Robert Grant produces U.S. and collegiate leader in 400m hurdles

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FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas -- A cold and wet morning greeted the Aggies competing in the multi-event competitions on the initial day of the SEC Championships at John McDonnel Field. Temperatures in the low 50s and intermittent showers created additional elements for the athletes to contend with throughout the day.

Tyra Gittens, the 2018 SEC heptathlon champion, leads the event through four of the seven events contested on the first day while Nathan Hite, the 2018 decathlon bronze medalist, is currently in third place through the first half of the 10 discipline event.

Qualifying races for the Aggies occurred in the 800m, 200m, and 400m hurdles on Thursday evening. Texas A&M had 11 advancing to finals in those events, four of which were from the men’s 400m hurdles.

Robert Grant led the hurdle crew with a U.S. and collegiate leading time of 49.56 seconds to win the second prelim heat. Grant’s time ranks 11th in the world for 2019 and moves ahead of the previous U.S. leading time of 49.57 set by CJ Allen during the Drake Relays as well as the previous collegiate best of 49.68 by teammate Ilolo Izu.

“I’m back,” said Grant, who missed the 2018 outdoor season with an injury. “We executed very well in the 400 hurdles. Having four in the final is incredible. Now we have the team in a good position and we set the tone tonight for us to come out and do well at this meet.

“It’s my senior year, and I didn’t come back for my senior year to lose.”

Having set the SEC meet record first day score with a tally of 3,842 points last season, Gittens totaled 3,599 points through the first four events of her title defense.

“This weather is actually terrible, but I’ve been really working on my mental toughness and focusing on things I can control,” noted Gittens. “The weather is not controllable, so I had to really stay focused throughout the whole day.

“Even when it started raining during the high jump, I said fine, I can’t do anything about it, so focus on what you need to do. I was really happy with my day today. I felt the person with the strongest mentality would be on top and today showed that.”

Gittens clocked 13.66 (1.1 wind) in the 100m hurdles for 1,027 points to place third among the field of 10. A clearance of 5-9 ¼ (1.76) in the high jump picked up 928 points and moved Gittens into the overall lead.

In the shot put, a mark of 42-3 ¼ (12.88) added 719 points while a 24.59w (2.6 wind) in the 200m produced 925 points, giving Gittens a cushion of 267 points over Georgia’s Sterling Lester, the current runner-up at 3,332 points.

Through the first five events of the decathlon, Hite is in third place with 3,987 points. He trails the leader, Georgia’s Karel Tilga (4,087), by 100 points while Gabe Moore of Arkansas is currently second at 4,045 points.

Hite bettered the field of nine entrants with a 10.63 (1.5 wind) in the 100m for 945 points. In the long jump a mark of 22-2 ½ (6.77) earned Hite 760 points. A shot put effort of 45-9 ¾ (13.95) added 725 points. Clearing 6-2 (1.88) in the high jump scored 696 points while winning the 400m in 49.00 generated 861 points.

Finals involving Texas A&M runners on the first day of the SEC Championships included the men’s women’s javelin along with the men’s and women’s 10,000m.

The men’s javelin generated 10 team points for the Aggies as a trio of throwers placed 4-6-7. Sam Hardin finished fourth with a throw of 237-7 (72.42), William Petersson placed sixth with a 228-9 (69.72) while freshman Nick Mirabelli was seventh at 226-1 (68.91).

It was the best conference finish for Hardin, who was fifth in 2016 and 2017, and Petersson, who finished seventh in 2017.

Maddy Stulce (159-0 | 48.47) and Celine Markert (155-2 | 47.31) finished sixth and seventh in the women’s javelin for five Aggie team points.

Jon Bishop raced to ninth in the men’s 10,000m with a 30:31.30, which places him No. 12 on the Aggie all-time list. This marked Bishop’s debut race at 10km on the track, who has covered the distance in cross country racing in the NCAA South Central region meet and NCAA Championships.

The group reaching the finals from Thursday prelims included Devin Dixon and Carlton Orange in the men’s 800m, Jazmine Fray and Brittany Parker in the women’s 800m, Danyel White and Brenessa Thompson in the women’s 200m, and Gabrielle McDonald in the women’s 400m hurdles.

In the men’s 400m hurdles, the other three Aggies reaching the final with Grant included Izu, Infinite Tucker and DeWitt Thomas. Tucker claimed the third prelim heat in 50.85 with Thomas runner-up at 51.05. Izu clocked 50.46 as runner-up in the first prelim heat while Tyler Hart ran 52.78 to place fifth and place 15th overall.

Dixon claimed his heat in 1:48.64 to sport the top qualifying time while Orange ran 1:49.78 as runner-up in another section.

Fray won the first section of the women’s 800m in 2:05.54 and it was the top qualifying time. Parker finished fourth in the section with Fray and her time of 2:06.94 advanced to the final as well. Jean Jenkins clocked 2:09.24 to place fourth in another prelim heat and didn’t advance on time.

White clocked a wind-aided 22.90 (3.6 wind) with Thompson runner-up in 22.94. White earned an automatic qualifier to the final as winner of the heat while Thompson advanced on time. Diamond Spaulding ran 23.42 (2.0 wind) to finish fourth in another section and placed 13th overall.

With just two prelim heats of the women’s 400m hurdles, the top three automatically advanced to the final. McDonald posted a time of 59.02 for third in the second heat.

Jace Comick ran 20.99w (2.4 wind) as runner-up in his prelim section of the men’s 200m and placed 12th overall.