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UF Track & Field: Mardal Crowned SEC Champion After Record-Breaking Performance, UF off to a Strong Start

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY RICK HURTADO

UF opens up at SECs with one gold medal and two runner-up finishes

Florida track and field got off to a strong start Thursday as senior thrower Thomas Mardal collected gold in the weight throw, junior Sterling Lester earned silver in the Pentathlon, and the Gators women’s DMR team finished second at this year’s SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships inside the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Mardal, who entered the competition with an NCAA-leading mark of 23.14 meters (75 feet, 11 inches), appeared to have secured the SEC title after a comfortable 24.04 meters (79 feet, 3.25 inches) throw in his first attempt. The Gloppen, Norway native topped the school record by 0.69 meters with that first throw, but that would not be his best performance of the day.

Florida’s new record holder went on to the throw for 23.89 meters, 24.15 meters, and finished the day with a best mark of 24.16 meters (79 feet, 3.25 feet), breaking UF’s record three times and the SEC championships meet 10-year-old record. His new personal record ranks sixth on the collegiate All-Time Top 10 list.

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On the women’s side, Lester set a new personal record and secured the No. 3 spot on UF’s Indoor All-Time Top 10 list after collecting 4,095 points in the pentathlon. The Marietta, Georgia native set new season bests in each of the multi’s events and a new personal record in the high jump (1.68 meters – 5 feet, 6 inches). Her new personal record 4,095 points ranks fifth on this year’s NCAA Division I Indoor Qualifying list.

The women’s DMR squad, headlined by Gabrielle Wilkinson, Lauryn Ghee, Abbie Harrelson, and Imogen Barrett, finished with a time of 11:00.31, which ranks on UF’s Indoor All-Time Top 10 list.

The Gators closed the first day of competition with a leading 16-point score on the women’s side, while the men rank third with 10 team points. The action will continue on Friday.

Sophomore Grace Stark, who earned silver in 2020 and owns the world under-20 record, will look to secure her first conference crown. Meanwhile sprinter Joseph Fahnbulleh, who ranks second in the nation and in the world, will headline the 200 meters for the Gators. Fahnbulleh posted a time of 20.42 seconds two weeks ago at this year’s Tyson Invitational.

In the 60 meters, 2020 SEC Champion Raymond Ekevwo will look to earn his second gold medal as he enters the SEC tournament tied for second in the nation. Meanwhile sophomore Semira Killebrew, who won silver last year, will look to clinch the title on the women’s side.

Newcomer Talitha Diggs will represent the Gators in the 400 meters. Diggs, who earned consecutive SEC Women’s Freshman of the Week honors this season after posting the sixth- and fifth-fastest times in the 400 and 200 meters, will be joined by senior Taylor Manson.

On the distance front, Wilkinson, who ranks eighth in the nation, will compete in the 800 meters, while Barrett will run the mile.

Freshman Malcolm Clemons and junior PJ Austin will compete in the long jump. Clemons and Austin rank sixth and 13th in the NCAA, respectively. Meanwhile, looking ahead to Saturday, jumpers Kala Penn and Natricia Hooper, who rank ninth and 10th respectively on this year’s NCAA Division I Indoor Qualifying list, will represent the Gators in the triple jump.

Coverage of the 2021 SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships will continue on SEC Network+ starting at 12:55 p.m. and 6:25 p.m. on Friday, and 1:55 p.m. and 6:25 p.m. on Saturday.

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