Potter’s first Drake showing memorable

Ben Goessling

Say this for All-American sprinter Mitch Potter: He certainly has a flair for the dramatic.

Potter, who stayed behind each of the last two years because of injuries when Minnesota’s men’s track and field team traveled to the Drake Relays, stole the show Saturday afternoon, taking a sellout crowd of 18,000 through a plot twist dizzying enough for Alfred Hitchcock to love.

The junior put on a commanding show in the invitational 400-meter dash, breaking the school record and posting the second-fastest time in the country this year as he fought through a sore hamstring to tear away from the field and win in 45.16 seconds.

“I got through 200 meters without tightening up, and I just said, ‘screw it,’ ” Potter said. “I started to get stiff towards the end, but I decided just to go for it.”

About 150 meters into his victory lap, Potter took a sharp left turn for the infield and collapsed, vomiting and laying in the grass for more than 20 minutes.

The junior never made it to the victory stand, merely waving to the crowd from the grass when his time was announced.

And an hour later, when the Gophers’ 4×400-meter relay, which holds the fourth-fastest time in the country, was scheduled to square off with NCAA event indoor champion Baylor, Potter was absent from the lineup.

Minnesota substituted sophomore Robb Merritt for Potter and finished fifth, running three seconds slower than its season best.

“We were debating whether to run Mitch in the relay, but with the Big Ten meet three weeks away, you just don’t do it if it constitutes that much discussion,” coach Phil Lundin said. “His performance in the 400 was awesome, but you have to be able to run multiple rounds at the conference meet.”

Potter’s wild afternoon mirrored Minnesota’s weekend, as the Gophers combined flashes of brilliance with a handful of near-misses and puzzling performances.

Sophomore Karl Erickson finished second in the discus Friday, only to post his shortest throw of the season and miss the finals in the invitational shot put.

Freshman Trent Riter was passed with under 50 meters left in the 800-meter dash and finished second, and sophomore Kevin Netzer posted a runner-up finish in the high jump, losing by an inch.

“It was a solid weekend overall, but a few more titles would have been nice,” Lundin said. “We should have had a few more wins.”

Junior Luke Mullranin finished second in the 3000-meter steeplechase, and the Gophers’ 4×800-meter relay also took second.

“Running here on Saturday is something we all look forward to,” Mullranin said. “There are about twice as many people in the stadium as there are in my hometown, and it’s fun to mix it with a national-caliber field.”

The public address announcer in Drake Stadium spent most of Saturday afternoon pumping the 4×400-meter relay, encouraging fans to stay for the day’s last event.

The race, featuring Minnesota, Baylor and Arizona State – currently three of the nation’s four fastest relays – looked to be a spectator’s dream on paper.

For the Gophers, Potter’s absence turned their last race into a nightmare.

“The way he responded after the 400 was typical Mitch,” Lundin said. “He has to come to terms with how he reacts to injuries.”

But at least Potter provided the fans some good theater.

“Drake is by far my favorite place to be,” Potter said. “You know how much people love you. For 20 minutes, every time I puked they cheered for me.”