Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Remembering Steve Morgan

TigerBlog's longtime friend Rich Fisher used to refer to himself as the George Bailey of Mercer County. 

George Bailey. As in "It's A Wonderful Life," the great Christmas movie. George, played by Princeton alum Jimmy Stewart, only wants to get out of Bedford Falls, only he never does. In the end, he realizes he actually has a wonderful life.

Fish, as everyone calls him, has written for basically every newspaper in Mercer County in his time. He grew up here. He actually left for college (Point Park), but he's back ever since. There isn't a sporting event played on any level in Mercer County that Fish hasn't covered at some point, including a lot of them at Princeton.

TB remembers a story that Fish wrote one time about his experience as a fan at the Kentucky Derby. Or was it the Indy 500?

Hmm. TB texted Fish, who confirmed that it was in fact the Kentucky Derby. The 1986 Kentucky Derby, to be exact. The winner was Ferdinand, who didn't win the Triple Crown but who did do something that has to be fairly rare: He won the Derby, finished second in the Preakness and finished third in the Belmont.

TB doesn't remember Ferdinand. He does remember that the story Fish wrote about the ’86 Derby and was great. It was all about what it was like to be there and experience it first hand from the infield. 

TB knows quite a few people who have gone, and the common denominator is that it's considered a must. There are, it appears, very few experiences in sports that can compare to being at Churchill Downs for the Derby.

TB was in Louisville once. It was for the NIT in 2002, when Princeton fell to Louisville. He never made it to the fabled racetrack.

The Kentucky Derby went off Saturday for the 147th straight year. A year ago, it was held in September due to COVID. 

This time, it was back to its usual spot, on the first Saturday in May. The winner was a horse named Medina Spirit. 

TB likes to watch the Derby. Hey, it only takes two minutes. He wouldn't know the first thing about how to bet on it. 

Would he want to go? Sure. Maybe one day. It's not the sporting event he'd most like to attend - that would be the World Cup final, or maybe the Olympics.

Meanwhile, back in 1986, Princeton's Steve Morgan ran a 20.69 200-meter dash at the IC4A championships to set a school record. That record still stands to this day.

It came pretty close to going away this past weekend at the Fast Times Before Finals, when sophomore Ibrahim Ayorinde ran a 20.88 to win the 200. Freshman Daniel Duncan came in second in the 200, with a time of 21.06. 

Nobody at Princeton has ever run the 200 faster than Ayorinde other than Morgan. Nobody has run it faster than Duncan other than Morgan and Ayorinde. That's a pretty impressive effort in the meet Saturday.

Ayorinde, by the way, was a member of the Canadian U-18 national team. Duncan, for his part, was the second-fastest New Jersey high school sprinter in both the 100 and 200, not to mention the valedictorian of North Plainfield High School.

Of course, it's always good to remember how dominant Morgan was in his time at Princeton. TigerBlog looked it up: Morgan was the 1984, 1986 and 1987 Heps 100 champ and the 1985, 1986 and 1987 Heps 200 champ. His time of 20.72 in the 1987 Heps is still the Ivy League record. 

He remains one of only two runners in Ivy Heps history to win the 100 and 200 three times (Yale's Donald Martin, 1969-71, was the other). His 10.36 in the 100 at the 1987 Heps also remains the school record.

Morgan came to Princeton from Jamaica, and he barely missed qualifying for the 1988 Jamaican Olympic team. He was a chemical engineering major, and he went on to a career in software design, at a time when huge strides were being made in technology that formed the foundation of what exists today.

Unfortunately, TigerBlog learned about Morgan's post-Princeton career from Morgan's obituary. He passed away on Dec. 29, 2010, and he was buried in his home country.

Steve Morgan remains one of the greatest track and field athletes Princeton has ever known. His records remain untouched nearly 35 years since he set them. 

Sadly, his story does not have a happy ending.

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