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TSU track team prepares for Coach quot;Oquot;

Sports Editor

28 years after he became a 400 meter record holder, Charles Oliver, commonly referred to as Coach "O", is still making his presence felt at Troy State University.

Saturday will mark the fourth Coach "O" Invitational at Memorial Stadium since the university’s former track and field coach decided to become the main sponsor for the event in 1998.

Oliver was a seven-time All-American while attending TSU, becoming the head coach of the team in 1982. While at Troy State, Oliver produced 28 All-Americans, five straight Gulf South Conference titles and was a five-time Coach of the Year selection as well. He’s now at the University of Tennessee.

"He sends down prizes for the winners, watches, Coach "O" shoe bags, and T-shirts for all the competitors," said current Track and Field coach Bob Lambert. "But we have about 30 sponsors locally that really help us sponsor this event."

After Saturday, Troy State has just one more meet remaining on its schedule before hosting the 2002 A-Sun Conference Championship on April 19-20. The track team travels to Birmingham next weekend to participate in the Samford Invitational.

Lambert said he’ll get a good look at Samford on Saturday when Glen McWaters and his squad comes to Troy.

"We’re real cordial and real good friends when he comes down here and I go up there," said Lambert. "But come the conference championship, it’s just going to be war."

Michael Green, who set a school record in the Coach "O" Invitational’s 3,000 meter run last season and is currently a graduate assistant at TSU, will be running unattached and looking to break the record for a second time.

Lambert said, even with the loss of such athletes like Green, John Fesh, Tim Betts and Joe Nelson from last year’s conference championship team, he feels this year’s squad is not only loaded for the future, but ready to start collecting titles right now.

"We’re much, much better then last year," he said. "We’re 75 to 85 percent freshmen and sophomores and our women’s team has improved greatly, even though injuries have slowed us down some. But we’re hoping that most of our kids will see at least two races on Saturday."

The A-Sun Conference meet will be the last time TSU utilizes the J.H. Colley Track for competition purposes. In July, construction will begin on a new track and soccer complex near the Troy State golf course. Memorial Stadium is scheduled to be expanded following the 2002 football season and the track around Richard M. Scrushy Field will be removed.

"It’s going to be gorgeous," Lambert said about his squad’s future home. "We’re real excited about that, but right now we want to concentrate on finishing up this year."

Along with conference foe Samford, fellow A-Sun member Jacksonville State will be in Troy this weekend, along with Wallace State-Hanceville JC, West Florida, Birmingham Southern, West Alabama and several athletes from other schools as well.

The meet starts at 11 a.m. and admission is free.