Winthrop's Matthew Elliott won the 800-meter race at the Asics/Winthrop Invitational on Saturday. But his dreams of qualifying for the NCAA Regionals were blown away by the strong winds that blew at the Irwin Belk Track all day.
Still, his time of 1:52.02 wasn't bad considering it was just Elliott's third outdoor 800 in five years.
Elliott, who came to Winthrop as a graduate student after running four years of cross country at Presbyterian, set a school record of 1:51.74 last week in Charlotte. He needed a time of 1:50.40 to join high jumper Jason Williams and discus thrower Ashley Howard as regional qualifiers and appeared well on his way after the first 400 meters.
"Overall it was a good race," Elliott, who also holds Winthrop's indoor mark in the 800 (1:52.48) and the outdoor 1,500 (at 3:47.93), said. "Bryant (Clifton) did a great job setting the pace on the first lap and the splits were where we wanted them.
"But the wind on the back stretch that last lap was just overpowering."
The time still looked like a possibility as the Green Sea-Floyds High School graduat headed into the last turn. But it soon became obvious that the physical education major had spent too much energy battling the wind.
"We (Elliott and coach Ben Paxton) thought this would be the day," he said. "The workouts have been great and we felt the wind would be lighter than it was."
Elliott said he would skip next week's meet at Duke, and then try to make his 1,500 qualifying time at Tennessee on April 12. After that he'll have four chances to make it in the 800.
Paxton calls the events surrounding how Elliott came to join his team one of the most amazing in his 16 years at Winthrop.
"In August, Matthew and his mother stopped by the office to see if he could run for me," Paxton said. "He had some eligibility left since Presbyterian didn't have indoor or outdoor track.
"At that time, I had no idea that he would become what he has. I thought I had killed him in the first workout in August. By November, I knew we had somebody special. He's blossomed into one of the best distance runners I've coached here at Winthrop."
That's quite an endorsement considering Paxton has had some pretty good runners, including All-American Jeff Greene and Adam Growley.
"My cross country times at Presbyterian were no where near what they were running here at Winthrop," Elliott said. "I just felt like the Lord had given me the gift to run and that coach Paxton could make me a better runner."
And, Paxton feels like Elliott will only get better.
"I love his hunger," Paxton said. "Matt just wants to run fast. His best running -- here and at the next level -- is in front of him."