EUGENE, ORE (June 9, 2017) – North Carolina A&T senior sprinter Christopher Belcher wasn't nervous. He wasn't intimated. He even described himself as ready to go before his three event finals Friday at the NCAA Division I Track and Field Championships at Historic Hayward Field. He was just running against some of the best athletes in the world.
That may have been easy to forget after Belcher's terrific performance Wednesday when he qualified for the three national finals with a 38.48 as a part of the 4x100 meter relay, a 9.93 in the 100 meters and a 20.01 in the 200m. Friday wasn't Wednesday but Belcher helped the Aggies reach the award podium twice with top-3 placements. Along with freshman Jaylen Mitchell, senior Caleb Gabriel and sophomore Rodney Rowe, Belcher helped the 4x1 team finish third nationally in 38.57.
Approximately 45 minutes later Belcher placed third in the 100m final in 10.19. After another approximate 45-minute layoff, Belcher finished fifth in the 200m final in 20.66. Belcher walked away from NCAA nationals with three first-team All-American honors. He has four for his career after earning second-team All-American honors in 2016 with the 4x1 team. He is the first Aggie to come away with multiple All-American honors from the NCAA championships.
“Today was a struggle, but I am so blessed to be here,” said a winded Belcher after his third event on Friday. “It's not easy to get here. Being here means the world to me. To come out here and race the best in the country, it doesn't get any better than this. I wasn't even nervous today. I already know I'm going to see the best in the world. Coming into these big events I was always nervous with the bubble guts all the time. Today, I was ready to go.”
As a team, the Aggies finished tied for 14th nationally with 16 points. N.C. A&T finished tied for third among non-Power 5 conference schools (ACC, Big 10, Pac-12, Big 12, SEC). Florida took home the team national championship. The Aggies may have gone higher, but sophomore triple jumper Lasheon Strozier fouled on all four of his jumps Friday.
“We made history this week and I'm proud of that,” said director of track and field programs Duane Ross. “There are more than 250 Division I track and field teams in America. To finish where we finished is a true achievement. I'm proud of these guys.”
The 4x1 team ran their second-fastest time of the season, finishing behind NCAA champion Houston and second-place finisher Auburn. The Aggies had a good first exchange between Mitchell and Belcher as the Aggies came out of the first split in sixth place. Belcher helped the Aggies make up some ground, but the exchange between him and Gabriel wasn't as smooth. When Gabriel gave the baton to Rowe to run the anchor the Aggies were a part of the pack. But Rowe ran past runners from Texas A&M and Texas to make one last effort to win the national title. But Rowe, who completed his split in 9.5 seconds, ran out of track as Houston crossed in 38.34 and Auburn crossed in 38.48.
"We've come a long way when you think about it," said Gabriel, who ran the third leg. "We didn't even make the final last year and this year we're No. 3 team in the country. It still hurts because we wanted to win it. We came in really feeling like we had a chance to win it."
N.C. A&T's third-place finish in an NCAA 4x1 final is the best in school history, surpassing the 2001 team of Timothy Walls, Theo Wilds, Gerald Wright and Titus Haywood who finished fifth in 39.48. "We could have run a better race. I'm sure there are a lot of the things to critique. But at the end of the day we have to be happy with the progress we've made," said Gabriel. "The good news is, the program is good enough to get back here and do better."
Belcher's chief competition in the 100m was Tennessee's Christian Coleman who ran an NCAA record 9.82 on Wednesday. Coleman jumped out to an early start on Belcher and won the national championship in 10.04. Houston's Cameron Burrell came in second in 10.12. Coleman won the 200m as well (20.25).
“He is the best starter in the world, so I definitely didn't get out the way I wanted to,” said Belcher about the 100m race. “He is a talented guy. I know what I did wrong. We're going to go out there and fix whatever needs to be fixed and get ready for U.S. championships.”
The next step for Belcher, who solidified himself as an Aggie legend this week, is the USATF Outdoor Championships at Sacramento State in California June 22-25.