Georgia track teams hope to send off Kyprianou in style

Georgia coach Petros Kyprianou (r, kneeling) is expected to be coaching his last meet for the Bulldogs when they compete in the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., this week. (Photo from UGA Athletics)
Georgia coach Petros Kyprianou (r, kneeling) is expected to be coaching his last meet for the Bulldogs when they compete in the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., this week. (Photo from UGA Athletics)

ATHENS -- The Georgia Bulldogs’ track teams are set to begin an emotional NCAA Outdoor Championship meet Wednesday in Eugene, Ore. The meet is expected the last as the Bulldogs’ coach for Petros Kyprianou.

Kyprianou, who led Georgia to women’s indoor and men’s outdoor championships in 2018, is in the final year of a contract that expires June 30. Several people familiar with the situation have confirmed that a new deal is not forthcoming. A coaching change will be afoot as soon as the national championship meet concludes Saturday.

In the meantime, one can be sure that both Kyprianou and the Bulldogs want to go out with a bang. And they have the potential to do that.

Georgia’s women’s team enters the meet ranked No. 4 in the nation. The Lady Bulldogs have finished in the top five in five of the past six outdoor championships, including second-place finishes in 2017-18. There was no meet last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The men are 13th. In total there are 16 UGA athletes competing, nine women in eight events (a total of 11 entries) and seven men in seven events (eight total entries).

Kyprianou declined an interview request headed into the meet.

“Many take pride in just showing up, but the Bulldogs have been very dominant and consistent the last six years, consistently contending for national titles,” Kyprianou said in a statement sent through UGA’s sports communication office. “This year is no different, even though we have a few major players either injured or unable to help us. Even with that, the Dawgs are projected to finish near top nationally, and that’s our goal and mission.”

Kyprianou’s teams are loaded, as usual, but not everybody’s suiting up this week. Sophomore sprint star Matthew Boling will compete in three events (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay) and will be joined in two of those by freshman football player Arian Smith (100m, 4-x100).

Junior decathlete Karel Tilga, who enters ranked No. 1, will start the meet for the Bulldogs in the decathlon’s 100-meter dash at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday. Both Tilga and No. 5-ranked heptathlete Asya Reynolds qualified automatically for the final round because of their national top-24 scores in the combined events.

However, No. 2-ranked Anna Hall made the decision to skip the NCAA heptathlon and qualified instead in the open high jump as she continues preparations for the Olympic Trials. Same for No. 3-ranked sophomore Kyle Garland, who also is skipping the decathlon at nationals in focusing on preparing instead for the trails. The trials also are being held in Eugene on June 18-27.

Other Bulldogs competing in Eugene the next four days are: women’s team – seniors Amber Tanner (800 meters), Jessica Drop (5000m), Kayla Smith (pole vault), Marie-Therese Obst (javelin), junior Titiana Marsh (triple/long jumps), Jasmine Moore (triple/long jumps) and Shelby Tyler (high jump); men’s team – Alencar Pereira (hammer), senior Delano Dunkley (4x100m relay), juniors Elija Godwin (400m, 4x100m relay), Tilga (decathlon), Pereira (hammer throw) and Caleb Cavanaugh (400m hurdles).

It is these very NCAA meets that are at the center of a dispute between Kyprianou and UGA’s administration. Georgia is unable to host regional or national meets because of insufficient facilities at Spec Towns Track. Since winning two national championships in 2018, he has pressed UGA officials to build a new facility at a different location. Kyprianou even sought donors, several of whom allegedly agreed to make substantial pledges.

But Georgia balked at the expense, which was expected to cost between $30-$40 million. And even if the Bulldogs did commit to such an undertaking, it would be at least five to seven years down the road. Completing the $80 million football operations addition at the Butts-Mehre complex and starting construction on $15-25 million, for which more than $11 million in private funds already have been pledged, are current priorities.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s Hayward Field recently underwent a $270 million renovation. The Ducks have hosted five of host the past six national outdoor meets, with Texas hosting the last one, in 2019.

Though he may not return to Athens himself, Kyprianou is ever focused on sending back more hardware.

“We need to continue our tradition in pursuing podium finishes and keep knocking on the door for a championship,” said Kyprianou, who succeeded Wayne Norton in 2016. “It is an Olympic year, and that usually brings a lot of fire and a plethora of the world’s best marks to this meet! This year will be no different.”

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