Track stars O'Brien and Akbar achieve All-American status

Seniors Sean O'Brien and Samia Akbar committed to AU Track before AU Track existed. Members of Coach Matt Centrowitz's first recruiting class in 1999, Akbar and O'Brien came to AU because they had the opportunity to build a program.

But neither senior could have predicted just how far they would progress individually in four years, nor could they have predicted how quickly they would lead AU Track to notoriety.

Akbar achieved All-American status for the first time in her career at the NCAA National Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif. by finishing ninth in the women's 10,000-meter final on June 12. Her time of 33:38.55 broke her own school record of 34:17.48, which she set in April at the Penn Relays, and made her the first women's track All-American in AU history. Amazingly, those two races were the only times she'd competed at 10,000-meter in her career.

Akbar, who's spent her four years at AU exceeding expectations, did it again, surpassing her 16th seed by seven places. And though perhaps Centrowitz should have expected it by now, Akbar surprised even her own coach in the final race of her collegiate career.

"Her [pre-race] workouts indicated she'd improve her seed, but it was the first time she'd run at nationals," said Centrowitz. "No, I have to admit I didn't think she'd finish among the top eight Americans," to qualify as an All-American.

O'Brien, while perhaps not as surprising, was equally impressive two days later, achieving All-American status in the 1500-meter for the third time in his career. His 3:41.89 performance in the final was the second-best time ever, and more impressively, his fourth place finish was his best ever NCAA finish by six spots.

While it was not O'Brien's fastest time, it was equally impressive considering he had to run a qualifying heat two days earlier. He was seeded 11th for the final.

"His best race was in a one race situation," said Centrowitz. "Here, he had to run a 3:44 two days before the final."

O'Brien also is the first three-time All-American in AU history in any sport. And though he may have run his final collegiate race, his season goes on to even bigger meets. This past weekend, he ran in the U.S. National Track and Field Championships. And a summer racing abroad may lie ahead for O'Brien as well.

"Sometimes you get rolling, and sometimes you hit a wall," Centrowitz said, "but right now Sean is still getting better every day."

Both O'Brien and Akbar will be attending graduate school at AU in the fall and will be continuing to train under Centrowitz. And while the future looms large for both, Centrowitz can't help but express his appreciation to the pair for helping to establish AU Track as a nationally recognized Track and Field program in just four short years.

"I was very lucky to start here with two dedicated athletes," said Centrowitz. "Neither one ever complained, neither one ever missed a workout. They excelled both athletically and academically, and on race day, I wanted to help achieve the mark that they deserve, and leave their mark on AU track and field."

Next for the pair: Olympic Trials in 2004, which "will be paramount to their professional futures," according to Centrowitz. And though perhaps neither will be viewed as favored contenders, both O'Brien and Akbar have experience in surpassing expectations.

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