**Story by Kyle Heck/photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics Media Relations**
After nearly 17 years of waiting, the University of South Carolina was finally able to once again host the SEC track and field outdoor championships, beginning on Thursday.
The Gamecocks hosted the event at brand new Sheila and Morris Cregger Track, and Thursday's opening day was an exciting one from a Gamecock perspective.
"When you bring together the SEC, you're bringing together the best athletes in America," head coach Curtis Frye said. "It's phenomenal, so to watch them get here and have the opportunity on a great, sunny day in South Carolina on one of the top facilities in America, it's a great feeling."
The action from a local perspective began early with two decathlon athletes making an impression. Markus Leemet took third in the 100m, 400m, long jump and shot put, and it helped him to a third place finish in the decathlon through five of the 10 events.
Alexandre Asselin wasn't far behind, thanks to his personal record of 1.99 in the high jump, which was second among the athletes. He currently sits sixth in the men's decathlon. Both Leemet and Asselin were impressive in the sprints.
"Our decathletes ran their best 400 meters (and) they ran their best 100 meters of their life," Frye noted.
In addition, Clarence Gallop took sixth place in the hammer throw, which gave the Gamecocks their first points of the championships.
Later in Thursday's action, Ncincilili Titi put in an impressive performance in the 200m run, winning his heat with a time of 20.29. However, he jumped out to a huge lead and relaxed, allowing Josh Washington from Arkansas to nearly catch him. Frye said that'll be a lesson they teach to Titi and the other South Carolina athletes.
"You can never take anyone for granted in the SEC," Frye said. "When you do, the sharks bite."
Despite the cruise control at the end of the heat, Titi was pleased with his time. His personal best last season in the 200m was 20.68, and he's shaved more than half a second off that time this year. That time now sits at 20.14, the best mark in the country for a 200m run.
"It happens, but it's very rare to go from year to year and drop half a second," Titi said.
Tyler Brockington won her heat in the 400m hurdles to punch a ticket to Saturday's final. She edged out Kentucky's Kiah Seymour, the second-place finisher in last year's NCAA Championships, by six one-hundredths of a second. Brockington raced against Seymour before she transferred to Kentucky, and was humbled to be able to defeat a top-notch hurdler.
"She's a really good competitor," Brockington said. "It's nice to be able to be a part of that and race her again (Saturday). I love racing Kiah."
Frye was pleased with Brockington, but as was the case with Titi, he believed she could've finished her run a little better. But regardless, both runners are moving on to try and win a conference title on Saturday.
"She was running for her life the last five meters because she was getting overtaken," Frye said. "But at least she has that kind of energy and training where you can run late in the race like that. I'm impressed with the fact that she finished strong."
There was a decent crowd for Thursday's action, but Frye is hoping even more people come out for the Friday and Saturday action. There are only so many opportunities you receive to watch this many world-class athletes in one place. It's almost like having the Olympics in your backyard.
"I think this opportunity is a bucket list item for our sports fans," Frye said. "I hope that they come out and support this kind of athlete because in a lifetime you may never get to see an Olympian or future Olympian. We try to bring that type of athlete to this region.
"We have the best facility in the nation, so that's amazing," Brockington added. "I'm proud of the SEC. This is the national meet, right in your backyard. It pushes you to want to be a better athlete."
Friday's action gets underway at 11 a.m. with the women's javelin throw final.