North Carolina finished in 57th place at the 2021 NCAA Men's Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 11.
Represented by only five athletes, UNC was not in a position to be competitive for the team title, but still had some impressive individual performances at the championships held at the University of Oregon in Eugene.
Finishing seventh in the men's 5,000-meter race, UNC graduate student Thomas Ratcliffe set a program record and earned First Team All-American status with a time of 13 minutes, 20.88 seconds. Teammate Conor Lundy, also a graduate student, finished the 5,000-meter race in 18th place, earning a personal-best time of 13 minutes, 39.67 seconds.
Ratcliffe’s finish was the highest of any Tar Heel at the NCAA Championships since Jim Farmer earned fourth place in 1988. Ratcliffe crushed the previous UNC record of 13 minutes, 32.50 seconds, which Ralph King set in 1977, and his time qualified him for the Olympic trials.
After facing several injuries during the season, Ratcliffe was not expecting to break the program record. In a season full of ups and downs, a solid last few weeks, hard training and dedication gave him the ability to leave the championships with a personal best for himself and for the program.
“Even though he’s a guy that’s my age, he’s a role model in not only performance, but also how he approaches training and competing," Lundy said. "It’s been amazing to see him overcome hardships in the last year and perform at such a high level, and I wish him the best of luck at the Olympic trials.”
Qualifying for the Olympic Trials was not at the forefront of Ratcliffe's mind, but it was a goal he made early in his collegiate track and field career, starting from the time Chris Miltenberg recruited him to run at Stanford six years ago.
“Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about the record or the time that much,” Ratcliffe said. “I was really just trying to finish as high up in the race as possible, but it’s so special to be able to qualify for the trials.”
Ratcliffe said a lot of people helped him reach this goal, but he credits his accomplishment to Miltenberg.