Gil Roberts just turned 23 in March, but the Texas Tech track star already knows how it feels to beat America’s top pros and even the best the world has to offer.
Now he’d just love to beat all the college guys for once.
Earlier this year, the senior from Oklahoma City Millwood won the 400 meters at the U.S. indoor championships in Albuquerque, N.M., and anchored the U.S. men’s gold medal-winning 1,600-meter relay at the World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey.
Those achievements notwithstanding, the cards never fell right for Roberts to win an NCAA title. This week’s NCAA outdoor meet in Des Moines, Iowa, is a last chance for one of Tech’s all-time track greats.
“I’d definitely say it wouldn’t be your typical way to go about winning championships,” Roberts said. “You probably would say win an NCAA championship, then a U.S. championship, then a world title. But you never know when in these races the opportunities are going to come about.”
Roberts’ best finish in the 400 in an NCAA meet was second, back in the 2009 indoor season. In outdoor, he pulled up lame in the semifinal round in 2009, redshirted in 2010 and got disqualified last year after a too-close-to-call stretch duel with Kirani James from Alabama. Shortly after James was ruled the winner in a photo finish, Roberts was disqualified for a lane violation.
It was the second straight NCAA title for James. The 19-year-old star from Grenada then turned pro, removing Roberts’ biggest obstacle this week.
Roberts spent April being cautious with a leg injury and not competing, then ran a time of 44.93 seconds in his final home meet, the May 5 Red Raider Open. Even adjusted for altitude to 45.04, the time ranks No. 1 in the NCAA.
“I’m definitely where I need to be right now,” Roberts said. “At this point in time in the season, my legs are feeling good. I’m just ready to go. I’m excited. Hopefully I’ll bring back a national championship.”
Tech has athletes entered in eight men’s events and eight women’s events in the meet that starts today at Drake University. The men, ninth last year with 28 points, have a chance to crack the top 10 again.
Roberts, hurdlers Jamele Mason and Shane Brathwaite and discus thrower Kole Weldon are ranked sixth or better in individual events, and the men have two relays ranked in the top 10.
Tech’s chances at contending for a team trophy were seriously hurt two weeks ago at the NCAA West Preliminary when pole vaulter Shade Weygandt, thrower Ifeatu Okafor and horizontal jumper Bryce Lamb — highly ranked in five events among them — failed to get out of regional in their specialties. Lamb, battling a heel injury, did run on the sprint relay that made it to Des Moines.
Outside of Roberts, Mason is the next most-tested athlete the Red Raiders have at the NCAA outdoor. The two-time all-American from Spring Westfield finished seventh in the 400-meter hurdles as a sophomore, then fifth as a junior. He’ll have to contend with a couple of familiar foes in Stanford’s Amaechi Morton and Southern Cal’s Reggie Wyatt.
No surprise there. But a new crop of 400 hurdlers emerged late in the season as Nebraska’s Miles Ukaoma, Michigan’s Ali Arastu and Kansas’ Michael Stigler — two sophomores and a freshman — posted times at their conference meets that put them in the top five, sandwiched between Morton and Mason.
“There’s a couple of them that came out of nowhere, but that’s how I was when I started to get as good as I am now,” said Mason, this year’s Penn Relays champion in the 400 hurdles. “So it doesn’t surprise me.
“It’s a good thing for me to know you can’t let up and think that you have it in the bag. It just keeps me working hard and pushing, and I’m very excited.”
Mason will compete for Puerto Rico this summer at the London Olympics. Roberts has the U.S. Olympic Trials coming up and Brathwaite has the Barbados Olympic Trials.
For all three seniors, this week is their last chance to run as Red Raiders.
“Man, it’s going to be a lot of emotions running through me, running the relays with my teammates,” Roberts said. “A lot of us are seniors. It’s an upperclassmen-led team. It’s the last one for a lot of us before we go our separate ways. It’s going to be a good one. We’re planning to go out with a bang.”
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TRACK & FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
at Drake University Stadium, Des Moines, Iowa
Texas Tech athletes’ schedule
Note: Events are finals unless otherwise indicated. An “x” means athlete must have advanced through previous round.
(Rankings in parentheses.)
Discus: Kole Weldon (5), 2:30 p.m.
400 relay semifinals: Texas Tech (Ben McRoy, Gil Roberts, Shane Brathwaite, Bryce Lamb) (9), 5:30 p.m.
400 semifinals: Gil Roberts (1), 6:45 p.m.
400 hurdles semifinals: Jamele Mason (5), 8:15 p.m.
400 relay semifinals: Texas Tech (Erica Alexander, Taylor Evans, Candace Jackson, Terra Evans) (6), 5:45 p.m.
100 semifinals: Terra Evans (20), 7:30 p.m.
Heptathlon: Precious Nwokey (13), first event, 6 p.m.
High jump: JaCorian Duffield (18), 5:30 p.m.
110 hurdles semifinals: Shane Brathwaite (6), 6:50 p.m.
1,600 relay semifinals: Texas Tech (Isaiah Gill, Shane Brathwaite, Jamele Mason, Gil Roberts) (8), 8:05 p.m.
Heptathlon: Precious Nwokey (13), events at 1, 2, 4:30 and 6 p.m.
200 semifinals: Taylor Evans (26), Cierra White (44), 5:45 p.m.
100 hurdles semifinals: Katie Grimes (10), 7:10 p.m.
1,600 relay semifinals: Texas Tech (9), 8:25 p.m.
10,000 meters: Rose Tanui (9), 8:45 p.m.
Pole vault: Kyal Meyers (13), 4:30 p.m.
400 hurdles: x-Jamele Mason (5), 5:35 p.m.
400: x-Gil Roberts (1), 6:55 p.m.
Heptathlon: Precious Nwokey (13), events at 3, 4:15 and 6:45 p.m.
100: x-Terra Evans (20), 6:02 p.m.
400 relay: x-Texas Tech (Ben McRoy, Gil Roberts, Shane Brathwaite, Bryce Lamb) (9), 11:03 a.m.
110 hurdles: x-Shane Brathwaite (6), 12:07 p.m.
1,600 relay: x-Texas Tech (Isaiah Gill, Shane Brathwaite, Jamele Mason, Gil Roberts) (8), 12:40 p.m.
400 relay: x-Texas Tech (Erica Alexander, Taylor Evans, Candace Jackson, Terra Evans) (6), 11:10 a.m.
200: x-Taylor Evans (26), x-Cierra White (44), 11:47 a.m.
100 hurdles: x-Katie Grimes (10), 12:14 p.m.
1,600 relay: x-Texas Tech (Candace Jackson, Erica Alexander, Olivia Lewis, Precious Nwokey) (9), 12:50 p.m.