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Petros Kyprianou, a two-time USTFCCCA Coach of the Year, has quietly built UGA track and field into a powerhouse program.

Petros Kyprianou has quietly built UGA track and field into powerhouse

Cy Brown

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Petros Kyprianou turned track into best program at UGA

It was a wild weekend for Georgia at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Ore. The men’s team ran away to its first national championship Friday on the back of an individual title sweep of the shot put and hammer by junior Denzel Comenentia, only the third athlete in NCAA history to accomplish that feat and the first since 2008.

On Saturday, the women tried to make it a clean sweep for the Bulldogs — and add an outdoor national championship to the national indoor title they won in March — and almost did it, thanks to individual titles from freshman Lynna Irby in the 400 meters and senior Keturah Orji in the long jump and triple jump, her seventh and eighth career titles. But a stunning comeback finish by USC in the 4×400 meters gave the Trojans the team title over Georgia by a single point.

Although the season didn’t end on the perfect note — it seemed destined to at different points over the weekend — UGA still came out of Eugene the ultimate winner in the NCAA track and field world. Taking both men’s and women’s teams into account, Georgia has the best track and field program in the country by a measure of head and shoulders. Georgia’s teams finished the weekend with a combined score of 104. The next-closest school, USC, had 87.

If you’re like many Georgia fans, you might have looked up this weekend and suddenly realized the track and field program is far and away the most successful on campus right now. At the risk of being reductive, most of that success can be chalked up to one man: men’s and women’s coach Petros Kyprianou. While Georgia fans busied themselves with micro-analyzing every move of coaches such as Kirby Smart, Mark Fox, Scott Stricklin and Courtney Kupets-Carter, Kyprianou, a two-time U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Coach of the Year, has sat in the background of the UGA athletics scene, quietly building his program into a juggernaut and making a case for himself as the best coach in Athens. (Sorry, Kirby.)

Kyprianou, a native of Limassol, Cyprus, was an assistant with the track team for seven years before taking over for Wayne Norton in 2015. Along with hiring Smart that same year, it’s probably the best personnel decision that athletic director Greg McGarity has made. In only a few years, Kyprianou has transformed Georgia from perennial also-rans to national champions. Again, at the risk of being reductive, he did it by focusing on two areas.

The first is international recruiting. Kyprianou — who has coached on the Olympic level — has a vast network of connections throughout Europe and the rest of the world, allowing him to identify and bring in more talented international recruits than any other time in program history. A Greek speaker, Kyprianou has used their shared language to connect with recruits from Greece and Cyprus. Exemplified by Comenentia, who is from Amsterdam, the international athletes recruited by Kyprianou have provided the Bulldogs with a tremendous edge the last few years.

The other area is sprinters. Georgia has long had a reputation as a “field school.” UGA’s jumpers and field athletes have been the backbone of the program for years and years. But as Kyprianou raises the profile of Georgia in the track world, more and more sprinters are coming to Athens. Irby is a prime example. Her 49.80 in the 400 meters was the second-fastest time ever recorded by a collegian. She also finished third in 200 meters despite running the 400 only a short time before and being the only runner to run both. That extra edge she gave Georgia on the track this year is arguably the reason it claimed the indoor title and came within a point of the outdoor championship. A few more sprinters of her quality will make the UGA women even more of a force.

Which is all to say, times are very good for Georgia track and field, and with Kyprianou in charge, it might get better yet.

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USA Today’s Paul Myerberg is one of the best college football writers, for my money. So, when he presents a list of 10 early bowl predictions, I’m reading it. He doesn’t have Georgia in the College Football Playoff, but he does have the Dawgs down for a Rose Bowl rematch in a more familiar setting.

9. Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1), Georgia vs. Oklahoma

This wouldn’t be the preferred destination for either program — both the Bulldogs and Sooners have eyes on a return to the playoff — but the idea of these two powers holding a rematch of the Rose Bowl should be intoxicating for college football fans.

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