June 7, 2010
By Amy Farnum
The University of Florida men's track and field team has one last stop at the Division I NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., as the Gators look accomplish their final goal of winning an outdoor national title in what has been a season-long journey to "Finish the Mission".
The Gators entered the 2010 season having place second in six of 12 championship meets (Southeastern Conference and NCAA) leading up to this year, but second place was no longer good enough for the Gators. They wanted to win the trophy. So, they borrowed a motto from the school's football team - "Finish the Mission".
"We thought it was a great idea and a great fit for what we were trying to accomplish this year," said head coach Mike Holloway. "We've been so close - whether it is at the conference, the regional or the national level. We needed to think about finishing the mission and that has been our goal from day one. It's kind of been our battle cry all year long."
Florida carried out exactly what was printed on the T-shirt as the Gators captured their first-ever NCAA Indoor title in March. In April, the Gators claimed their first SEC Outdoor Championship since 1987 - another accomplishment checked off on their list of goals. Now, there is just one goal remaining on that list - the program's first NCAA Outdoor Championship.
"We trained with that in mind, and went to meets with that in mind," said sophomore jumper Christian Taylor. "Starting at indoor nationals - winning that was the spark that started the fire. Once we got everyone on the same track, there's really been no stopping. Winning the SEC Outdoor Championship was just an additional goal that we came together and achieved. Heading into nationals, nothing has changed, and Coach told us that if we approach this week with the same attitude as the others, we will come back with another championship trophy in our hands."
Florida is led individually by Taylor, who is the collegiate leader in the men's triple jump with a wind-legal mark of 16.68m/54-8.75. Taylor is also the top-seeded long jumper in the NCAA Championship field with a mark of 8.19m/26-10.50. He also serves as the third leg of the Gators' 4x400 meter relay team that ran a world-leading time of 3:00.31 at the Pepsi Florida Relays earlier this year.
"When people see Christian, they see a great athlete who is capable of scoring a lot of points for the team," said Holloway. "He's so versatile. But the thing that people need to understand about Christian is that he's a great athlete, but he's also a great person. You see that in the way he competes, and the way he stands up and does things for his team. He's a leader verbally and by example, and obviously, if you're going to win a national title, you need a guy like that around."
In addition to Taylor and the 4x400 relay team, senior sprinter Calvin Smith - a 16-time All-America - enters the meet with the world's leading time in the 400 meter dash with a 44.81.
"When we were recruiting this group our goal was to bring in athletes that could challenge to win national titles individually because we feel like that's how to win a national championship," said Holloway. "The better you are in individual events, the better the team is. What I talk to the team about is going out and doing their best. When we're at our best, we're very competitive team. We never talk about how many points each athlete has to score, but doing their best individually and let the chips fall where they may."
Smith's leadership has been integral to the Gators' success this season, beginning in the off-season.
"There has been an incredible focus since day one, and it has been on getting better every day," said Holloway. "Calvin Smith, one of our senior leaders, would ask guys back in the fall, 'are you trying to get better today? Did you get better today?' We had certain goals coming into this season and the seniors and the juniors understood that it wasn't going to happen just by showing up. We have to work hard every day, and that's what they've done."
Capturing the NCAA Outdoor Championship will not be an easy feat for the No. 2 Gators as they will face some tough competition. Top-ranked Texas A&M is the defending NCAA champion, while third-ranked Oregon will have a home field advantage as the Ducks host the championships at historic Hayward Field.
"The bottom line is that we have to go compete in a track and field meet - we can't get caught up in where it is or who we're competing against," said Holloway. "The great thing about track and field is that you have to stick to who you are and what you do. We have to just go out there and perform."
The Gators look to "Finish the Mission" at the NCAA Outdoor Championships on June 9-13 in Eugene, Ore.