Oregon Track Had a Nice Run, but Arkansas Showed That Ducks’ Time Has Passed

Arkansas track, Oregon track, Oregon Ducks
photo credit: Oregon Athletics / Arkansas Athletics

Arkansas bolstered its reputation as the collegiate track powerhouse on Saturday as the Razorback women blew away the competition at the 2024 NCAA Track & Field Championships.

In his first season succeeding the legendary Lance Harter, new Arkansas women’s track coach Chris Johnson led the Razorbacks to a sweep of the indoor and outdoor national titles. The women’s track and field program is now up to nine national championships, but that number jumps to 51 when you add in the men’s team’s trophy cabinet.

With the Hogs’ long list of honors continuing to grow, it begs the question on whether Fayetteville has become the true capital of college track and field after decades of threatening to take the title from the notorious Oregon Ducks. 

This weekend’s events, which just so happened to take place in said incumbent’s backyard, certainly put the Razorbacks’ dominance on display when the lights shone brightest.

Arkansas Track Rewrites the Record Book

The event that clinched the title for the Razorbacks in Eugene, Ore., was their record-breaking performance in the 4×400-meter relay, courtesy of the lightning-quick quartet of Amber Anning, Rosey Effiong, Nickisha Pryce and Kaylyn Brown.

The Razorbacks dusted the competition, leaving a massive gap of more than five seconds between themselves and the distant other podium finishers, Tennessee and Texas.

Arkansas’ time of 3:17.96 was not only the best time ever recorded at these NCAA Championships, it was the fastest time in collegiate history. Additionally, it was the No. 10 performance in world history.

Here’s the full race. Drink it in…

Three of the four team members ran their leg in sub-50 seconds. Making the Hogs’ historic dominance even more ridiculous was the fact that they broke their own record, set very recently at the NCAA West meet on May 25. It didn’t stand for long – and they broke it by nearly four seconds.

When you’re this good for this long, the only person left to compete against is yourself.

Nickisha Pryce Smashes the Record

Before shattering that record, the Razorbacks generated plenty of headlines for their dominance in the individual 400-meter race.

Nickisha Pryce set the collegiate record with a time of 48.89 seconds, which also gave the St. Mary, Jamaica, native the Jamaican national record that had stood for 24 years. But that wasn’t even the most impressive aspect of the event.

There was a sea of Razorback red at the finish line, as Arkansas became the first team in NCAA history – both men’s and women’s – to occupy the entire top four in any event.

Who finished fifth in that event, you might ask? Isabella Whittaker from Penn, who has already signed her letter of intent to transfer to Arkansas next year. Now that’s just greedy.

Arkansas’ Monstars-esque dominance over this particular event becomes even more ridiculous when you realize that 10 of the 11 fastest 400-meter times in women’s collegiate history belong to Razorbacks, all from the last two years. That’s a stat that’s so ridiculous that it almost sounds made up.

“TrackTown, USA” Moves Down South

The latest additions to Arkansas’ illustrious trophy cabinet continue to add to the debate over the true monarch of college track and field. 

Eugene, Ore., home of the University of Oregon, has long been known as “TrackTown, USA” due to the storied reputation of the Ducks’ track and field program.

The program was built by the legendary coach Bill Hayward, who led the Ducks from 1904-1947. Oregon’s track venue is named in his honor. His successor, Bill Bowerman, built off those foundations and eventually delivered the program’s first national title in 1962.

Most notably, Bowerman co-founded the athletics juggernaut Nike after a handshake deal with Oregon alum Phil Knight in 1964. 

Now 86 years old with a net worth around $40 billion, Knight’s investments into the school over the years has made Oregon’s athletic program one of the richest and flashiest in the nation. The top tier facilities in Eugene also played a factor in the “TrackTown” reputation.

Now under the leadership of coaches Jerry Schumacher and Robert Johnson, the Ducks have remained in perennial national contention – but the Ducks haven’t won a national title since they secured the 2021 men’s indoor crown. On the women’s side, their last championship was in 2017.

Those certainly aren’t long title droughts, by usual standards, but college track is a sport of juggernauts. There’s also the fact that there’s technically four national champions each year – men’s and women’s outdoor and indoor – which puts more trophies on the table. (That doesn’t even include cross country, which also awards a men’s and women’s champion each year.)

In the three seasons since the Ducks took home their last crown, Arkansas has brought four national titles home to Fayetteville. Meanwhile, the Oregon women’s team finished a distant fourth place in both indoor and outdoor.

Arkansas lapping the competition while the Ducks missed the podium entirely at an event they hosted is certainly a tough look for Oregon.

Comparing the Trophy Cabinets of Arkansas and Oregon

When you look at the sheer numbers, the answer is pretty clear. Arkansas has won the most national titles of any program in collegiate track and field with 39 across all competitions – again, not including cross country. In fact, the Ducks have also been eclipsed by LSU and USC over the years, sliding down into a distant fourth with 22 national titles.

Oregon certainly had its “golden age” in the 1960s, and a strong period of 21st-century dominance in a stretch that saw the Ducks win a whopping 15 national titles between 2009 and 2017.

But sandwiched in between those are decades of Razorback dominance of the sport under legendary coaches like Harter and the late John McDonnell. Oregon’s grand history is a big talking point in the sport, and something that Duck fans like to flex their muscle about – but Arkansas is a juggernaut program steeped in a rich history of its own.

The legendary McDonnell, who many consider to be the greatest coach in collegiate history, won 40 NCAA Championships in his 36-year career leading the Razorbacks’ track and field and cross country programs – yes, that’s an average of more than one title per year for over three decades. He has won more national championships than any other coach in NCAA history, regardless of sport.

It hasn’t just been McDonnell, either. Harter on the women’s side and Chris Bucknam on the men’s side have both delivered multiple national titles to Fayetteville. And in what has become reminiscent of the TV show Succession, Johnson has already hit that feat in just one season after being promoted from assistant to head coach.

The Razorback program is a well-oiled machine. Across multiple coaches and spanning a number of decades, Arkansas track has done nothing but win.

Other than the Nike money, Oregon track really doesn’t have anything on the Hogs. Even in the facilities metric, Arkansas is right up there with its state-of-the-art track complex named in McDonnell’s honor.

It’s clear that Arkansas has taken over as the true juggernaut of college track and field over the years, and marching onto Oregon’s campus and bringing home another national title this weekend was just the latest evidence of that.

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Hear Chris Johnson on The Paul Finebaum Show starting at 1:20 here:

Watch Nickisha Pryce and the rest of the Razorback quartet wipe the floor with the 400-meter grid:

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More coverage of Arkansas athletics from BoAS…

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