Walter Henning of LSU returns to this year’s Penn Relays to defend his championship in the men’s hammer throw. A year ago he won his first Relays championship, throwing 225-6.

This year, he renews acquaintance with an old friend, young Conor McCullough, now a freshman hammer thrower at Princeton University. Henning, two years older, is a junior, but three years ago, when both were in high school – Henning a senior at St. Anthony’s High School on Long Island in New York and McCullough a young upstart sophomore at another Catholic school, Chaminade in West Hills, a neighborhood of Los Angeles – they threw head-to-head in a national meet for schoolboys. For a time, McCullough took the lead against his older, better-known rival, but eventually Henning prevailed. Henning never lost in high school, and he rewrote the high school record book. This will be their first meeting since then.

In the interim, Henning has attended two colleges – first the University of North Carolina, now LSU – and over the winter he won his first NCAA championship, winning this year’s indoor title in the 35-pound weight throw. This spring he has improved his best in the hammer, to 239-5.

McCullough went on to break Henning’s schoolboy records. He set national records in the hammer (260-0 with the 12-pound, 219-7 with the 16-pound) and the indoor weight (93-3 ¼ with the 25-pound). He redshirted this winter at Princeton and thus did not throw against Henning indoors. This spring he has thrown an excellent 222-5 with the international hammer.

Princeton has a long tradition in the throwing events, but Old Nassau has not produced a Relays title in the men’s hammer since William Lynch won back-to-back titles in 1937 and 1938. McCullough himself also has a tradition in the event, because his namesake – his father, Conor Sr. – won the Relays hammer himself, throwing 226-2 for Boston University in 1986.

The hammer throw is of course one of many individual events contested at the Penn Relays.

Throwing events

In the other throws, the favorites are:

  • John Austin of Duke in the javelin. Austin threw a PR 227-3 earlier this month, and he won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship over the weekend.
  • Kemal Mesic of Florida in the shot put. Mesic, a 24-year-old junior from Bosnia, was 2nd in the NCAA indoor meet this year and has a best of 63-2 ¼.
  • James Plummer, a sophomore at Rutgers, has thrown 193-11 in the discus. Plummer went to Toms River South High School in New Jersey, where he was state champion two years ago.

Jumps and vault

  • Four 26-foot jumpers face off in the long jump – Alain Bailey and Tarik Batchelor of Arkansas, Christian Taylor of Florida and Zedric Thomas of LSU. Bailey and Batchelor are both graduates of Kingston College High School, and both won the Relays HS LJ championship while at KC, Batchelor in 2007, Bailey in 2006. Taylor helped the Gators win this year’s NCAA indoor team championship, finishing 1st in the triple jump and 2nd in the long jump. Thomas also placed well in both NCAA horizontal jumps for LSU.
  • Derek Drouin of Indiana in the high jump. Drouin, a sophomore from Canada who has jumped 7-5 ¾, was NCAA indoor champion.
  • Joe Berry of Tennessee is defending champion in the pole vault. He will face several 18-footers including Jeff Coover of Indiana and Xavier Tromp of Clemson.
  • Tyron Stewart of Texas A&M, defending champion in the triple jump, will face LSU’s Thomas, who was NCAA indoor runnerup, and Alphonso Jordan, who won the ACC for Georgia Tech over the weekend with a wind-aided 54-6 ½.

Hurdles, dash

  • It’s a loaded field in the men’s high hurdles, led by NCAA finalists Booker Nunley (13.59) and Johnny Dutch (13.73) of South Carolina, William Wynne (13.64) of Florida and Omo Osaghae (13.51) of Texas Tech. They’ll be challenged by Lehann Fourie (13.67) of Nebraska, Barrett Nugent (13.67) of LSU and IC4A champion Domonick Sylve (13.79w) of Army. Jason Richardson of South Carolina, a 3-time winner at the Relays, has graduated.
  • Wynne, a sophomore for the Gators, is also defending champion in the intermediates, which he has run in 49.13. He will face South Carolina’s Dutch (48.18), NCAA runnerup last year; Emmanuel Mayers (49.65) of Mississippi State, and Bryce Brown (49.65) of Texas Tech.
  • The 100 field features this year’s NCAA indoor 60-meter champion, sophomore Jeff Demps of Florida. Demps has run 10.11 this spring, in winning the Florida Relays, and has a lifetime best of 10.01, which he ran two years ago at the U.S. Olympic Trials in setting the national high school record. A few months later, he was a member of Florida’s national-championship football team as a running back. He will face Marcus Rowland (10.03w) and Harry Adams (10.17w) of Auburn, NCAA runnerup Gerald Phiri (10.17) of Texas A&M and ACC champion Maurice Mitchell (10.11w) of Florida State.

Distance races

  • The 5,000 meters has a diverse field that includes Andrew Bumbalough, a graduate student at Georgetown who has run 13:30; Jean-Pierre Weerts of Belgium and Auburn (best of 13:48); Solomon Haile, an Ethiopian émigré who attended high school in Maryland and has run 13:58 this year as a freshman at Arkansas; Max Kaulbach, who anchored the winning HS DMR two years ago for Germantown Friends Academy in Philadelphia and now runs for Princeton; Craig Forys, who ran a 4:04.2 leg in the 1,600 three years ago for Colts Neck (N.J.) HS and now runs for Michigan (13:54); Hugo Beamish, a New Zealander who has run 8:06 in the 3k for Villanova; Lev Miller (13:56) of Georgetown, and Riley Masters, a 3:59 miler from the University of Maine.
  • Harry Miller of William & Mary has run 8:53 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
  • The top seed in the 10,000 is Elkanah Kibet of Auburn, who has run 28:26.96.