Eras clash as Baylor track and field heads into Michael Johnson Invitational

Junior jumper Ukurugenzi Kojo clears a mark of 6-6 ¾ on high jump during Baylor track and field's last day at the North Texas Classic on April 8 at the University of North Texas Soccer and Track & Field Stadium in Denton. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer

Baylor track and field is eager going into their last home meet of the season, the Michael Johnson Invitational. The two-day meet kicks off Friday afternoon and concludes Saturday evening at the Clyde Hart Track & Field Stadium in Waco.

This year, former Bear and retired Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson himself will be in attendance at his meet.

“That’s the highlight: everybody asks me if Michael Johnson is coming, and this year it happened to work out,” head coach Michael Ford said. “We’ll also have Jeremy Wariner, Deon Minor, Reggie Witherspoon and a lot of our olympians and former Baylor athletes back for this meet.”

After his days at Baylor, Johnson won four Olympic gold medals and eight world championship gold medals as a sprinter. For current Bear and senior sprinter Hasani Barr, Johnson and company are not only inspirations, but he said their presence this weekend will serve as extra motivation.

Barr and his fellow 4×400-meter relay runners have had their eyes on the school’s record for some time now, and have gotten close to breaking it. The record is 3:00.21, and the current squad recently posted a time of 3:00.61, the third best in program history. This group has run a top-five time on multiple occasions, and with this being Barr’s final home meet, he said it provides an opportunity like no other.

“I’ve never personally met Michael Johnson, so it’ll be good to finally meet him and have our great Baylor athletes come out and watch us compete,” Barr said. “They said they want to see us break the record, so we are going to give them what they wanted.”

Ford said it’s important for the current athletes to know their history — especially in the 400 — with such a storied history. According to Ford, his 4×4 group has been looking forward to this since they were made aware of Johnson’s possible attendance.

“I just want to win the race first,” Ford said with a laugh. “It’s doable. They’ve been kind of circling this date down as the day they want to break the record because I told them Michael may be here. They want to do it in front of him and Coach [Clyde] Hart and everyone. I just want to get through healthy, and if we run another three-flat or break the record, that’s just the cherry on top.”

Besides not having to sleep in a hotel room, Ford said he’s looking forward to the home meet for multiple reasons.

“It’s good to be at home because you definitely get the fan support,” Ford said. “The kids enjoy running at home, I think it gives us an extra boost when we’re here. Especially the crowd, we always get good crowds at our home meets.”

With just two meets left in the season, including this one, the second-year head coach said it’s time for everyone to get ready to empty the tank and push ahead.

“A lot of them are coming off slight little injuries,” Ford said. “We’re just trying to get them to be mentally ready to go because at this point in the year, everyone’s a little banged up and is trying to make sure we get them to the finish line and make them feel good about themselves as they compete. You talk about going to regionals, going to nationals, I got to put a little more pressure on them. We have to step up now because you only have two track meets left to do it.”

Action begins both days with field events at 11 a.m., and with running events starting at 6 p.m. Friday and 12 p.m. Saturday. Ford will welcome back Johnson, Wariner and Skylar White as the Legends of the Meet. The ceremony begins at approximately 2:10 p.m. on Saturday.

The meet will not be broadcast, but live results will be available online from Delta Timing.