For two years, Frank O'Mara has been burdened by the knowledge that he cost his Arkansas teammates those coveted watches with which they reward collegiate champions at the Penn Relays.
O'Mara atoned for past sins today by anchoring the Razorbacks to victory in the distance-medley relay, their first championship in the 89-year history of the Penn carnival.
O'Mara, blessed with a 10-yard lead, ran a controlled 3:59 anchor 1,600 to finish comfortably ahead of Harvard's surging Adam Dixon. Georgetown, the 1982 champion, was fourth behind Virginia and Villanova, which prevailed the 16 years before that, faded to sixth.
Arkansas led after every leg as Georgetown, Villanova and Virginia alternated in second place. As far as the Razorbacks were concerned, the race was over when Stanley Redwine's 1:48.4 third leg gave O'Mara, an Irishman from Limerick, the baton 10 yards in front of Villanova's Marcus O'Sullivan, a native of County Cork.
"All three legs before me were perfect," O'Mara said. "There was no way I wasn't going to win this one. No one wanted to pass me, but I was loving it. If they'd walked, I'd have walked. I knew I had the kick to win.
"I had the motivation, too. Two years ago I was 25 yards ahead and then Sydney Maree (of Villanova) ran me down. I ran terrible that day and I've been thinking about it ever since. I've been reminded about it home in Ireland, too, with all the Villanova people, but maybe now we're starting to show them that the best Irish runners are at Arkansas."
O'Mara missed last year's relays, when Arkansas finished third behind Georgetown and Villanova, because of an injury. Today he was preceded by Irishman Paul Donovan, 2:51.8 for 1,200; Ed Williams, 46.6 for 400, and Redwine, who was running here for the third straight year.
Ray Brown's 1:47.9 third leg, best of the day, put Virginia in position to challenge, but Vince Draddy's 4:00.8 could not overhaul O'Mara or hold off Dixon, who ran 3:57.6. Brian McNelis gave Georgetown early hope of a repeat triumph with a fine 2:52.8 opening 1,200, but it was downhill for the Hoyas from there.
The distance medley was the only major championship contested today, but there was evidence that Tennessee's Willie Gault will collect his share of watches Saturday.
Gault advanced to the finals of the 100 meters and 110-meter hurdles, besides anchoring Tennessee to berths in the finals of the 4x100, 4x200 and shuttle hurdles relays.
Arizona State and Howard battled in a heat of the 4x400-meter relay, with the Sun Devils winning by a lean as both teams were timed in 3:05.4. Their rematch Saturday should be one of the highlights of the nine-hour competition.
Howard also reached the 4x200 final in 1:23.8 and the sprint medley final in 3:20.4.
George Mason ran into a series of mishaps that left it without a chance for a title. The Patriots, 41.04 in the 4x100 and 1:24.4 in the 4x200 after a muffed second handoff, ranked seventh in each event, with only six qualifying for the finals. Mason's John Parker, despite the fifth best time in the 100 meters, 10.57, did not advance, either, as he had the misfortune to be third in the fastest heat, with only two from each section moving on.