Costly mistake keeps world’s fastest from NCAA Indoor Championship finals

As Gakologelwang Masheto crossed the finish line of the 400-meter dash preliminaries, he heard one of his competitors say “Oh my God, we didn’t make it.”

It was then that Masheto realized he had made a costly mistake that kept him, the athlete with the fastest 400 meters time in the world this year, from making the finals at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

Masheto was used to competing in meets where the winners of each preliminary heat would automatically qualify for the finals. For a moment, he forgot that at nationals only the overall top-eight times advance.

“He knew he had won his heat and he backed off at the finish line and his time just wasn’t fast enough,” Illinois men’s head coach Wayne Angel said. “He just miscalculated, I think he was just very conservative trying to save his energy for the next day, and it was just a miscalculation and unfortunately it cost him a lane in the finals.”

A senior, Masheto learned a key lesson at the last indoor meet of his career, where he placed 12th with a time of 47.37 seconds.

“In the future, Coach Angel is always telling me ‘Run five meters past the line,'” Masheto said. “So from now on I just treat every race like the final. I’m not going to save anything.”

While Masheto was unable to secure his second indoor All-American honor, freshman Andrew Riley came away with his first, placing sixth in the finals of the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 7.87 seconds. While being the only freshman to compete in the 60-meter hurdles at nationals is an accomplishment in itself, the freshman had hoped to place higher.

“Riley’s such a competitor, he wasn’t really content, I think he felt he could have moved up two or three more spots, and I like that about him,” Angel said.

Riley noted that in the finals he constantly got clipped by a runner in the lane next to him, which slowed him down.

“On the last hurdle, when he hit me I kind of made a turn, so that kind of threw me off a little bit,” Riley said. “7.87 is not a time I should run in the finals.”

Like the men, the Illinois women’s track and field team found mixed results at the Indoor Championships.

The 4×400 meter relay that entered as a No. 3 seed finished 10th with a time of 3:37.30. While the relay did not match last week’s breakthrough time of 3:35.13, women’s head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey was proud of the effort.

“It’s still a good time; it was their second-fastest time of the year,” Buford-Bailey said. “Three people on that team have never been to a meet of this caliber before, so I think it was a good experience for them.”

Buford-Bailey was especially proud of freshman Ryisha Boyd, who was the only one to equal her split from last week’s school-record performance.

The Illini women’s other two competitors each received All-American honors, with junior Angela Bizzarri placing fourth in the 3,000 meters in 9:15.50 and junior Aja Evans placing fifth in the shot put with a throw of 55 feet, 3/4 inches.

“It was a really close race, it was a very tactical race,” Bizzarri said of the 3,000 meters. “Everyone was all together, and then after the first mile it still was really close until probably the last 800 meters where the race started to pick up.”

Bizzarri now looks forward to taking her races outdoors.

“I enjoy outdoor a lot more so I’m excited,” Bizzarri said.

Buford-Bailey is also looking forward to the outdoor season.

“I’m really excited about getting outdoors and racing and introducing some different events that we haven’t had the opportunity to do in the indoor season, like the 400 hurdles, steeple chase, 4×100,” Buford-Bailey said.

The women will not have their first outdoor meet for two weeks, while the men will compete at the Willie Williams Classic this Saturday in Tucson, Ariz.