Track star becomes third two-time winner

Updated: June 23, 2004, 4:05 PM ET
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas track star Alistair Cragg was named the Southeastern Conference's male athlete of the year Wednesday, becoming the third two-time winner of the award.

Cragg, a seven-time NCAA champion, joined Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel and LSU basketball star Shaquille O'Neal as the only two-time winners of the award.

Cragg won the award over athletes such as Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning, the top pick in the NFL draft, South Carolina catcher Landon Powell, a first-round draft pick by the Oakland A's, and SEC basketball player of the year Lawrence Roberts from Mississippi State.

"It's a strange feeling. It puts me a position where I know I have achieved something great," Cragg said. "But it's hard for me to realize what. I cannot judge my competition against my own abilities until I look at what they've done. With the kind of names that were nominated for this award, it's one of the best achievements I've had in my career."

Cragg, who will run the 5,000 meters for Ireland at the Olympics in Athens, Greece, won five league championships this year.

"It's very deserving," Arkansas track coach John McDonnell said. "He's had an amazing career at the University of Arkansas and this is a great way to cap it off. The way he performed all year speaks for itself. It's nice that other people have recognized his accomplishments and he has joined an elite group of athletes."

The Roy F. Kramer Male Athlete of the Year award is voted on by the league's athletic directors. Alabama gymnast Jeana Rice won female athlete of the year honors.

"Alistair and Jeana are wonderful representatives for their universities and this conference," SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said. "They have competed at the highest level and through their hard work, dedication and commitment have shown the true meaning of being a student-athlete."

Besides his seven NCAA titles, Cragg is a 14-time All-American, nine-time SEC champion and 18-time All-SEC selection.

The only Arkansas winners of the male award are Cragg and basketball player Corliss Williamson, who led the Razorbacks to the 1994 national championship.

At the SEC Outdoor Championships, Cragg scored 30 points to earn the Commissioner's Trophy and helped lead the Hogs to the conference title. He won the 10,000, 5,000 and 1,500 meters, becoming the first athlete in Arkansas and league history to claim all three titles in the same year.

At the Cardinal Invitational Cragg recorded a then world-leading 5,000-meter time of 13:16.98 for top honors. His time broke his own school record and guaranteed him a spot on Ireland's Olympic team, making him the Razorbacks' 23rd Olympian.

He capped his season by winning the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Championships, setting a school record for NCAA titles won (seven) and points scored by a runner in NCAA meets (86).

At the SEC Indoor Championships, he successfully defended his 3,000-meter title and he also captured the 5K crown, shattering a 14-year-old SEC championship meet record at 13:42.95. He tallied 20 points for Arkansas and shared the Commissioner's Trophy with teammate Tyson Gay and Auburn's Leevan Sands.

At the NCAA Indoor Championships, he earned 20 points when he successfully defended his 3,000 and 5,000-meter titles.

Cragg garnered several individual accolades for his final collegiate Indoor season, including the United States Track Coaches Association's (USTCA) South Central Regional Athlete of the Year and Male Indoor Track Athlete of the Year. He was also named the SEC Indoor Track Athlete of the Year.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press