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Cancellation of NCAA track championships ‘heartbreaking’ to UNM

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Hundreds of student-athletes – 575 to be exact – remain in Albuquerque after the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships were shut down on Thursday because of the threat of COVID-19, University of New Mexico coach Joe Franklin said.

The meet featuring the nation’s best collegiate athletes was to take place Friday and Saturday at the Albuquerque Convention Center, where 94 women’s teams and 89 men’s squads were to be represented.

Weini Kelati, a standout distance runner for the Lobos, was a championship contender set to compete in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter races.

New Mexico junior Weini Kelati, shown last November at the NCAA cross country championships in Terre Haute, Ind., is missing an opportunity to win a national title because of the cancellation of the national indoor meet, which was to be held in Albuquerque. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

“It’s difficult to put into words, but this is heartbreaking for all,” Kelati said in a text relayed by her coach. “Hearts are broken, hopes are down, but we will get through this together! I hope everyone has safe travels. Our well-being and health is most important and for all to be safe.”

The NCAA on Thursday canceled all winter and spring sports championships, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, because of the coronavirus.

UNM had six competitors in the indoor track meet, as well as alternates Lauren Chafins, Lydia Hallam and Gracelyn Larkin.

Emily Martin was also competing in the 5,000-meter race, and UNM had a distance medley relay team consisting of Adva Cohen, Elise Thorner, Abigali Bendle and Hanna Nuttall.

“All you can do is talk to them and be supportive,” Franklin said. “To say that anyone has been in their shoes, can’t. We are walking in new territory. I can’t comprehend how they feel. It’s new.”

Franklin said he wasn’t surprised when the cancellation news came.

“I thought the hourglass was emptying,” he said. “You could just see it coming and there was nothing you could do.”

Franklin said he also felt some frustration as a coach who had prepared his athletes. He had also worked hard with several others to prepare for the meet. In addition, Frankin made appearances on TV and radio to promote the event.

“The circus train has stopped,” he said. “I felt like P.T. Barnum for a while there.”

Franklin and his staff wanted to help put on a meet that would be “memorable and good for the state and the University of New Mexico,” the UNM coach said.

“We tell our athletes and we do the same, to go all in or not try at all,” Franklin said. “The university went all in.”

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