On This Day: Lassiter Anchors 4xMile Collegiate Record

Arkansas has produced numerous historic moments among 43 titles the Razorbacks collected at the famed Penn Relays.

On this day, April 24, 1999, Arkansas senior Seneca Lassiter became the only Razorback to be part of three winning relays in the same Penn Relays weekend.

Lassiter, who totaled seven relay titles in his Arkansas career, anchored the 4xMile to a collegiate record of 16:07.96 with a still standing fastest mile split (3:55.6) in Penn Relays history, and anchored the Razorbacks to their first ever 4×800 title.

During the 125th running of the Penn Relays in 2019, Lassiter was inducted into the Penn Relays Wall of Fame. He joined a very elite and uber-talented group of men – Larry James and Marty Liquori – who had won Penn Relays championships at all three levels – high school, college, and Olympic development.

His first victories at Penn came in the high school boys’ 1,500m, when he claimed consecutive victories in 1994 and 1995. Following his seven relay titles as a Razorback (4×800, 4×1500 [2], 4xMile [2], Distance Medley [2]), Lassiter added a victory in the 4×1500 in 2000 with the Arkansas Track Club.

During the 1999 Penn Relays, after anchoring the winning distance medley relay on Friday, Lassiter expressed what it meant to represent the Razorbacks at the Penn Relays and the goal he had for the final day when he would anchor the 4xMile followed by the 4×800.

“It’s not important for me to leave a mark,” Lassiter said in a Philadelphia Inquirer article. “It’s important to me wearing an Arkansas jersey to win every time on the track. It’s my last year and I want to do well. The most important thing is to run the relays.

“In all the time we’ve won here, we’ve never won the 4×800. That’s one of my goals – to be on the first team to do that.”

In accomplishing that goal, Lassiter saluted the crowd by raising the baton in the final turn of the 4×800, noting: “I’m never one to boast or anything, but I did that because it was my last relay race in an Arkansas jersey, and the crowd has been so good to me over the years.”

Following is an excerpt from an article by Ron Reid in the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 25, 1999.

Hogs Capture Two More Relays
Arkansas’ distance runners won their second and third championship events of the Penn Relays

Precedent, the record book and anyone who ran against Arkansas took a recurrent beating yesterday at Franklin Field before 44,639 sun-drenched spectators delighting in the 105th Penn Relays.

Arkansas was the biggest headliner, nailing two more relay titles on getaway day to tally three for the week, mostly because the Hogs had a leading man named Seneca Lassiter.

Thanks to his extraordinary anchor leg, the Razorbacks team that included Sharif Karie, Mike Power and Matt Kerr rampaged past its rivals to a record-shattering performance in the seldom-raced 4 x mile relay.

As the crowd roared its approval when it wasn’t awestricken in silence, Lassiter powered his way through the swirling Franklin Field winds and the loneliness of a long distance runner with a 50-meter lead.

He lapped two runners and completed the last mile in 3:55.6, a magnificent closing act that enabled the Razorbacks to stop the timer at 16:07.96 and break the former collegiate standard of 16:08.9 set 37 years ago by Oregon. The Hogs also wiped out the old Penn Relays record of 16:10.6 established by Villanova in 1974.

It wouldn’t have happened but for Lassiter, even though Arkansas got a 4:03.2 leg from Karie, a 4:02.2 from Power and a 4:07.0 from Kerr.

“This is by far my best meet, and that’s my fastest anchor,” said Lassiter, who ran unchallenged from his first stride to the last. “Into the wind and by myself.”

Arkansas coach John McDonnell said the wind was too much of a handicap for the team to achieve its goal of breaking 16 minutes or approaching the world best for the distance – 15:49.08 by the 1985 Irish national team of Eamonn Coghlan, Marcus O’Sullivan, Frank O’Mara and Ray Flynn. (Note: The Razorback performance ranked fifth on the all-time world list.)

Lassiter and Karie had about three hours to recover before they were due to run the 4×800 relay, but the Hogs’ anchor man was undaunted. “It won’t be hard,” he said. “I’ve done it before. We train to come back.”

And come back the Hogs did, with a 20-meter margin of victory and a 7:13.88 winning time in the 4×800 relay, a race they allowed to be competitive for just about three minutes. (Note: Arkansas’ performance was the fastest time at the Penn Relays in the past 14 years and ranked the Razorbacks seventh on the all-time collegiate list.)

Karie took the stick from Ryan Stanley and proceeded to turn a 25-meter deficit into a 10-meter lead that James Karanu extended farther, with a 1:46.3 leg that was the fastest of the race.

Lassiter anchored easily in 1:48.9 and raised his arms in triumph over the final four meters of his last Penn Relays race as a Razorback to thunderous applause. It was a historic moment, not only raising Arkansas’ total of championship relay victories to 32 but giving the Razorbacks their first win the 4×800.

“This puppy has eluded us a long time,” McDonnell said. “I’m very happy with the whole week. We have an exceptional bunch of guys.”

Lassiter was no less delighted with his third victory of the meet.

“It was my last relay as a Hog,” Lassiter said. “I wanted to go out with a bang.”

A week before the Penn Relays, running the 1,500m in 40-degree weather at the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Lassiter recorded a personal best of 3:37.23 with the then collegiate record of 3:35.30 by Sydney Maree a goal during his senior season.

“If it was 10 degrees warmer, I might have had it,” noted Lassiter, the NCAA Outdoor 1,500m champion in 1997 and 1998.

After the 1999 collegiate season, Lassiter produced a career best time of 3:33.72 as runner-up in the Nice Grand Prix on July 17 and ranked No. 7 on the all-time U.S. at the time. It broke the Arkansas school record eclipsing the 3:35.27 set in 1992 by Graham Hood, also in Nice, France.

In the 1997 NCAA 1,500m final, Lassiter defeated Kevin Sullivan of Michigan in a tight finish, 3:40.22 to 3:40.77. In 1998, Lassiter had another razor-edge national title victory over Stanford’s Gabe Jennings, 3:42.34 to 3:42.39.

Then in 1999, Lassiter just missed completing a trio of national 1,500m titles as he claimed NCAA silver in an agonizing close finish behind SMU’s Clyde Colenso, 3:47.54 to 3:47.67.

Razorbacks 4xMile history at Penn Relays
Arkansas has a total of 20 victories in the 4xMile/4×1500 event at the Penn Relays, sharing the lead with Villanova. In the history of the Penn Relays, this event has been run as a 4×1500 or 4xMile. The Razorbacks claimed eight titles when the race was returned to 4xMile starting in 1998. Among the Penn Relays all-time top 10, Arkansas has five performances ranked in the 4xMile and five ranked in the 4×1500.

Following are Arkansas’ winning 4xMile relay orders and splits at the Penn Relays.

1998 16:11.65 Phil Price 4:04.8 Matt Kerr 4:01.2 Michael Power 4:02.9 Seneca Lassiter 4:02.8
1999 16:07.96 Sharif Karie 4:03.2 Michael Power 4:02.2 Matt Kerr 4:07.0 Seneca Lassiter 3:55.6
2000 16:08.81 Murray Link 4:05.7 Sharif Karie 4:01.2 Ryan Travis 4:00.1 James Karanu 4:01.8
2002 16:09.84 Michael Taylor 4:05.5 Dan Lincoln 3:58.2 Chris Mulvaney 4:01.9 Alistair Cragg 4:04.2
2003 16:16.22 Said Ahmed 4:09.0 Dan Lincoln 3:58.4 Chris Mulvaney 4:05.5 Alistair Cragg 4:03.3
2004 16:21.74 James Hatch 4:09.7 Said Ahmed 4:03.1 Sam Vasquez 4:05.5 Alistair Cragg 4:03.4
2006 16:14.92 Colin Costello 4:08.0 Seth Summerside 4:03.2 Marc Rodrigues 4:04.3 Josphat Boit 3:59.4
2009 16:16.11 Alex McClary 4:04.9 Michael Chinchar 4:05.3 Dorian Ulrey 4:03.2 Andy McClary 4:02.7

Note: Arkansas’ 4×1500 Penn Relays info will appear in another On This Day feature.