By: Nate Jervey
Assistant Sports Information Director
Not too long ago I witnessed the single-greatest athletic achievement that I have ever seen in person. For a solid week, I could not stop telling people about what I had seen and how exciting/riveting/just plain awesome it was. The only problem was, it didn’t actually happen.
Wait. How is that possible you ask? Well, it’s not all that odd to have witnessed things that didn’t actually happen. The Michigan basketball team for instance, didn’t actually go the Final Four when Chris Webber was there. I mean, they did and we have video of it. But due to some of Webber’s, shall we say ‘extracurricular’ activities while in Ann Arbor, those wins have been vacated and don’t actually exist. Now, the reason the event that I witnessed didn’t actually happen is much more benign than that.
Several weeks ago, the University hosted the Indoor ODAC Track & Field Championships over at Liberty University (don’t ask me how we ‘host’ an event at a facility an hour away). It figured to be a tightly-contested affair on the women’s side, and while Lynchburg was penciled to win the men’s side, plenty of excitement was in the cards.
The meet went about as planned with W&L, Roanoke and Lynchburg fighting it out for the top spot on the women’s side, while on the men’s side LC was handily winning the meet, though several individuals, from W&L in particular, were having themselves a fine championship meet.
No one more so that W&L sophomore sprinter Zander Tallman.
Tallman had already defended his 2011 titles in both the 200m and the 400m when it came time for the 4x400m relay, which is, for my money, the most exciting event at an indoor track meet. Tallman was looking for the trifecta, the Generals had won the event in 2011 and repeating would give him three ODAC titles in successive years. Not only did W&L boast Tallman, arguably the ODAC’s fastest athlete, but the second-place finisher in the 400m (Dillon Myers), the third-place finisher (Steven Colliau) and the fifth-place finisher (Mac Keers).
The race began without a hitch as the Generals’ first two legs jumped out to a sizeable margin heading into the third leg. Now, memory is going to fail me here, but here is what I remember. Our third leg gets caught and passed by another school, and perhaps even a second one. Nearing the exchange zone the Generals I think were in about third, maybe fourth, but hope was not lost as our anchor leg was Tallman, and the race was still close.
Close until our third leg dropped the baton. It happens, just like a dropped pass in football, or a missed free throw in basketball, things like that happen. That being said, with every precious second wasted in attempting to reclaim the baton and hand it off the Tallman, the field was getting away and hopes of a second conference crown were fading with them.
That is until the baton was finally handed off. I was standing right at the finish line with Shana Levine, our Associate AD, and Brad Bankston, the ODAC Commissioner, and remember saying “Ehhh, I don’t think he can catch them” in regards to Tallman’s chances of making up what at this point had become a 40-50 meter deficit.
I was wrong.
As if shot out of a cannon, Tallman seemed to eat up half of his deficit in about half a lap (the track is 200m and each runner makes two laps), leading Shana, Brad and myself to wonder aloud “Hmm, he MIGHT be able to do it”. After the initial start in which Tallman made up noticeable ground, the deficit seemed to remain constant up until, say, the 250-meter mark. Again,Shana, Brad and I wondered aloud “I think that’s it, he is going to run out of gas, just not enough time for him to do it.”
We were wrong.
You know how your older siblings would take it easy on you while playing a game and making you think that you had a chance at winning,only to crush your dreams at the end, knowing all along that they could? Well, that seemed to be what Tallman was doing. As if he heard the doubters in the crowd, Tallman kicked into some kind of human-warp speed thing heading into the third turn of the second lap and absolutely EXPLODED. The deficit that had once stood between the field and him had suddenly vanished and it was now a hotly contested race. The only question remaining was where would W&L finish? As Tallman blazed through the final two turns and exited onto the straightaway, passing runners as if they were standing still, I felt the hair on my arms begin to stand up as the level of noise in the Tolsma Indoor Track did the same. There was a palpable excitement in the air as Tallman set his sights on the one remaining runner in front of him.
Again, Shana, Brad, and I wondered aloud “No way, this can’t be happening,” as Tallman passed the (former) leader about 5-10 meters before the finish line and crossed in first place. A sea of people, both teammates and opponents, rushed over to the finish line to offer their congratulations to Tallman.
All except for two. Two officials huddled near the finish line and were in deep conversation as the Tolsma Center continued to buzz, the final meet results were being printed and Brad and I prepared to meet with the coaches to discuss the major award winners.
It was at this point that I feared something may be up and decided to eavesdrop as best I could. What I heard shocked me and I immediately told both Brandon Uhl and Nate Hoey (the men’s and women’s T&F coaches at W&L), “Guys, they are going to disqualify the 4×4 team.” The incredible race, and herculean effort that I had just witnessed was in serious jeopardy. After a brief discussion with the officials, coach Uhl was notified that his 4×4 team would, in fact, be disqualified. I don’t know for sure what it was, something having to do with the dropped baton and the recovery, but the ruling meant that Tallman’s erasing of a 50m deficit did not actually happen.
Ultimately, it didn’t have that great an effect on the meet. Tallman still earned his second Male Athlete of the Meet award, and Lynchburg would have won the meet regardless. People still remember it, and will for some time I imagine. In the meet results however, no time is listed next to the names of Myers, Colliau, Keers and Tallman, just a ‘DQ’.
Oh well, all four of those athletes return next season (and for this outdoor season for that matter) and I would not be surprised to see them contend for a league title (again) and perhaps even qualify for NCAA’s.
And, just to prove it was no fluke. This past weekend at the W&L-VMI Carnival, Tallman not only broke the school record in the 400m by almost two full seconds, by running a 47.66 (old record was 49.14) but in Friday’s 4x400m relay he received the baton in last place (again). He did not win this time, but took the Generals from sixth up to third by racing around the track in a time of 46.75 seconds (a really fast time for the non-track speakers).