Written By: Liam Boylan Pett, Lope Magazine
“We’ve got Kansas, Oral Roberts, Mississippi State, LSU, Michigan, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova all in this mix. But it’s Columbia, in the light blue, leading.”
That’s what Mark Floreani, announcing for FloTrack, said on April 28, 2007, when Erison Hurtault handed me the baton with a five-meter lead in the Penn Relays College Men’s 4×800 Championship of America. Our first leg, Mike Mark, handed off in third before Jonah Rathbun kept us in the race through two exchanges, handing off in fourth. Then Erison unleashed an unruly kick, passing seven runners on the final turn, and there we were: with two laps to go, Columbia University was in perfect position to win the 4×8 at Penn.
As noted by Floreani, who listed off eight other schools in tow, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Columbia hadn’t won a relay at Penn since 1938, and hadn’t won the 4×8 since 1933. No Ivy League school had won at the relays since 1974.
But there I was, leading in front of 46,363 spectators at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field. It didn’t last long — 200 meters into the race, Prince Mumba of defending champion Oral Roberts, who had run more than three seconds faster than me in the 800, sprinted past me and into the lead. I hung as tight as I could, but by the final turn, I had slipped to third behind Mumba and Michigan’s Andrew Ellerton, who had finished second in the 800 at the NCAA Indoor Championships a month earlier.
“This is a great last 150 it’s gonna turn out to be,” Floreani said as we rounded the turn. “Ellerton and Prince Mumba, and Columbia is holding on there in third. This is a great run for Columbia.”
It seemed like that would be the last time Floreani would mention Columbia — and why would he as the two stars battled for victory? With 70 meters to go, Ellerton inched past Mumba, and entering the home straight, it seemed like that was it. Ellerton was poised to sprint away from Mumba for the win.
“Ellerton is on the shoulder of Prince and it looks like Ellerton”—then Floreani stopped. Just then, I moved to the outside and shifted gears, passing Mumba and pulling up on Ellerton’s right shoulder. With 60 meters to the finish line, I was even with Ellerton.
Floreani couldn’t contain the surprise in his voice as he interrupted himself: “But here comes Columbia.”