LINCOLN — At first, it felt like a pretty pedestrian race to Nebraska sophomore Oladapo Akinmoladun. An initial glance at the scoreboard confirmed his suspicions.
The Huskers’ promising young hurdler knew he clipped the final two hurdles en route to winning the 60-meter hurdles at last weekend’s New Mexico Invite, so when the scoreboard flashed his time at 7.90 seconds Akinmoladun was ready, begrudgingly, to accept a time well off his career best.
“I thought, ‘Yeah, 7.9 feels about right,’ ” he said.
But when the scoreboard flashed his official time of 7.69 seconds, it became clear there was nothing ordinary about his run.
“It was a really, really huge surprise for me,” he said.
Akinmoladun’s time, which will go down officially as 7.71 seconds after being adjusted for the high altitude in Albuquerque, N.M., stands as the fourth-fastest collegiate time this year and ranks third on Nebraska’s all-time charts.
It was another milestone for the hurdler, who last year recorded the fastest time in the world among juniors (under age 23) in the event at 7.74 seconds. After a disappointing Big Ten indoor championships where he was disqualified by a false start, Akinmoladun has been fine-tuning his technique in search of the perfect race.
“Because it’s so short, it’s 60 meters and five hurdles, every single step counts,” Akinmoladun said.
Akinmoladun, who also goes by the abbreviated form of his first name “Dapo,” said he will take 29 steps in his ideal race, with the start being crucial. He and NU sprinters coach Billy Maxwell focus on getting over the first hurdle as fast as he can, then momentum takes care of the rest.
If Akinmoladun can find a way to keep his trailing leg as close to the hurdle as possible without making contact, the school record mark of 7.67 set by South African Olympian Lehann Fourie may be in reach.
“It’s been kind of a situation with him where he’s been a little more intense and focused on the technical aspect of the hurdles,” Nebraska head coach Gary Pepin said. “I think his confidence is growing that, ‘Hey, this wasn’t a one-time deal. I’m getting pretty good at this.’”
Akinmoladun will face a difficult field in the 60 hurdles at this weekend’s Frank Sevigne Husker Invitational at the Devaney Center. The event also figures to include Illinois’ Vanier Joseph, the Big Ten champion in the outdoor 110 hurdles, and All-American Trevor Brown from Colorado State. The 60 hurdles final is set for just after 2 p.m. Saturday.
The Sevigne meet is annually one of the biggest indoor meets in the country. On Friday and Saturday, nearly 1,000 athletes representing 40 teams will be competing in Lincoln, as well as some athletes competing unattached who have starred at the international level.
Former Husker national champion Nicholas Gordon will be competing in the long jump, Pepin said, and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist DeeDee Trotter will pace the field in the women’s 400 Friday night.
Athletes who already own some of the NCAA’s top marks also will be in Lincoln. Southern California’s Aaron Brown has the No. 4 time in the country this season in the 200 (20.88), and Edward Kembol of Iowa State ranks third nationally in the 800 (1 minute, 48.14 seconds).
On the women’s side, two national leaders are in competition. South Dakota’s Emily Grove owns the NCAA’s best mark in the pole vault this season at 14 feet, 3ľ inches, while Iowa State’s Christina Hillman leads the country in the shot put with a season-best throw of 57-5Ĺ.
Event finals begin at 5 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday.