June 3, 2004
For the third-straight year, two University of New Mexico athletes will compete at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The NCAA announced earlier this week that senior decathlete Mark Johnson, a provisional qualifier, will join junior Matt Gonzales, an automatic qualifier in the 10,000, in Austin, Texas next week. Gonzales, a 2003 All-American in the event, will enter the meet as the top-ranked competitor in his race, which is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. (MST) on Thursday, June 10. Johnson, meanwhile, will be making his national championship debut on Friday and Saturday, June 11-12.
After finishing third last year, Gonzales will attempt to become New Mexico's first outdoor national champion since Art Baxter captured the triple jump title in 1967. The Santa Fe native will also look to join Lobo legends Dick Howard (400m Hurdles - 1959) and Adolph Plummer (440 yards - 1961) as the only UNM runners to win an outdoor national title on the track. The New Mexico men captured three gold medals at the NCAA Indoor Championships during the 1970s. The UNM two-mile relay team earned the 1978 title, while Charles Dramiga and Michael Solomon won back-to-back 600-meter crowns in '76 in '77.
Gonzales clocked a career-best 10K time of 28:22.77 on April 30 at Stanford to qualify for the 2004 Outdoor Championships. Colorado's Dathan Ritzenhein and Ian Dobson of Stanford finished ahead of Gonzales on April 30 and were the only runners ranked ahead him during the season. Ritzenhein, however, has opted to run the 5,000 at the national championship meet, while Dobson will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Johnson, meanwhile, had to hold his breath a bit before learning this week that he had been selected for his first NCAA decathlon competition. The Fontana, Wisc. native turned in a clutch performance at the Mountain West Conference Championships, finishing second with a career-best score of 7,325 to secure his place in the national field. Johnson, who tallied 7,141 points in Austin earlier this year, is the 22nd-ranked athlete in the 26-man field.
Both Johnson and Gonzales will enter the outdoor championships on a roll after a solid weekend of competition. Johnson, who entered the meet ranked 17th, soared a career-best 16-05.25 to finish tied for ninth in the pole vault at the Midwest Regional Championships. Gonzales, who was the Midwest region's second-ranked 5,000 runner, opted instead to compete at the elite Payton Jordan U.S. Open in Stanford, Calif. He went on to clock a school record time of 13:35.59 to finish eighth among a field of 31 professional 5K runners. Gonzales' time was also the fastest by a collegian, including all four NCAA regional champions, over the weekend.