Mardal’s fourth SEC title highlights Day 1 at SEC for Gators

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BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Florida thrower Thomas Mardal continued his historic senior campaign Thursday, winning his fourth-career conference title during the first day of the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

The 2021 SEC Outdoor Track and Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year claimed the first individual title of the weekend for UF after firing a series-best throw of 74.78 meters (245 feet, 4 inches).

Mardal, who was crowned SEC and NCAA champion indoors earlier this year, became the fifth thrower since 2006 to compile at least four combined SEC crowns and is tied for the fourth-most titles among SEC throwers in that span. Among UF throwers, his four conference titles rank tied for second-most in UF history, joining Stipe Zunic (2012, 2014 & 2015) and Dock Luckie (1978 & 1979). John Morton (1967, 1968, 1969) holds the record with six.

"I’ve been struggling with my hip for the last month so I wanted at least to get in at least 2 or 3 throws in today and I was able to get in all 6. Just that is a big win for me," Mardal said.

Mardal’s other three SEC championships include a hammer title in 2019 and weight throw crowns in 2020 and 2021.

"Now, I just have to make sure that my hip is all right for the next month or so and at least qualify comfortably for regionals and then do well at nationals," Mardal said. "I think it’s more about getting back to normal training and lifting, and if I can do that, then I’m sure that the distances will get better.”

On the track, redshirt freshman Joseph Fahnbulleh, who entered the championship meet with the third-best time in the nation and in the world in the 200 meters, clocked a time of 20.46 [+0.6] seconds to advance to the finals. Fahnbulleh was followed by Dedrick Vanover, who also advanced to the finals with a new personal-best time of 20.65 [+1.8] seconds.

On the distance side, redshirt sophomores Gabrielle Wilkinson and Imogen Barrett both advanced to the 800 meters finals.

Wilkinson, who arrived in Texas ranked fifth on this year’s Division I Outdoor Qualifying list, crossed in 2:05.40, while Barrett clocked a time of 2:09.27.

Meanwhile, redshirt senior Denzel Villaman also secured a spot on the finals after logging a time of 50.96 in the 400-meter hurdles.

The final rounds for the 200 meters, 800 meters and 400-meter hurdles are all scheduled for Saturday.

Out on the field, redshirt junior Jacob Stanko finished eighth in the SEC in the Javelin with a mark of 64.16 meters (210 feet, 6 inches), contributing one team point for the Gators.

Another notable performance was that of redshirt freshman Gianna Forte, who posted a new-personal best time of 36:17.23 in the 10,000 meters.

Thursday’s competition also featured the first part of the women’s heptathlon, in which Florida’s Sterling Lester sits in fifth place.

The redshirt sophomore scored 3,544 points through four-of-seven events, placing second in 200 meters (23.60 [+3.1]) and the 100-meter hurdles (13.44 [+1.5]), while finishing seventh and eighth in the shot put (1.68 meters / 5 feet, 6 inches) and high jump (11.62 meters / 38 feet, 1.50 inches), respectively.

The heptathlon resumes Friday, along with the rest action of the championships.

Friday’s coverage will be provided by SEC Network+ with a broadcast starting at 5:35 p.m. Saturday’s broadcast will begin at 6 p.m., and it will air on SEC Network.