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2011-01-24

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World-class competition gets best of Wolverines

By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 23, 2011

Though he had already secured a win in the high jump for the Michigan men's track team, Bradley James’s day wasn’t over.

The crowd at the Indoor Track Building for the Simmons-Harvey Invitational was behind the redshirt freshman as he continued to set the bar higher to see how high he could go. Clapping in unison to get James in rhythm for his jump, the crowd of more than 1,700 waited for the Wolverine 747 to hit the runway and take off.

Eventually, he reared back, revved his engine and was off. Seconds later, he sailed easily over the seven feet and one-quarters inch bar — ten inches higher than second place — and landed gently. The jump was good for James’s third seven-foot clearance in as many weeks.

“I think one of the main things with a high jumper is to be physically in a good place in terms of rest, recovery and keeping him fresh,” assistant coach Mo Saatara said. “That has put him in a position where he can have stable performances. That’s the sign of a dedicated athlete.”

But the rest of the men’s track and field team struggled to replicate James’s show. Michigan took just three of 15 events, though the meet was not short on star power.

The unscored Simmons-Harvey Invitational included appearances from some of the world’s top athletes.

“We tried to keep things as light as possible,” captain Nick McCampbell said of the team's preparation for the meet. “I did remind the guys that I knew who was in the meet and how big of a deal the entrants were.”

The hurdler was one of two captains for the week, as Michigan rotates its leadership each meet. Redshirt junior pole vaulter Taylor Voice joined McCampbell this week.

The 2008 Olympic 1500-meter silver medalist, Nick Willis, made a cameo in the mile and 800 meter runs. The New Zealander and former Wolverine broke four minutes in the mile to delight the crowd, which rose to its feet as Willis rounded the curve and sprinted down the final straightaway.

The 60 meter dash proved to be the best race of the day, with three elite non-collegiate runners stealing the show. Michigan freshman Justin Clarke stood up to the big boys, coming in fifth with a personal best time of 6.83 seconds.

Michael Ray Garvin — professional football player and seven-time All-American at Florida State — won the race in a blistering 6.64 seconds. Adam Harris, a former Wolverine, three-time All-American and 2008 Olympic athlete representing Guyana, took second and 2004 Central Michigan All-American Johnie Drake placed third.

“It’s always great to have that high level performance from great athletes,” Saatara said. “The guys took a lot of positive things from that in terms of being able to see what it looks like for a world class athlete to compete and how they carry themselves. It’s always a learning process.”

If the meet didn’t already have enough big names, Denard Robinson was also in attendance, sitting in the first row of the bleachers.

But the added fanfare didn’t work in Michigan’s favor, as the Wolverines only grabbed a few wins. In addition to James taking the high jump, sophomore Jack Greenlee tied for first in the pole vault and the 4x400 meter relay team took the top spot.

However, Michigan did hold some of its best athletes — including Robert Peddlar and Craig Forys — from competing in the long jump and 3,000 meters, respectively, to rest them after last week’s meet against Ohio State.

“Our main goal is to compete for the Big Ten championships,” Saatara said. “So we use the competitions as a way to prepare for that. If athletes are tired from competition, you have to factor that into the training.”

Michigan has one month before the Big Ten Championships to continue training and to ensure its athletes are healthy.

“We’re going to do things that are going to get the guys in a physical and mental place where when a big competition comes along, they’ll be ready to fight,” Saatara said.