high jump, the Bulldogs instead took 10.
“We were celebrating just that Antonios qualified for the meet,” Kyprianou said. “For him to have that performance was incredible.”
In all, Georgia counted eight scorers for its record 52-point total. The Gators had 42.
It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the Georgia women could duplicate the feat. The Lady Bulldogs head into the Saturday finale with 14 points behind Stanford (25) and Florida (17).
(10 pts for 1st, 8 pts for 2nd, 6 pts for 3rd, 5 pts for 4th, 4 pts for 5th, 3 pts for 6th, 2 pts for 7th & 1 pt for 8th)
- Denzel Comenentia, Hammer Throw, first, 250-8
- Denzel Comenentia, Shot Put, first, 67-7.50
- Karl Saluri, second, decathlon
- Johannes Erm, third, decathlon
- Keenon Laine, High Jump, third, 7-3
- Kendal Williams, 200m, third, 20.32
- Antonios Merlos, High Jump, fifth, 7-1.75
- Cejhae Greene, 100m, seventh, 10.37