UBC Thunderbirds men celebrate their historic NAIA national track and field title on Saturday in Alabama. (UBC athletics photo)
Feature University Track and Field

UBC makes history: ‘Birds first Canadian school to win U.S. men’s track and field title

It was a fabulous fib, and in the end, it helped the UBC Thunderbirds deliver some Canadian collegiate track and field history on Saturday in steamy Gulf Shores, Ala.

The ‘Birds men’s team got scoring performances from three of its athletes in the 5,000-metre final, the second-to-last event of the meet, and those points were enough to carry UBC to its first-ever men’s team title at the NAIA national outdoor track and field championships.

The win, however, carried even more significance as it was the first U.S. men’s national collegiate track and field title ever won by a Canadian or non-U.S. school.

“I’ve never seen so many (Canadians) feel at ease in being called All-Americans,” joked proud UBC head coach Laurier Primeau after the historic accomplishment, which came amidst heavy humidity and near 35-degree heat. “It was pretty cool.”

So how big was the fib that helped turn the trick?

“The guys wanted to know how many points we needed in the race to seal (the national title),” said Primeau who named NAIA Coach of the Year. “We needed to be 11 points ahead of (then-second-place) Wiley (Tex.) after the 5,000. We were already up by three against them, so we needed eight points. 

“(Assistant coach) Chris Johnson encouraged me to lie, so we said that we needed to get at least 10 points. They went in thinking that, and they delivered 11. They came through on coaches’ orders and I think they will forgive us for lying.”

The fib was indeed fabulous.

In the 5,00 metres, freshman Kieran Lumb was fourth (14.56.16) and scored five points, senior Jesse Hooton (14:59.45) was fifth and scored four points, while junior John Gay was seventh (15:05.82) and scored two points. Freshman Michael Milic also qualified for the finals and finished 13th (15:47.54).

UBC won with 71 points, followed by Indiana Tech with 64 points and Wiley (Tex.) with 57.

In rather incredible fashion, two of UBC’s chief competitors for the men’s team title wound up being disqualified from the final event of the meet, the 4×400-metre relay, a race in which UBC did not qualify an athlete.

Indiana Tech, the second-place finisher, seven points behind UBC, was DQ’d in the heats for a lane violation.

And Wiley, which wound up finishing third, 14 points behind UBC, was DQ’s because in its 200-metre sprint final, two of its three qualifiers jogged to the finish line to save themselves for the meet-ending relay. Wiley had entered the nationals at the No. 1-ranked team in that distance-relay.

UBC’s men’s team celebrated an NAIA national title Saturday in Alabama. (UBC athletics)

Afterwards, Primeau was beaming with pride because of the plethora of gutsy performances which were delivered over the weekend.

For starters, how about Lukas Jarron?

“Huge props,” said Primeau of the senior from Ajax, Ont., who between heats and finals for the 800 metres, 4×800-metres relay and the 1,500 metres, stepped on the track six times over the course of the meet.

Jarron finished third in the 1,500-metres, overcame a 30-metre deficit over the final 200 metres of the race as the anchor of UBC’s national-title 4×800-metre relay team, and finished fourth in the 800 metres.

“If they were the only events he ran, he could have won the 1,500 or the 800,” said Primeau. “We made the decision to go for a team title and look at what he did.”

Gay, a junior out of Kelowna’s Okanagan-Mission, who became the fastest collegiate steeplechaser in North America heading into the nationals, repeated as NAIA national steeplechase champ on Saturday, then came back to run the 5,000.

Max Trummer, a junior from Vancouver’s Lord Byng, ran on the 4×800 relay team and was fourth in the 1,500.

UBC’s 4×800 metre relay team rallied to win a national title on Friday. (UBC athletics)

“And all of that was book-ended by our freshman like Kieran Lumb (first, 4×800), Alger Liang (second, racewalk), Rhys Kramer (first, 4×800) and Sean Bergman (second, steeplechase),” said Primeau.

The UBC women’s team, led by the second-place finish of senior Tanya Motsi in the 100-metre hurdles, finished fourth.

UBC’s women won the NAIA national cross-country championship in the fall, while the men placed third.

And that men’s finish was part of the reason that Primeau and the rest of the men’s team were willing to wait a full half-hour after the meet had ended to make absolutely sure they had won the national title.

“At the cross-country championships, I overstepped the bounds,” admitted Primeau. “We had been demonstrated on the scoreboard as the national champs and within two minutes of the race, I went and told all the guys they were national champs. Then it got changed to third. We went from a real high to real low. The guys kept asking us today if we were the champs, and I think they have some pretty good math skills. But we just didn’t want to celebrate too early.”

In the end, they all celebrated history.

“To be honest, I never saw a national championship coming this early to UBC,” said Primeau, “so kudos to (longtime former head coach) Marek (Jedrzejek) who left us with some phenomenal athletes to work with.”

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