BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Fitzroy Dunkley on Saturday afternoon cruised past the finish line at the 2016 Indoor Track and Field Championship waving his finger, a symbolic warning to those in the sport that doubted his transformation.
And what a transformation — from a high jumper/triple jumper to anchor leg of LSU’s NCAA indoor champions in the men’s 1,600-meter relay.
LSU dominated its signature event at the Birmingham CrossPlex, thanks to the foursome of Cyril Grayson, Lamar Bruton, Michael Cherry and Dunkley, the highlight of the Tigers’ fourth-place team finish. They scored 28 points, finishing behind Oregon (62), Arkansas (39) and Tennessee (34).
“That’s a good group of guys. Good chemistry,” said LSU track coach Dennis Shaver. “They’ve worked hard all year. Really felt like we could win the race if we got out front and, go which of course we did after the second exchange.”
Lamar Bruton, a transfer from Ohio State, moved the Tigers from third to first during the second leg. From there, Cherry and Dunkley just had to hang on as Florida tried to nip away.
LSU won with a time of three minutes, four seconds. The Gators finished in 3:05.
LSU has now won the relay two of the last three indoor seasons, including in 2014, and five times in school history.
Last season, LSU won the 2015 outdoor title in the men’s 1,600-meter relay before losing two sprinters. This winter, they have added two and finished indoors with the same result.
“We refilled with two great transfers,” Grayson said of Cherry and Bruton.
For Dunkley, the win earned him respect. Respect he had yet to earn during his event transition.
“Others didn’t respect me (as a runner),” Dunkley said. “Other guys (said they) were coming for me.
“So I let them know you’re not getting me. You’re not getting me no time this season.”
In the 400 meters, Cherry finished third (46.34), and Dunkley was fifth (46.46). And Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake enjoyed the best individual performance, finished second to Christian Coleman of Tennessee (20.55) in the 200 meters in a time of 20.63.
“Last year, I was watching in the bleachers for the 400 and the 4x400,” said Cherry, a transfer from Florida State. “So to come in and join the team, transferring, I knew only one school could give me what I wanted. That was LSU, of course.
“They turned a high jumper into a 45-second runner. (I knew) if they did that to him, what could they do for me?”
The major disappoint occurred earlier in the men’s 60-meter hurdles where Jordan Moore, one of the favorite, was disqualified for a lane violation. During the race, Moore drifted into the lane of co-favorite Devin Allen of Oregon, who finished with a time of 7:56.
Moore entered the finals tied with the best time from Friday’s prelims (7.58), a time he shared with Allen.
“I think he just got a little too excited in the race, and didn’t execute very well,” Shaver said.
In women’s competition, Daeshon Gordon (8.037) and Mikiah Brisco (8.040) finished with nearly-identical times in the 60-meter hurdles giving LSU fourth and fifth-place finishes.
Brisco also finished third in the 60 meters (7.17). Overall, LSU women finished 14th with 15 points. Oregon won the women’s title with 53 points.