It's a sight that has become commonplace to track and field fans at Minnesota: the men's 4x400-meter relay team leaving opponents, expectations and records in its wake, almost sneering at the clock while defying the passage of its time.
But there's another clock ticking, one Mitch Potter, Andy Wohlin, Adam Steele and Mikael Jakobsson can't outrun.
Wohlin, a two-time All-American and member of the relay team for three years, graduates in May. He will make his last appearance at the NCAA indoor championships Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark.
Even though the other three members of the team, all juniors, will return next year backed by a gaggle of young sprinters ready to step in, no one is underestimating the importance of this weekend.
"We've got a senior on the team, so this one is bigger," Steele said. "I saw the disappointment in Andy after we lost the Big Ten indoor title to Wisconsin (by two points), and this might be our best shot."
The Gophers' 4x400-meter relay team will compete entering the meet with the third-quickest time in the country and appearing in a national championship for the fourth time in two and a half years.
Tell Potter about his squad's golden chance, and he's quick to point out the failures - the relay team's three previous trips to the NCAA indoor and outdoor meets in the last two years without finishing better than fourth, and the group's inability to qualify for the NCAA outdoor championships last year.
"We haven't shown what we could have," he said. "I've never walked away from nationals satisfied."
And with one more lost weekend, the clock will have finally caught Minnesota's 4x400-meter relay.
The relay team enters with a school-record time of 3:06.03, which it ran on Feb. 15 - meaning the group hasn't needed to race hard in a month. Even the Big Ten championships were a breeze, as the squad won in a pedestrian 3:12.83.
"They absolutely have a chance to win the meet this weekend," coach Phil Lundin said. "They've been there before, and my expectations are pretty high."
Lundin, however, knows as well as anyone that the group's time must be now.
"It's kind of an aberration to get this many sprinters from Minnesota together at one time," he said. "You never know if it's going to happen again. This is their window of opportunity."
Steele, Potter and Wohlin all hail from Minnesota - not exactly known as a hotbed for sprinters.
"Phil gets e-mails all the time asking how he gets these four white guys to run so fast," Potter said. "It's stupid, but it's fun to prove everyone wrong."
When the Gophers line up in the fast heat Saturday alongside South Carolina, Louisiana State and Texas Christian, it won't just be for the skeptics.
It will also be for their captain.
"It's hard to get such a good group together," Wohlin said. "It set in a little bit after the Big Ten meet that this is my last shot at the indoor championships.
"When we get on the track Saturday, nobody will have to say anything. We all know how important this is."
And lest anyone should forget, the clock will be ticking.
Ben Goessling welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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