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June 7th, 2019
Austin, Texas

The men’s 800 meter final showcased a last lap battle between two of the most talented middle distance collegians: Kansas junior Bryce Hoppel and Texas A&M junior Devin Dixon.

Two days before the final, the preliminary round whetted appetites for the championship showdown. Heat 1 pitted Hoppel, undefeated in individual events in 2019, against collegiate leader Dixon. Hoppel exhibited textbook racing skills in posting a new facility record of 1:45.26 to edge the Texas A&M junior [1:45.67]. Dixon’s teammate Carlton Orange showed he could be a factor in the final by ringing up the 3rd fastest first-round clocking of1:46.86 in winning Heat 2. No other advancers cracked 1:47.

Under cooler, windless conditions, the final got underway as Indiana junior Cooper Williams rushed to the front only to cede the lead to Dixon as the athletes entered the homestretch for the first time. Dixon’s fast-paced tactics took the field through 400 in 50.00 with Hoppel tucked in behind the Aggie leader at the bell. The duo created separation from the field on the backstretch and the collegiate leader enjoyed a two meter lead over his Jayhawk nemesis with 200 meters to go. But then: a critical moment. With 140 meters remaining, Dixon inexplicably drifted away from curb. His inattentiveness was just enough to allow an alert Hoppel to drive by on the inside for the lead. Hoppel [1:44.41] sailed on for the win while a stunned Dixon [1:44.84], unable to summon a surge of his own, crossed 2nd. A valiant late-race rush lifted Iowa State junior Festus Lagat [1:45:05] into 3rd. Hoppel’s winning time was yet another PR for the Jayhawk, established a new collegiate-leading clocking, further lowered the Mike A. Myers Stadium record that the 22-year-old had set in the preliminaries, is #2 on the USA leader list, and #6 on the World leader list.

Afterwards, the Texas A&M athlete was disconsolate. “I let him get on the inside. I tried to up the tempo the way I was supposed to. I went out in 50-51. I don’t know. What can you say?” asked the runner-up, who revealed that he was uncertain just where Hoppel was. “I shouldn’t have let that happen.” I thought he was on my outside so I was just running on the outside of lane one.”

The new champion, composed and smiling, fielded questions from the media. “Of course, I’m always going for a PR,” said Hoppel who anticipated a quick opening tempo. “I knew it was going to be fast.” And the Jayhawk middle distance star was not flustered at Dixon’s slight lead with 200 meters to go. “I knew I had him within range,” explained Hoppel. “That’s how I planned to do the race: keep him right there in front of me and wait for the last stretch.” But Hoppel wasn’t expecting an inside opening as the race approached the final curve. “It actually was a present. I knew he was going to do something to try and hold me off. I saw it opening up and I thought I had a chance to get through.” The new champion’s racing schedule is not over. “Getting ready for USA’s and hopefully making the World team. That’s definitely the next goal.” Asked about the ingredients needed to produce his 2019 undefeated streak, the Midland, Texas native offered, “You just have to have a little bit of confidence.”

The Kansas athlete’s record-setting victory prompted reflection upon his comments earlier in the week. When Hoppel, who came to these championships with a season’s best of 1:46.09, was asked at Tuesday’s pre-meet press conference what it would take to win here, the Jayhawk answered, “I’m ready to do whatever it takes.” The new NCAA champion proved to be omniscient.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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