Villanova’s Maree Ran Into 1500-5K History
In 1981, Sydney Maree intended to make his final race in a Villanova uniform one to remember.
That would take something special.
A year earlier, Maree won the 1500-meter title at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships to become the first runner with career titles in both the 1500 and 5000, as one year before that, he won the 5K in a meet-record 13:20.63.
And then two weeks before he toed the starting line at the 1981 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Maree ran a 3:52.44 mile that remains the fastest recorded by a collegian outdoors.
Could Maree top that?
Well, Maree knew he would have his work cut out for himself in the 1500.
Before the final, he observed “We’re going to have some pretty good kickers in this race.” Two of those kickers, in particular, were two-time 1500 runner-up Todd Habour of Baylor and BYU’s Doug Padilla, who had turned back four-time NCAA Indoor mile champ Suleiman Nyambui of UTEP in the 2-mile back in March.
Maree solved that situation by running fast from the start. He led by five meters after two laps and then nearly doubled the margin with a lap to go. Maree then ran his fastest 400 at 55.5 to win by 2.82 seconds in 3:35.30, another meet record. At the time, the only collegian to ever run faster was Jim Ryun of Kansas when he set a then-world record 3:33.1 in a 1967 postseason race.
“I actually wanted to go faster, but I didn’t hear my split on the third lap,” said Maree, who remains the only runner with meet records in both the 1500 and 5K, the latter surviving until 2014, while the 1500 mark still exists to this day.
Maree finished the 1981 season as part of one of the most exciting mile seasons ever. The South African native had become a permanent U.S. resident, allowing him to compete on the international circuit for the first time (Athletes from South Africa were then barred to compete on the circuit due to opposition to the country’s apartheid policy).
While Britain’s Seb Coe and Steve Ovett famously traded headlines that included breaking the world record three times, Maree came on late in the summer, handing Ovett a rare loss with a time of 3:48.83, then third-fastest all-time. At the end of September Maree won the inaugural 5th Avenue Mile in 3:47.52, which is still the course record.
The NCAA and collegiate track & field will mark a momentous milestone in the spring of 2021 -- the 100th anniversary of the NCAA Championships and with that, the NCAA Track & Field Championships. In June 1921, the University of Chicago hosted the first track & field championships in NCAA history.
This point can’t be emphasized enough: Not only was the event the first for NCAA track & field, but the first championships for any sport under the sponsorship of the NCAA.
To celebrate, over each of the next 365 days, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) will celebrate moments, student-athletes, and coaches that have made a century’s worth of championships special. From humble beginnings to important historical milestones to the modern-day, collegiate track & field has evolved with the American society.
The 2021 edition of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships begin with preliminary round action on May 27-29 in Jacksonville, Fla., and College Station, Texas. The championships final site and culmination of the celebration is slated for June 9-12, 2021 at the newly rebuilt Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
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