University of Arkansas senior Eric Brown came up short of his national championship bid in the javelin, but secured runner-up honors at the 2006 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif.
Arkansas finished fifth in the team competition with 33 points, snapping a streak of three-consecutive national titles at the national outdoor meet. It also marked only the fourth time in the past 15 tries that Arkansas didn't hoist the championship trophy. This time around Florida State took home the crown with 67 points.
"We did what we were supposed to do, really," Arkansas coach John McDonnell said. "I hate to say we had a good meet and finish fifth, but it was just one of those things where we didn't have enough people. I still consider we had a good year."
With the Razorbacks a long-shot to contend for the team crown heading into the final day of the competition, attention turned to Brown, a 2002 Baldwin High School graduate, and his quest to become the first Razorback to win an NCAA championship in the javelin.
Instead, Brown finished second and racked up the third top-five NCAA finish of his career, after garnering third place as a sophomore and fourth place as a junior.
The Baldwin City product turned in a mark of 238-3 to finish behind North Carolina's Justin Ryncavage (243-4). Brown's second-place finish was the best by a thrower in Arkansas history at the NCAA meet.
"I felt much better today and warm-ups went really well again," Brown said Saturday. "I just did something in the meet and got away from that good feeling you need to have. I just didn't go anywhere. It is disappointing, but I will take it.
"I think there is a huge difference (between first and second place)," Brown said. "Nobody remembers second place. That is too bad."
Brown's disappointment stemmed from high expectations after a season that saw him post nearly a dozen throws of over 240-0, including five of six throws when he won the Southeastern Championship last month in Fayetteville, Ark.
He dominated the league field with a winning throw of 251-9. Brown also recorded the longest throw by a collegian this year when he recorded a mark of 256-3 at the Kansas Relays. Brown was also attempting to become the first thrower of any kind in school history to win an individual national championship.
"We were disappointed," Arkansas javelin coach Andrew McDonough said. "He could've done better. He warmed up super and had his farthest warm-up ever. When it came time to do it, unfortunately, he took a step backwards instead of forward."
Saturday's competition marked the third time Brown and Ryncavage had squared off this season. Brown bested Ryncavage at the Texas Relays while Ryncavage evened the score with a win at the Penn Relays. The two rivals dominated the national javelin rankings all season long with Brown coming into the national meet ranked No. 1 and Ryncavage ranked No. 2.
Brown opened the competition with a throw of 231-2 to take the lead. Ryncavage, the final competitor in the flight, came up big on his first attempt measuring 243-4 to claim the lead from Brown.
The Arkansas senior improved on each of his next two preliminary attempts upping his best to 236-0 and then 238-3. Brown stood in second place after the three preliminary throws.
Brown opened the final round with a throw of 225-3 and then carded a throw of 227-5 on his second attempt. In the final attempt of his Razorback career, Brown gave it an all-out effort but fouled, clinching the title for Ryncavage.
"I was disappointed for him," McDonnell said. "That was his last hurrah. He has been such a great guy and very consistent, but it wasn't meant to be."
Ryncavage won the NCAA crown one year after undergoing right elbow surgery and missing the entire 2005 campaign. Ryncavage said while the competition with Brown has been fierce, the duel between the two competitors has always been based on respect.
"Eric is an awesome competitor," Ryncavage said. "We have been at each other all year. He had some amazing throws this year. We work off each other. It is a great competition between us. It is a friendly competition."
Brown will now turn his attention to pursing a professional career. That new chapter in Brown's career will likely begin later this month at the USA Championships in Indianapolis.
"My goal is to keep throwing," Brown said. "I was hoping that this would be a good stepping stone to get me to the next level, but I kind of skipped through that. I'm hopefully going to USA's in two weeks and kind of redeem myself there and figure out what I'm doing wrong."