Here are 5 things to watch for the upcoming NCAA Outdoor Nationals.

1. 4×400 showdown of the century (men’s & women’s)
• If the indoor Nationals were any indication of what we should expect for the outdoor championships, we are in for a real treat. On the women’s side, the indoor team title came down to the 4×400 relay and it was a race for the ages, with Phyllis Francis edging Ashley Spencer at the tape by .02 of a second. The two teams look to be setting up for a rematch, with Texas having the top time in the NCAA this season, but never underestimate the power of “Hayward Magic,” and a veteran relay with 3 seniors leading the way for the Ducks. The collegiate record of 3:23.75 set back in 2004 by Texas is one record I would bet will be challenged.
• On the men’s side, Florida is the unanimous favorite heading into Eugene – having already broken the 3-minute barrier this season at the Florida Relays. A relay with all underclassmen is poised to take a shot at the collegiate record of 2:59.59 set back in 2005 by LSU, but Texas A&M will have something to say about that. The Aggies have been running at sub-maximal strength with the injury to Aldrich Bailey for most of the season. With Bailey back in the line up, the Aggies have 4-quarter milers that have all broken 46.0 seconds in the open 400m this season. The Gators also have four 400m runners that have broken 46.0 seconds in the open 400m – setting up for the final event of the 2014 NCAA nationals to be something special.

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2. 400m depth like none other
• Any great team in any sport has great depth, whether it’s overall depth or at a specific position or event. In Eugene, there are a few teams that have tremendous depth in the 400m and 400m hurdles. In the 400m, the state of Texas has depth enough to make your head spin. On the women’s side, the Longhorns of Texas look to score BIG points with four quarter-milers competing. The dynamic quartet of Spencer, Okolo, Nelson, and Baisden are all legitimate contenders to make the podium, and Ashley Spencer looks to continue her undefeated run at outdoor Nationals – having won the past two outdoor national championships. She’ll face her biggest competition from her teammate Courtney Okolo, who recently set the collegiate record in the 400m at Big 12s.
• On the men’s side, the Aggies of Texas A&M look to flex their 400m muscle with four quarter-milers competing in the open 400m. All four have broken the 46.0 barrier this outdoor season and all are ranked in the top 16 coming into the national meet (based off of the regional-meet results). If the Aggies have aspirations of winning the team title, they will need to have their 400m aces pull down big points in this event.
• The men’s 400m hurdle race is one that seems to be slipping under the radar. The superstars like a Jeshua Anderson or Reggie Wyatt will not be in the race, and based off of the regional results – this race is wide open! Michael Stigler, Kansas, looks to be the favorite based on his performances earlier this season, but there is a quartet of Huskers from Nebraska that look to shake up the podium race in Eugene. All four are ranked in the top 10 (again, based on regional results), with Big 10 Champion Miles Ukoama having the top time coming into Eugene. 400m hurdles is arguably the toughest race in the sport, and so most schools are lucky to have two 400m hurdlers in competition. The Huskers aren’t considered to be a team title contender, but look to show their 400m-hurdle dominance in Eugene.

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3. Oregon’s Big 4
• No other program in the NCAA has as storied of a tradition in the long distance events than the U of Oregon. From the days of Jim Grelle and Steve Prefontaine to more recently Galen Rupp, the Ducks have had no shortage of distance talent grace the track of Hayward Field, but I would say that the “Big 4″ that the Ducks are sending to nationals might be the best overall distance group that Oregon has had in decades. Freshman Edward Cheserak is leading the men of Oregon, going for the distance double in both the 5K and 10K. Cheserak is undefeated in national championships this season – winning the NCAA cross country championships this fall, and winning both the indoor 3K and 5K in Albuquerque in March. Logic would say that Cheserak would continue his winning ways this outdoor season and will score big team points for the Ducks. Eric Jenkins, Parker Stinson, Trevor Dunbar round out the Big 4 for Oregon. All three are legitimate place contenders in the 5K, and Parker Stinson, former 2x USA Junior National Champion in the 10K, looks to double up his points by scoring in the 10K as well. Not included in the distance Big 4 for the Ducks is their 1500m ace, Mac Fleet – the defending 1500m NCAA champion. The Ducks look to be in a close team battle with Florida and Texas A&M, and the Big 4 will need to come through with big team points in order for the Ducks to take the team title.

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4. no Sami Spencer
• Arguably the most talented athlete in NCAA track and field will be watching from the comfort of her home. Sami Spencer, Nebraska Omaha, has been the talk of the combined-event community this 2014 season. Due to restrictions by the NCAA for UNO transitioning from DII to DI – Sami Spencer is not eligible to compete at the NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene. To say this heptathlete is talented is a severe understatement. At her indoor conference meet (Summit League), she scored 60 points for the team BY HERSELF!! Sami also had the NCAA’s top mark in the indoor pentathlon heading into the indoor nationals (finished top three in the rankings after indoor nationals). She followed up her indoor season by breaking the 6000pt-barrier in the heptathlon at Mt. Sac, and scored 51 points by herself at the outdoor conference track meet (not including the two relays she ran as well). It’s just a shame that the most versatile and accomplished athletes in the NCAA cannot compete for a national championship due a technicality that is out of her control.

images5. Workhorse of the meet: Jenna Prandini
• For most athletes, competing in just one event at the national meet is reason to celebrate. For Jenna Prandini – she calls that her warm-up! The sophomore from Oregon will be taking on a daunting four open events (100m, 200m, 4x100m, Long Jump), and she is ranked in the top 4 in all four of those events. A potential six races and six jumps will surely have Jenna becoming best friends with the ice tub this outdoor nationals. Kind of the forgotten pawn in the chess-match for the team title between Oregon, Texas, and Texas A&M, Jenna Prandini will likely be the difference-maker if she can pull down big points in all four events.

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With my 15-year competitive track and field career coming to an end this past weekend, I had some time to reflect on what the sport has done to help shape my life and who I am as a person. Enjoy!

 

 “Running, one might say, is an absurd pastime in which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning in the kind of running you do, then maybe you’ll find meaning in another absurd pastime…Life”

The previous quote from the movie, Without Limits, has always stuck with me ever since I watched that inspiring film during my teenage years.While there are very few track and field movies made in comparison to the other movies out on the market, it is a movie that conveys a great message to people from all different backgrounds: explore the limits of your talents and always try to push those limits. To some people, track and field is a very obscure sport in which we watch people run in circles. Track and field in my opinion, however, is the greatest measure of human talent and the limits of the human body that we can observe and test as human beings. I understand that it’s very difficult for most people to get excited about track and field and to follow its happenings in times other than the Olympics, but track and field has been at the core foundation of who I am as a human being ever since I got involved in the sport as a 7-year-old. Track and field has provided me with some of the most unforgettable moments throughout my life, and has given me a chance to form lifelong friendships with people that I’ve met along the way. I owe the sport of track and field a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay and I hope to share my passion and drive for the sport with others in the years to come. 

 

The sport of track and field has allowed me to travel all over the country, meet some of the most influential athletes, coaches, and people in the business, and produced opportunities to enhance my personal growth as a person. 

For many people, the means to travel and explore the world around them is an essential focus during their lives. Whether the travel is for personal pleasure, business-focused, or family oriented, people unconsciously crave the ability to experience places and areas other than home and their travels are a focal talking point during conversation. I was fortunate enough to experience the world around me through track and field. The beauty of the sport is that track meets happen in every nook and cranny of the world. From the low-key summer club meets to the Olympics, there is a meet for all ages and ability levels. Starting at the young age of 7, I experienced my first track meet as a competitor in a small USATF summer club meet in Ames, Iowa. From that point on, the number of competitions and the locations of those meets would take days to rattle off. I have been privileged to travel across Iowa, around the midwest, and throughout the nation. I have competed in and watched track meets in places ranging from Seattle to Los Angeles to Miami to Buffalo and everywhere in between. I have competed in over 20 states and watched track meets in over 30. Track and field has allowed me to see a variety of diverse areas of the USA, and has given me the privilege to interact with various groups of people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The travel opportunities that track and field has provided throughout my life is something that has helped shape how I interact with people and broadened my cultural horizon.

This ability to interact with different individuals and make numerous friends/acquaintances around the USA has led me to be able to meet some of the most accomplished and influential coaches and athletes in the business. Starting at the age of seven, I have participated in more track meets than I care to even know, but my first national track meet at the age of nine is when I can trace back this intertwining social network of notable athletes that I got the privilege to meet and compete against. The 2001 USATF Junior Olympic National meet in Sacramento was where I won my first national medal in the bantam boys turbo javelin. This was a special year because the turbo javelin had just become a sanctioned event by USATF and was for the first time being contested at a national meet. I was fortunate enough to take 4th place that year, competing along side the eventual/current high school record holder in the javelin, Sam Crouser, and 2009 Pan Am Junior competitor in the discus, Matt Kosecki. I still to this day keep in contact with both – even though it’s been 13 years since that hot summer day in Sacramento. I was honored to receive my medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympic bronze- medal decathlete Chris Huffins. This was just the start of a long list of world class coaches and athletes that I have had the privilege to meet, compete against, and learn from. From receiving instruction from some track and field greats such as Kim Carson, Danny Harris, and my collegiate coach Dan Steele – to competing against high school national record holders like Sam and Ryan Crouser, Gunnar Nixon, and Curtis Beach, I have been able to develop some great friendships with not only those individuals listed above, but many many others that have helped shape my track career, helped shape who I am as a person, and expand my social network across the United States.

I am often classified as a track “geek” for several reasons. One, I am more passionate about the sport of track and field than any human ever should be (please, I review and memorize the world records for the men and women once a week for fun). Second, my ability to memorize and retain track and field results and statistics from previous meets and years makes most people question if I do anything else with my free time. Not only do I have the ability to recall important historical statistics like world record or Olympic results, but also have a lot of my teammates/peer’s personal records and place finishes at important meets memorized. During my collegiate career while at the University of Northern Iowa, I was often approached ~2-3 times a week regarding some sort of track statistics. “What place did team X finish at the Drake Relays?” “What is person Y’s best in the 400m?”  Stats that 99.9% of people wouldn’t remember are stats I can usually recall fairly quickly; my mother often refers to me as the idiot-savant of track and field. This wealth of knowledge and memory skill is what helped me develop my journalism abilities and broadcasting skills for the sport of track and field. I am able to use the statistical memory bank of track knowledge to my advantage to enhance the viewing experience and provide relevant information to the audience watching the meet. Other individuals have noticed m extensive track knowledge and broadcasting abilities – leading to an unforgettable experience at the 2014 Drake Relays. I was fortunate enough to be the in-field announcer during the relays; getting a chance to do a live interview with the Drake champions in each event. Super stars like LaShawn Merritt and Brianna Rollins that I only have read about and watched on television were not having a conversation with me on stage. That personal connection with those high profile athletes would not have happened had it not been for a few friends and my social network which lead the director of the Drake Relays to approach me and offer up the position.

I may never have been inspired to go into my future profession of physical therapy had it not been for track & field. As with any sport, almost every athlete will face some sort of injury or physical adversity that prevents them from competing at their best. Some injuries are very short term and only require a bag of ice and a positive attitude to recover, while some injuries are far more chronic and require an athlete to seek more professional help. Genetically, I was cursed with what some call “flat feet.” Ideally, there should be a few centimeters of space between the ground and the inside of your foot. For me, I have none. While this is by no means a reason to not exercise, my flat feet has indirectly lead to a handful for short-term and long-term injuries that made me seek out the attention of a physical therapist to help manage and correct some of my deficiencies. My first therapist I came into contract with in high school was one of the most influential people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Her infectious smile and extensive knowledge of the human body and sports injuries made it rather enjoyable to attend my therapy sessions. She was not the cure-all to my injuries, but she was a huge contributing factor to keeping me functional during my injured period and was one key to my success during my high school career. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, she would be an inspiration to me in becoming a physical therapist. Physical therapy’s core principle is about helping someone get back to the full function they had before their injury. This concept of wanting to help people get back on their feet and achieve their goals really appeals to my “teaching” brain. With my dad being a former high school science teacher and now a pediatric physician, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it came to figuring out my passions in life. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always had a burning desire to help and teach other people. I was fortunate to find a great profession in physical therapy that would allow me to be a teacher and educate my patients on proper injury rehabilitation and prevention. Growing up around the sport of track & field, I found great pleasure in being able to coach athletes of all ages to help improve their performance and see them succeed; even if it was just giving my two-cents worth on a certain technique or race strategy that the athlete should try. Being able to make a difference, big or small, in someone’s athletic performance will always bring a smile to my face. Track & field has provided and will continue to provide an opportunity to satisfy my teaching brain and help any future athletes I work with to achieve their athletic goals.

I have been asked on several occasions what has been the greatest track & field moment I have seen or been apart of. I’ve watched and competed in numerous regional and national competitions and view numerous collegiate and professional national meets as a spectator, I have seen some of the most mind-blowing performances in USA track and field history and had the pleasure to witness some of the all-time great athletes compete and observe their incredible skill. There certainly is no shortage of terrific performances that I have had the pleasure of seeing first-hand, but the absolute jaw-dropping moment that I will remember for the rest of my life was Ashton Eaton’s world record performance in the decathlon at the 2012 USA Olympic Trials in Eugene. The fact that it was a world record and that it was a record set in my respective discipline are obvious reasons why I enjoyed the moment. The fact that Ashton was able to set the record on his home track, and just 2 hours from his hometown was special. Being at the Olympic Trials made it even more special; it wasn’t just some Podunk meet. The fact that he broke the record in the most unideal conditions with driving rain, freezing temperatures, and unforgiving winds is enough to warrant a grand applause. But the bone-chilling moment was during the 1500m run when the damp, wet conditions and cloudy skies suddenly halted for that short time frame when Ashton would run his 1500m run – albeit he had to run a personal best by two seconds to break the elusive record. With 20,000+ track fans standing on their feet, imposing their will to help get Ashton the world record and the thunderous eruption of emotion from the crowd when Ashton finally crossed the line and saw he broke the record was that “goose-bump” moment in life I will take to my grave. Being one of the select few that was able to watch all 10 events of Ashton’s decathlon in person and be a part of such a historical moment in the sport’s history is something I can look back on in 20 years and say, “I was there when Ashton broke that world record.”

While there are many reasons track and field benefited my life and helped shape who I am as a person, the most important benefit to me is the effect track and field has on my family and how the sport is the common tie that binds my family together. Some families take frequent vacations together, some are bound together through tragic or unfortunate events; my family shares our common bond through track and field. My sister and I grew up with the USATF summer club system, with both of us starting at the ripe age of 7 years old. My dad was involved in track and field with coaching both my sister and I in all the events we chose to participate in, officiating countless USATF meets and high school meets, and being the president of USATF Iowa association over the last decade. My mother jumped on the bandwagon when my sister and I got involved and found a passion in officiating. While my track career has seen some great performances and moments, it’s very special to me that I got to experience and share those moments with the ones closest to me and this has created a deeper meaning to the sport of track that was discussed at the beginning of this piece. Track and field has provided a tool for my parents to instill a sense of discipline and respect in me, and has given them a platform to teach valuable life lessons about commitment and dedication in everything I do in life. I would not be the same person I am today had it not been for my parents and the sport of track and field.

I thank my parents everyday for encouraging me to try out the shot put that cloudy day in May. Knowing myself, I’m sure I through a fit and tried every possible scenerio to get out of throwing. 17 feet and a 6th place ribbon later, the rest is history. I would just like to say “Thank you” to the sport of track and field for the impact it has made on my life over the past 15 years and the future years to come.

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Now that the NCAA indoor season has come to a close and TrackTown USA will now be called TitleTown USA – with both the men’s and women’s teams winning the team title after coming into the meets as underdogs – let’s look back at what transpired over those two days in Albuquerque.

  •  Distance triple derailed

There were many great story lines coming into the weekend in Albuquerque but none were more talked about than the potential for a distance three-peat by the seemingly invincible Lawi Lalang. A feat that had never been accomplished before seemed like a very real possibility for the distance phenom from Arizona. The NCAA leader in the mile, 3k, and the collegiate record holder in the indoor 5K started off the meet with a visually easy mile prelim, qualifying him for Saturday’s final. Then the much anticipated matchup between Lawi and Oregon freshman sensation Edward Cheserak – the 2013 NCAA cross country champion (a race in which he did not get to face Lawi in) in the men’s 5000m. This much anticipated matchup lived up to the hype with the two Kenyan athletes (Edward was Kenyan born and American raised) duking it out over the 25-lap race. What most people were not prepared for (especially Lawi) was the ferocious kick that Edward unleashed with 300 meters to go. The final kick over the last 300 meters looked comparable to a young Bernard Lagat (at 39yo, Bernard still has one of the most deadly kicks in the business). The magical distance 3-peat was nixed before it even started and a chance at history blew right past Lawi during that last 300 meters. To Lawi’s credit, he fought back in the mile final on Saturday but was unable to out-kick UTEP’s Anthony Rotich over the last 50 meters and ended up with his second runner-up finish of the weekend. Not surprisingly, Lawi decided to scratch the 3000 meter final – most likely cutting his “losses” and refocusing for outdoors. In support of Lawi, going for the distance triple was a huge task to accomplish in itself, but to go for the triple at altitude was like asking someone to climb Mt. Everest. This weekend takes away nothing from Lawi’s talent or his previous accomplishments but just shows how difficult a task running the distance triple can be.

  • Women’s team title was a battle for the ages

Coming into the weekend, the Florida women were the newly appointed #1 team in the nation by the USTFCCCA rankings, winners of the SEC team title just a week before, and the favorites for the team title in Albuquerque. With tremendous depth in the sprints and a well-rounded team that included point scorers in the jumps, throws, distance, and multi-events, the Florida women were almost a shoe-in for the team title assuming everything went according to plan!! The Texas and Oregon women both had outside shots to take home the trophy but they had to have everything go right and get a little bit of help from other teams to place ahead of Florida in events that Texas and/or Oregon were not contesting in. Sure enough, nothing goes as planned in track and field and you can always throw the form charts out the window in championship meets. All three teams had their elite athletes perform up to their standards: Laura Roesler won the 800m, and Florida and Texas women qualified multiple athletes in the sprint events. As with any scored meet, it’s not about the top tier athletes scoring big points but about those athletes that score those “scrap” points in 6th, 7th, and 8th place. Athletes like Jenna Prandini and Taylor Burke helped put their teams in position to be in contention once the 4×400 started. The roads were not all smooth sailing for each team. Each of the three teams had major points left on the board due to an athlete that expected to score and failed to reach the podium. Oregon’s Sasha Wallace, American junior record holder in the 60H, fell on the 4th hurdle and DNF. Florida’s Cierra Brewer, projected to contend for the triple jump title, failed to even make the finals, and Texas women didn’t capitalize on their sprinting depth. To Texas’ credit though, they made the most out of their entries in the meet. The end of the meet for the team title came down to a movie-scripted ending. Going into the 4×400 meter relay Texas, Oregon, and Florida all had a shot to win the team title – the winner of the relay would be the winner of the team title. Coincidently, those three teams had the top three times in the NCAA. You could not have scripted the plot any better. During the 4×400, Florida had some struggles early on and were out of the picture by the third leg; another reason why you always throw out the form charts once the race begins. Texas had taken the lead from the gun with a great lead off with the experienced senior Brianna Nelson – a 2010 World Junior team member. As the race went on, Oregon and Texas maintained approximately 5 meters difference until the final leg. Any track fan knew that a battle between Ashley Spencer, a 2013 NCAA outdoor champion and World Championship member, verses Phyllis Francis, a national champion on previous 4x400m relays and newly crowned American Record holder in the indoor 400m, would be a relay finish for the ages. Through 350m of the race, it looked like Ashley Spencer had channeled that disappointing second-place finish in the open 400m into a rage-infested anchor leg that Phyllis Francis would not be able to overcome. Coming off the final turn, Phyllis validated why she was the national champion in the 400m by making up the difference and nipping Spencer at the tape by two one-hundredths of a second. Not only did the lady Ducks break the Collegiate record and come within two tenths of a second of the American record, they also clinched the team title for the Ducks for the 5th consecutive year.

  • Multi-events stealing the show

In the world of multi-events, the competition and performances usually fly under the radar. The unsung heroes of any team are the heptathletes and decathletes, and the athletes that competed in Albuquerque put up scores that were the most competitive in recent memory. In the men’s heptathlon, the competition between Curtis Beach, Kevin Lazas, and Jay Cato was set up to be the most unreal heptathlon ever with all three athletes having extra incentive to perform at their best. Curtis Beach was competing in his hometown where he set the national record books ablaze while attending Albuquerque. Kevin was competing with a heavy heart after losing his brother in an accident, and Jay was on the recovery mend after rupturing his achilles 9 months ago & losing a national title last year to Lazas by the slimmest of margins. The duel between the 3 athletes never materialized in the end. Jay Cato had a heel problem and was unable to make a bar in the high jump. Kevin had a great meet but was unable to put enough distance between himself and Curtis before the 1000m run – Curtis’ ace-in-the-hole being that Curtis is the “world record” holder in the heptathlon 1000m. Curtis finished with 6190pts, a personal best, and closed out his collegiate career indoors with a national championship in the town where he grew up.

In the women’s pentathlon, there was some controversy going into the pentathlon before the event even started. Sami Spencer, Nebraska Omaha, was the national leader in the pentathlon going into the meet but was unable to compete due to NCAA restrictions on Nebraska Omaha as they transition from division II to division I. The two other athletes that had the spotlight on them were Georgia freshman Kendell Williams (high school national record holder in the indoor pentathlon and outdoor heptathlon, as well as the American Junior Record holder in the pentathlon) and junior Erica Bouggard from Mississippi St (the defending NCAA indoor champion and 2013 World heptathlon competitor in Moscow). Those two athletes were far above the rest of the field in terms of their talent and credentials and they did not disappoint. Erica Bouggard was coming off an All-American performance from the previous day in the open long jump competition, and did her best to stay as close to Kendell as possible, but the day belonged to Kendell in every fashion. The freshman opened up the day with a personal best in the hurdles. She jumped a massive PR with a height of 6’2, a height that would have won the open high jump, and a slew of PR’s in the remaining three events would leave Kendell standing atop the podium as the NCAA national champion with a new American Junior record but more importantly a new NCAA national record and World Junior record. This was a feat that most believed she would eventually reach before she was graduated but certainly not this early in her career. One thing is for certain — the future looks very bright for Kendell Williams, and she will help bring the USA back to the days of Jackie Joyner Kearse.

This topic is one that has been burning in my mind ever since I came into the college ranks my freshman year (Fall 2010) and one that I feel needs to be addressed.

It is no secret that younger generations (including mine) have become more attached to social media and technology. This addiction to the World Wide Web and Candy Crush has given the illusion that the younger generations are “lazy”; lacking the hard work and dedication that generations like the baby boomers pride themselves on. I feel this apathetic mentality has even seeped into the track and field world, and has really gotten under my skin over the past few years. We as a track & field community have seem to replace the core value of our sport with a very superficial mentality of what spikes look cool, what gear to wear, and making sure we have the best facilities and money at our disposal. The core purpose of why every athlete runs track in the first place – to beat the other competitors in your respective event – seems to have been forgotten by the younger generations of competitors.

One example comes to mind to help illustrate my point:

I recently heard a story from a friend at a Div. I institution that made me both laugh and cry all in about 30 seconds. Two freshman athletes on the team were issued gear and running shoes. Both are scholarship athletes. One freshman received green/black Nike running shoes and the other freshman had orange/black Nike running shoes. Both were neutral running shoes. The freshman that received the orange/black shoe complained that his shoes were $30 less than the green/black shoes when prices were compared on eastbay.com. The one freshman was very upset; inferring that he didn’t get the same pair and his shoes were potentially incapable of performing the same duty as the more expensive pair of shoe.

I was unaware that their was such a huge discrepancy in shoes separated by $30. I should reconsider the shoes I wear and purchase the most expensive shoes I can find. The fact that the shoes were free to both athletes and one complains that he got less expensive pair of shoes just rattles my cage. Division I track athletes are the select few that actually get their gear and shoes paid for. I haven’t met a DII or DIII athlete that gets their shoes or spikes paid for. Those two freshman should be downright grateful that they are fortunate enough to a.) be on scholarship and b.) have their gear and shoes paid for. Probably over 80% of track athletes in the NCAA system are not as fortunate.

Entering my fourth year as a Division I athlete, I have had the pleasure to meet many great athletes and coaches during my time, but it’s always interesting to go to meets and see how different athletes function when it’s game time. It always made me laugh when some athletes worry about if their socks coordinate with the color of their spikes. Those are usually the athletes that are quick to point the finger when their performances do not go how they expected. Maybe spending more time worrying about your race plan verses looking good for the camera might be a starting point before blaming your coach because s/he didn’t prepare you well enough.

US pole vaulter Jordan Scott

US pole vaulter Jordan Scott

(I am in no way pointing this article at Jordan Scott! He is a great athlete and competitor.)

It’s also intriguing to host recruits and what priorities they have when they take a campus visit. In my experience, most athletes have the general questions about how practices run, the team aspect, etc. but a question that always surfaces is, “How much gear/shoes/spikes to we get?” For recruits that have taken visits to major Div. I universities, there is always a look of disappointment when I explain that we, at UNI, don’t have the monetary resources that big tier major programs like Arkansas and Oregon do, and cannot give boat-loads of gear and shoes to each athlete. One recruit I hosted made it a point to tell how much gear the other universities would give him if he were to attend that university. Last time I checked, the gear or facilities you train in cannot run the race for you. The hard work and dedication you put into practice is what will win you a race or help you achieve a personal best; not that you have the latest Nike’s on and have matching socks and sweatband to go with it. Luckily, that recruit did not attend UNI because he probably would have been disappointed we didn’t give him the 1000 t-shirts and 50 pairs of running shoes that other schools said they give their athletes.

The point I’m trying to get at is the younger generations have become so fasten with all the bells and whistles of their training and competition that have little to no impact on their actual performance. I always tell people that Usain Bolt trains on a beat-up, dirt soccer field in Jamaica and does just fine. The generations that are coming into the high school and collegiate ranks need to stop being divas about running shoes that are $30 less than their fellow teammates and focus that energy into their practices and competitions.

With the final Diamond League in Brussels last week (btw, there was over 50,000 spectators. WOW!) bringing the 2013 outdoor season to a close, here are some things that stood out in 2013 and some things to look forward to in 2014.

  • Clean sport??? Fat chance….

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Once again, steroids and performance-enhancing drugs captured the headlines this 2013 outdoor season. Just like with football and baseball, track and field walks down the street on keeping up with the ever-evolving steroid and PHD usage of its athletes. In a sport where prize money and appearance fees make up the majority of an athlete’s annual income, winning at a high profile meet helps an athlete gain financial security for at least one more year. When you’re faced with either facing financial hardship because you keep finishing in the bottom of your events or taking a supplement that can help you earn big bucks, I can’t necessarily blame some track athletes for taking a chance and using PHD’s. I AM IN NO WAY SUPPORTING THE USAGE OF STEROIDS, but if I was in a situation where I need to win a big race to help put food on the table, steroids would seem like the easiest route to take. With the likes of Asafa Powell, VCB, and Tyson Gay getting flagged for their usage of PHD’s this season, it certainly put a grey cloud over the whole 2013 season. Ever since the days of Ben Johnson, and yes, I do believe Carl Lewis was just a guilty with taking PHD’s, the sport of track and field has been playing tug-o-war with their testing methods and trying to make the sport clean. While there were many highlights of the 2013 outdoor season, the stories of Tyson Gay and the Jamaican sprinters were certainly ones to throw in the trash.

 

  • Changing of the guard

For the past decade, there has been a core nucleus of global track and field stars that have dominated the sport ever since the Athens 2004 Olympics. Athletes like Dwight Phillips, Angelo Taylor, Jeremy Warnier, Roman Sebrle, Tia Hellebaut, and many others are athletes that I and millions of other fans have looked up to the past decade. These athletes and many more have been on the tail-end of their careers for the past few years and have either retired or just been beaten by younger talent. The “changing of the guard” to this next crop of future track & field Olympians and hall-of-famers was something spectacular to watch. Those athletes helped paved the way for future track athletes and have inspired more athletes than they probably even know. It will be sad to not have those familiar faces winning competitions any more or making international teams, but it’s time for the new faces of track and field to take the stage! The likes of Brianna Rollins, Mary Cain, Tony McQuay, and Ashton Eaton are now the ones inspiring a whole new generation of track fans.

 

  • The ultimate genetic child will soon be born

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If there will ever be a more genetically gifted baby since Jesus himself, it will be the offspring of Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton. The mega-track newlyweds wrapped up their 2013 (apart from the DecaStar multi-event here in this week) season with a World Champion Gold for Ashton, a World Championship silver medal for Brianne, and what I’m sure was a huge wedding ring that Ashton presented Bri during their wedding ceremony this summer. A combined 11 NCAA national titles between the two and 5 international championship medals, there is no shortage of talent in this couple. When Ashton and Bri decide to have a child, I’m sure the track world will look upon that moment like the entire world did with the royal baby this summer. That baby will have the genetic ability that only exists in video games and fantasy movies. Now the question is…what country will Little Eaton compete for???

 

Here are some things to potentially look forward to in the upcoming 2014 season

  • Inaugural World Championship Relays

This will be the first installment of the IAAF World Championship Relays in 2014. To be held in Nassau, Bahamas, this event was inspired to help countries gain time qualifiers for future international meets and the Olympic Games.

IAAF president Lamine Diack says “The wonderful athletics competition in London has not only reinforced the appeal of our sport but specifically the popularity of relay races, which the spectators find dramatic and exciting.”

The event will be open to all IAAF member countries and have prize money of about $1.4 million. Events will include the 4×100- and 4×400-meter races — traditionally contested at the world championships and Olympics — as well as 4×200, 4×800 and the 4×1500.

This is an event that the world has never seen before and should provide some great excite to what is usually a rather dull season, being there is no world championship or Olympics.

  • Bolt to Long Jump??

There have been rumors spreading around since the days of Bolt winning his first Olympic Gold in Beijing that his untapped talent might be in the long jump. The greats like Carl Lewis took their world-class speed to the runway and helped them become more than just a one-trick pony. An article published about two years ago quoted Bolt as to say he would like to try the long jump after the London Olympics. Well Usain, that time has passed and I’m sure I speak for most in that we would all be very interested to see the fastest man to ever live blaze down a long jump runway and just see how far the human body can jump. Bio-mechanists everywhere would be wetting their pants at this kind of opportunity.

 

  •       What will Mary Cain do for an encore?

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After one of the most successful seasons in prep & USA history, Mary Cain was nothing short of remarkable for a girl that hasn’t even experienced her high school senior prom. There was virtually nothing that Mary didn’t achieve in 2013, and left me wondering what she’ll do for an encore?? I’m sure Alberto will have her 2014 track schedule be somewhat “light” and the story to watch will be to see in Mary decides to attend college or turn professional. The future is bright for this distance protégé.

  •  Breakthrough athletes

With 2014 being a non-championship year, many of the sport’s top athletes like to use this season as one to rest, recuperate, and reboot the engines for the next two seasons leading into the next Olympics in Rio. Unfortunately for track fans around the world, the non-championship season usually proves to be somewhat “boring” compared to the previous years. On the flipside, this season provides great opportunity for those athletes that don’t grab the headlines a chance to “breakthrough” and send a message that they are to be a contender in the next few years. Perfect examples of this breakthrough came in 2010 with David Rudisha and Ashton Eaton:

  • David Rudisha was ranked #1 in the world by Track & Field News in 2009 in the men’s 800m but his youth and inexperienced left him watching the 2009 World Championship 800m final from the stands. It could have been easy for Rudisha to pack it in for the 2010 and gear up for Daegu in 2011, but what Rudisha did in 2010 was nothing short of remarkable. Rudisha would set the track world ablaze by breaking the World Record in the 800m at 1:41.09 in Berlin; breaking a world record that had not be touched since 1997. He would go on to re-break the record a week later in Reiti at 1:41.01. Rudisha would go on to win the 2011 World Championship in Daegu and would go on to re-break his world record in the London Olympic 800m final. David’s rise to the greatest 800 meter runner of all-time all started in 2010
  • Ashton Eaton had experienced much success leading up to the 2010 season. (For more information on Ashton’s story, see “track and field late bloomers” in this blog). Ashton’s 2009 season was full of success; which saw him win both the NCAA indoor and outdoor title and earn a spot on Team USA in Berlin. Even with all that success, Ashton still hadn’t cracked the top 10 World list in the decathlon. Ashton kicked off his 2010 season by breaking the indoor world record in the heptathlon, and winning his third NCAA title in the decathlon. Ashton would go on to finish the 2010 season as the #2 ranked decathlete in the world by Track & Field News. Ashton’s career took off after the 2010 season – which saw him win a World Championship silver medal in 2011 and gold medal in 2013; along with breaking the world record in the decathlon at the USA Olympic Trials and earning an Olympic gold in London.

 

While it’s difficult to predict the “sleepers” of the sport in 2014, there are a few athletes to keep your eye on that could pull an Ashton or David and help jumpstart their career heading into Rio 2016:

  • Adam Gemili (Great Britain)

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This 20-year-old from Great Britain spent most of his life playing soccer and has just recently started to develop his track and field talents. Gemili won a gold medal over 100 meters at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona. His winning time of 10.05 seconds established a new championship record and is the second fastest ever run by a European junior. Gemili competed at the 2012 London Olympics where he, after a poor start, came third in the semi-final in a time of 10.06, just 0.04 short of qualifying for the final. He managed to qualify for the 2013 World Athletics Championships in Moscow for the 200m. In his semi-final, he clocked a time of 19.98, the second fastest time of any Brit in that distance. He would go on to finish 5th in the final. This young sprint star is one to watch out for in the next few years.

  • Kori Carter (USA)

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After a breakout NCAA season that saw her take down an NCAA record in the 400m hurdles – establishing the #2 time in the world and cementing herself as a favorite for a medal in Mosocw. Kori would come down with a stomach bug that prevented her from running the rounds at USA outdoors and basically shut her season down after that (ran a diamond league meet in London but didn’t show the form that saw her win NCAA’s). Until I looked through the 2013 World list, Kori had basically slipped from my mind and was an afterthought. One thing is for certain, we can expect BIG things from Ms. Carter in 2014 and certain in the years to come. 2014 will be Kori’s coming out party to let the know the world she’s here to play.

Now that the sun has set on the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, let’s give out some “Movie” awards for what stood out, for better or worse, during those 10-days of competition in Russia

 

In the running for best picture

“Middle-Distance Dominance”

Producer: Team USA

Supporting cast: Ajee Wilson, Alysia Montano, Brenda Martinez, Duane Solomon, Nick Symmonds, Mary Cain, Jenny Simpson, Matt Centrowitz

index     This story is sure to be a “box-office” hit with the USA middle distance crew making history in Moscow that no other country has ever been able to do. Over the recent decade, the Africa countries have traditionally dominated the middle-distance and long distance running events at major international championships. The USA usually was bringing up the rear during those races; always celebrating for just getting an athlete into the final – the place meaning absolute bubkiss. Recently, there has been a resurgence of young talent in the middle-distance races for the United States. Over the past few international events, not only has the USA been qualifying individuals for international finals, but making our presence known by being legitimate medal contenders. This resurgence was ignited at the 2011 World Championships when Matt Centrowitz earned a bronze medal in the 1500m run, and Jenny Simpson earning a gold medal in the 1500m run; the first medal in the 1500m run for a United States won since the days of Mary Decker in the 1980′s. I know I was skeptical in thinking it was just a lucky race for Matt and Jenny, and that the USA couldn’t possibly be keeping up with the Kenyans and Ethiopians of the distance world. I ate my words after seeing what the USA did in Moscow. The USA asserted itself as a legit power in the middle-distance world because of this one statistic:

The USA is the only country ever to have a medalist in both the 800m and 1500m for both genders in a World Championship.”

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that. USA middle distance crew was arguably the best team ever in a world championships?? No…someone must have us confused for someone else. It wasn’t like we just had one stud in each event that earned their medal and walked off the track; the USA has multiple entries in the finals for each race (besides the men’s 1500m) – including 3 entries in the women’s 800m. Nick Symmonds (men’s 800m silver), Brenda Martinez (women’s 800m bronze), Matt Centrowitz (men’s 1500m silver) and Jenny Simpson (women’s 1500m silver) have brought middle distance a point of pride for Team USA and all of the track fans in the states. The highlight of this blockbuster was the women’s 800m where Brenda Martinez became the first American women to win a medal in the 800m, and Ajee Wilson (19yo) broke an American Junior record. For the first time in a LONG time, the middle distance performances were the highlight of an international meet, and by far out-shadowed the ever-popular sprinting events. I give “Middle-Distance Dominance” 5 stars and two-thumbs up!

Two-thumbs down

“Unprofessional”

Producer: Nike

Supporting Cast: Brad Walker

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     This box-office is one that just pisses me off. Being professional in track & field is a very tall task and requires an athlete to maintain a certain level of performance in order to stay sponsored by the certain company they sign with. In some cases, companies can terminate an athlete’s contract without advanced notice and can leave the athlete in limbo. The most recognizable and largest sponsor of track & field in the shoe giant Nike. They have been a great supporter of USA track & field ever since the days of it’s inception in the late 1970′s. They also have very strict, binding contracts that require athletes to maintain a certain level of performance and ranking in order for Nike to keep them under contract. With all the great things that Nike does, the definitely took a nose-dive into the ground with this story. For the better part of the last 8 years, American pole vaulter, Brad Walker, has been the best American vaulter and consistently one of the top vaulters in the world. The American Record Holder has had some recent set backs in the last few years, including a no-mark in the London Olympic final, that has made his contract deal with Nike very fragile, ultimately giving Brad the ultimatum that he could accept Nike’s “gear only” contract or leave the company all together. Walker chose to leave Nike during the 2013 season and competed unattached for the majority of the indoor and outdoor season. After winning another USA outdoor title this past outdoor season, Walker reluctantly signed with Nike before the World Championships; citing that he was interested in the monetary bonus he would receive if he were to medal at Worlds. Back on the Nike train, Walker demonstrated the form that saw him win the World Championships in 2007. While he finished off the podium in 4th place, he definitely put on a great show and represented the USA very well. The story takes a downhill turn when Walker was informed after the competition that Nike dropped his contract on the spot due to Brad placing tape over a defective velcro strap that helped bind his laces down. Nike said that Brad should not have covered up the Nike logo with the tape and thus were terminating his contract.

**Call me crazy…but I would want to make sure I was in the best position to compete at the highest level. If that means taping down a defective velcro strap so I don’t have to worry about the strap flopping around while I’m running, then so-be-it. NEWS FLASH Nike: Brad is moving too damn fast down the runaway for anyone to see your precious logo on the shoes! Not like people can look at the other 50 Nike swooshes on the uniform and know that Brad was a Nike athlete. We are too busy watching the actual performance of the athlete than worrying about the shoes he is wearing.

Anyways, the uproar that ensued on social media following that news was an overwhelming support for Brad Walker and his situation. Brad added fuel to the fire by auctioning off every single piece of clothing and gear on eBay that Nike had ever provided him. I think I stand for most people that we fully support Brad Walker and will be anxious to see what company he signs with in the future. (I’d think it’d be great marketing for Brad to go to Adidas and team up with Jenn Suhr. Having the American Record Holder in both the men’s and women’s pole vault would be a great sales point). While stories like Brad/Nike probably happen more than we know, I applaud Brad for bring some much needed attention to the reality of professionalism in track & field and how extremely difficult and cut-throat it is.

Going Straight to DVD

Forgettable”

Producer: IAAF

Supporting cast: All track and field athletes

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     While there were many fantastic moments during the 2013 World Championships in Moscow from Bolt adding 3 more world titles to his resume to the fantastic finish in the women’s 400m and epic battle in the men’s HJ – the majority of the meet was somewhat forgettable. From the lack of international stars that were not competing, to the lack of attendance and empty stands, to the once again terrible announcing by the NBC commentators, Moscow 2013 certainly will be a world championships that will disappear from my mind here in about 2 weeks. The lack of star power in selected events – mainly due to injuries and PED’s – certainly made some of the events less exciting. The absence of Tyson Gay, Blanka Vlasic, David Rudisha, Veronica Campbell-Brown and many others made it more difficult for the track & field fan to get excited about certain events when half of the field were athletes that were athletes that probably would not have made the finals of their events in the big-name stars were there. But you could also flip that around and say it gave athlete that don’t normally get the opportunity to run in a finals a chance to make the most of their experience. 

**I think I speak for most people that while I respect Dwight Stones and his athletic accomplishments, he has to go as an announce! His forgetfulness of the athletes and teams on the track is more evident than ever, and his habit of rambling on about events he has no business announcing is very frustrating. His announcing at NCAAs and USAs was embarrassing and Worlds wasn’t much better.

One instance that comes to mind during the USA outdoor broadcast was during the decathlon 400m. Gunnar Nixon had been in the lead after the HJ and was in the same heat of the 400m as Ashton. It is no secret that the 400m is one of Ashton’s best events and his times are by FAR more world class than 99% of the decathletes. While Ashton ran somewhere in the 46.x – Dwight had the audacity to announce that Gunnar was “..really struggling in lane 2 to finish.” Okay Dwight….let’s see you go run a 48.x second 400m in the humid heat like Gunnar did and we’ll see how well you struggle. Dwight Stones needs to go!!

Some observations and events to look forward to after the first 4 days of Worlds

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1.) Sleepy Americans

            -Maybe it’s just me, but the first couple of days in Moscow, it seemed like Team USA was sleep walking through their events. I’m sure there are a number of variables to consider with the weather, time difference, etc. but Team USA certainly did not come out ready to make a statement.

·         2x time World Long Jump champion Brittney Reese BARELY made the LJ final; taking the last qualifying spot into the final – which needed to go to the 2nd best jumps for Reese and Jimoh to break a tie. Reese would go on to win her 3rd consecutive world title, but she certainly had to scrap from the bottom to make it.

·         The USA decathletes were all over the board on Day 1. Ashton Eaton got off to a blistering start in the 100m as usual but his LJ, Shot, and HJ were all well under his PR’s for those events, and if not for a convincing 400m dash to finish out day 1, Ashton was giving the other decathletes hope that he was vulnerable and potentially beatable at Worlds. Ashton was quoted in his post-400m interview that he felt like he was just going through the motions during the 1st couple of events, and didn’t feel like he was mentally prepared. Ashton snapped out of his funk and would go on to win his first World title. The decathlon also saw 2x defending World Champion Trey Hardee bow out of the competition after a no-mark in the High Jump; citing a hamstring cramp that he was unable to work out during the high jump. Jeremy Taiwo of the USA had to remove himself from the competition after the shot put due to a knee injury. Day 1 was certainly a day to forget for the USA decathletes – except for Gunnar Nixon, who we’ll talk about later.

·         The USA men and women pole vaulters seem to under-perform this year with only Brad Walker and Jenn Suhr making the men’s and women’s final respectively. The qualifying marks for both the men’s and women’s competitions were not overly high and should have been an a doable mark for our vaulters. The pole vault, especially on the men’s side, has been a point for pride for the USA ever since the late 1990′s and early 2000′s, so it’s somewhat disappointing that the USA has fallen off the map in the pole vault world in the past few years.

2.) Youngsters came to PLAY!!

            The bright lights and fierce competition did not seem to faze the youngsters of Team USA; at least not on the outside. Gunnar Nixon, Arman Hall, Octavious Freeman, Erica Bouggard, and Mary Cain all performed like seasoned professionals and showed the rest of the world what to expect in Beijing in 2015 and Rio in 2016. Here is how the Team USA members who are 20 years or younger performed:

·         Gunnar Nixon threw down PR’s left and right on Day 1 and finished Day 1 in 2nd place overall; just 9pts off the lead. At just 20 years old, Nixon was a legitimate threat to win a medal in the most difficult event in track & field. Nixon finished with a solid second day and a new PR of 8312pts – the high score by an U20 American ever. A 2012 World Junior Champion is no stranger to international competition, but I think few expected Nixon to perform as well as he did. With a few more years of growth and physical maturity, Nixon looks to be a medal contender in future world championships and in Rio.

·         The 19-year-old Arman Hall is no stranger to international competition; winning the 2011 World Youth title and earning a 2nd place finish in the 2012 World Junior Championships. The soon-to-be sophomore at Florida ran both the prelims and semi-finals in 45.5x times but was unable to reach the finals. Arman would have needed to break 45.0 secs to reach the finals, but will still play a big role on the USA 4×400 relay team.

·         Mary Cain kicked off her World championships by qualifying to the semi-finals in the 1500, and then followed that up by unleashing her tenacious kick to earn a spot in the 1500m final; something a teenager has not done since the days of Mary Decker in the 1980′s. I’m putting it out there that I think Mary Cain will win a World Championship medal? What kind…does it really matter??

·         Octavious Freeman, the 20 year old from Central Florida (has since turned professional when she signed with Adidas) ran great prelims and semi-finals to make her first international final – being the youngest member in the final. While she finished last in the final, she has gained very valuable knowledge that will help her in the future. Still look out for her in the 4x100m, as the US team looks to take aim at the WR again.

·         Erica Bouggard is a junior-to-be at Mississippi State and competed in her first World Championships. The reigning NCAA champion in the indoor heptathlon and runner up in the outdoor heptathlon made it to Moscow by her 3rd place finish at US Nationals. While she finished in the bottom half of the heptathlon in Moscow, she is still just 20 years old and has a bright future in the heptathlon for Team USA.

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3.) We may have seen the best of Usain Bolt.

            The days of 9.5x for Bolt could very well be in the rear-view mirror. At 26 years, Bolt, is running out of time in terms of age. The life span of a sprinter is usually very short (most reach their peak around 26) – due to the high frequency of injuries, the intense demand it puts on the body, and difficulty it is to cut time once you get down below the 10-sec mark. With Bolt being 28 years old by the next World Championships and 29 years old by Rio, Bolt will be on the back end of his sprinting career if the history of sprinting is correct. It will be an even greater task for Bolt to reach the form that saw him break the world records in both 100m and 200m in 2009. There are always exceptions to the life span “rule” – i.e. Kim Collins winning a world bronze medal at age 35, but history is definitely not on Bolt’s side. I think the World Records that Bolt has set will be untouched by him or anyone else for the foreseeable future. **There has always been rumors and talk that Usain will branch out into the 400m or even the long jump, so while we may have seen the best of Bolt in the short sprints, we haven’t seen the untapped potential that lies in his long jumping abilities. With no international finals in 2014, Bolt might begin his experimentation in the long jump. We’ll have to wait and see.

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4.) USA Championships wasn’t the only meet with empty stands

            As disheartening as it sounds from an Iowan’s perspective, Des Moines was actually a great way to prepare Team USA for Moscow. The hot, humid air and the half-filled stands is almost a carbon copy of what the athletes are dealing with in Moscow. It’s not something to celebrate or brag about, but has some irony attached to it. For those that are unfamiliar with how track has evolved in the USA, it used to be that the US trials would be in a similar weather conditions and altitude to that of the host city for the Olympics. The best example was in 1968 when the Olympics were held in Mexico City. Being that Mexico City sits at a high altitude, the Olympic Trials were held in Lake Tahoe to give a representation of what the athletes will face at the Olympics – also seeing who could handle the conditions and races in that atmosphere. Although Des Moines shouldn’t be proud of the Outdoor Championships they put on, it turned out to be a good representation of the conditions and crowds that the athletes would compete in Moscow.

 

There has been some great performances by Team USA and other runners across the board. With all the turmoil of steroids and injuries surrounding track and field more than ever this summer, it’s great to finally put all of the gossip aside and get back to racing. I will be very anxious to see what the next few days have in store. I am most looking forward to the Men’s HJ final. Should be a doozey!!

 

 

What’s been your favorite moment of the World Championships so far?? Write your response by clicking “reply” below!

Nixon winning 2012 World Junior Championships

Nixon winning 2012 World Junior Championships

Over this past indoor and outdoor season, there has been a lot of chatter on the whereabouts of Gunnar Nixon?? The High School national recorder holder in the decathlon, World Junior hepathlon record holder, and World Junior decathlon champion seemed to have gone “poof” to the general public.

Gunnar is a good friend of mine, competing together in the USATF summer meets for a number of years, and recently got to catch up with him at the US Outdoor Nationals in Des Moines.

There seemed to be a lot of rumors swirling around that Gunnar had redshirted at Arkansas this past season…those are completely false. Gunnar is no longer an athlete or a student at the University of Arkansas. Without disclosing all the private details on why he left – we’ll just say that there was some miscommunication between parties which put Gunnar in a bad position academically. Gunnar left the team during the early indoor season and returned to Oklahoma to train with his former high school coach. He would go on to win the 2013 USA Indoor Nationals Championships. Gunnar would compete outdoors in the prestigous Gotzis decathlon and place 3rd. Just before the 2013 USA Outdoor Nationals, Gunnar moved out to Chula Vista to train under Coach Poole at the Olympic Training Center. Gunnar would go on to place 2nd in the 2013 US Outdoor Nationals and earn a spot on the 2013 World Team, the 2nd youngest athlete on the men’s team.

Gunnar has signed with an agent, and made it clear to me that he wasn’t going back to a NCAA school.

Wish Gunnar the best of luck in Moscow here in a couple weeks

With the World Championships in Moscow just weeks away and most athletes finished with Diamond League meets for now, it’s a great time to take a look at the top 5 story lines going into Worlds and some things to keep an eye on

1.    #Cansanity:

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      Stealing the headlines whenever she stepped on the track, Mary Cain has had the most dominate season of any high school track runner since the days of Gerry Lindgren back in the 1960s. She has set 13 records over this indoor and outdoor season – ranging from USA high school national records to USA junior national records and World Youth Bests. Listing all her accomplishments this year would take a week to do, but I’m sure her biggest accomplishment was running her way onto the USA World Championship team with her 2nd place finish at USA Outdoors. Just barely 17, Mary has had little experience on the world stage. She competed in the 2012 World Junior Championships; finishing 6th in the 1500m with a time of 4:11 – a time that was a new national high school record but was broken again by Mary this year at 4:04. While Mary has only raced in the World Juniors and in a diamond league meet in London this year, I’m sure her coach Alberto Salazar will have her well prepared for what I’m sure will be very tactical racing in Moscow. Mary has demonstrated time and time again that she has the “kick” of a seasoned veteran, and I’m sure will pay her huge dividends in the slow, tactical races that World Championships always pan out to be. Do not be surprised to see Mary in the finals of the 1500m if the races depend on a finishing kick. Mary has shown she can drop the hammer when needed – demonstrating said kick at USA Outdoors; closing the final 400m with a 58 second split. Most high school girls her age would be happy to run a 58 second 400m using blocks and having fresh legs. I might be the one to say that Mary COULD be in the hunt for a medal if all her “moons” are aligned and she runs close to her PR of 4:04. Jenny Simpson won the World Championships in 2011 with a winning time of 4:05, so if the race comes down to that kind of time, Mary has just of a fair chance as anyone.  Look out for Cansanity in Moscow!

2.    Cake walk for Usain Bolt:

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      At the beginning of the outdoor season, optimism was at an all-time high that the men’s 100 in Moscow would be a race for the ages. After the London 100m dash final which saw Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, and Ryan Bailey all break the 9.85 barrier, experts predicted the same type of race in the finals in Moscow. At the start of the outdoor season, Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin were making statements left and right that they were ready to play this season. Consistently running under 10 seconds and demonstrating the type of endurance it takes to run the rounds in Moscow. The ultimate showdown came at 2013 USA Nationals when Tyson Gay brought the heat -  running a 9.75 to Gatlin’s 9.89. Tyson Gay showed he was back to his old form that saw him win 3 gold medals at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. But after that meet is when the wheels came off for Tyson, the track and field community, and the showdown in the 100m finals in Moscow.

·         Yohan Blake had been bothered by a bum hamstring most of the outdoor season and had to withdraw from Moscow and not defend his world title.

·         Ryan Bailey, London Games 5th place finisher, had shut his season down fairly early after a few meets due to injury.

·         Usain had run a few races, but not displaying his dominate form like much of the world was used to seeing – an early defeat by Justin Gatlin raised questions as to whether Bolt was losing a step or if he was more vulnerable to defeat than in years past. If there’s one thing that track fans should know is that Usain could give two-shits about “small” diamond league meets; when the bright lights are on, Usain Bolt put his pre-race dance moves into full gear and delivers record performances.

·         The track world came to a grinding halt when it was found that Tyson Gay had tested positive for a banned substance; later found out that it was a DHEA cream that caused the positive test. Along with several other track superstars, PHD’s have been a blemish on the 2013 track and field year. The world leader in both the 100 and 200 was out of the World Championships. The grand showdown that everyone looking forward to since the London 100m final was evaporating in front of our eyes. The top 5 from London “rematch” is now a battle between Bolt and Gatlin. While the 100m will always attract attention because people want to know who the world’s fastest man is, the list of names that will be in the 100m final will probably be names that are not usual “visitors” to a 100m international final. Regardless, Bolt will most likely reclaim his world title again.

3.    Brianne Rollins world record??

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      At just 21 years of age, Brianne Rollins has had one of the most dominate hurdle seasons in recent memory. Training under coach Lawrence Johnson at sprint/hurdle powerhouse, University of Clemson, Brianne Rollins has been creeping up the USA descending order list the past few years. She has progressively been getting better each year – with her sophomore campaign ending in a 5th place finish at the 2012 USA Olympic Trials. She kicked off her 2013 indoor season for the Tigers with a new NCAA National record in the 60m hurdles; the record once held by Ginnie Powell (Crawford) at 7.84. The record would be broken 3x by Rollins during the duration of the indoor season – making her the most dominant indoor hurdler in NCAA history. All of this success despite Coach Johnson leaving the program in the winter. Brianne would continue that same success and energy into the outdoor season; running slightly faster than her previous PR in the 100H, but nothing in comparison to what she would show the world at NCAA Outdoors in Eugene. In the prelims of the 100H, Rollins would break Ginnie Powell’s outdoor record – running a blistering 12.47. That new NCAA record also put her #1 in the world in 2013, and making her spot on the USA World Championship team more of a possibility. With the USA women’s 100H arguably to most difficult team to make, it is never a certainty on who will make the USA team. On any given day, there are a least 8 women who have a legitimate chance to make the team. Almost always, the US leaves behind a few hurdlers that didn’t make the team and could easily make the final of the World or Olympic 100H race. Rollins proved her prelim time was not a fluke and ran even faster! Her time of 12.39 in the NCAA final just about blew my mind as well as millions of other track fans. A relatively unknown hurdler just a few years ago was now a legitimate threat for a gold medal in Moscow, provided that she qualifies for Moscow via USA Outdoor Nationals.

      Rollins continued that energy into USA nationals a few weeks later, once again running blistering times in both the prelims and semi-finals – albeit wind-aided marks. On a sun-filled, breezy day – Rollins decided to turn up the heat on the track by running a new AMERICAN record in an earth-shattering time of 12.26!!! Taking down the great Gail Devers’ record of 12.33 – she was only .05 seconds of the World Record time of 12.21. Just seems like she gets faster and faster every time she steps out on the track, so it’s not that far-fetched of an idea that we could see a world record in the women’s 100H in Moscow provided the conditions are right! Move over Yordanka Donkova! (World record holder from Bulgaria. 12.21 set in 1988)

4.    Men’s High Jump competition for the ages:

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      The men’s HJ final in my opinion is the event to watch in Moscow. A jumping match for the ages brings together 4 jumpers that have all jumped at least 7’8 3/4″ (2.36m) this year. Leading the charge and pre-meet favorite, Bohdan Bondarenko for Ukraine, has been by far the most consistent jumper this year. Jumping just short of 7’11″ (2.41 in Lausanne) this year, Bondarenko has taking cracks at the world record of 2.45m in several meets and has been close of several occasions. The World record of 2.45m (8’1/2″) hasn’t been touched in over 25 years and is in serious jeopardy in Moscow.

      Close of his heels is Mutaz Essa Barshim from Qatar. A 2010 World Junior gold medalist, Mutaz has been climbing the ladder in the high jump world over the past few years; jumping an impressive 2.40m this outdoor season at the Pre Classic in June. Don’t let his skinny frame fool you, Mutaz can JUMP!

      The jumper who never fails to bring the “show” – both with his colorful socks and post-jump acting to his actual jumping talent, Erik Kynard of the USA, has been the most dominate jumper in the US in 2013. Reaching his PR of 2.37m this outdoor season, Kynard is looking to round into form in Moscow and back up his silver medal performance in London last year.

      The last jumper who will undoubtedly shake things up is the tall, lanky brunette from Canada, Derek Drouin. While his PR (2.36m) is the lowest out of the 4 jumpers mentioned, Drouin has achieved the most accolades in 2013. After his bronze medal finish in the London Olympics, Drouin would win both the indoor and outdoor NCAA National Championships in 2013, beating Kynard in the process. A Bowerman finalist, Drouin looks to sneak onto the medal stand in Moscow. I normally wouldn’t call a ~7’9″ jumper a “dark horse” but Drouin might just be the dark horse of the HJ final with the other 3 the medal favorites in my opinion. Regardless, this men’s HJ final in Moscow should be an instant classic.

5.    Anyone’s race in the men’s 800m:

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      After a sensational London Olympics 800m final which saw not only the top 8 break 1:44, but David Rudisha re-break his world record and inch ever closer to the 1:39 mark. Nijel Amos and Timothy Kitum, silver and bronze respectively in London, were teenagers (U18) at the time and showing great promise for the future of the men’s 800m in international competition. Setting the tone for future 800m finals to come, 2013 will not have the same star power that was displayed with all three medalists from London (Rudisha, Amos, and Kitum) withdrawing from Moscow. This has opened the door for any number of athletes to win that coveted world championship. With Duane Solomon of the USA being the world leader at 1:43.27 and having run consistently great races this whole outdoor season, he has to be considered one of the favorites. The dreaded kick of Nick Symmonds can never be ignored and has to be considered a threat for a medal, and you can never count out Mohamed Aman from Ethopia as a huge threat; one to “de-throne” Rudisha in 2011, breaking Rudisha’s 20+ race winning streak. While the personnel may not have the great credentials that Rudisha, Amos, and Kitum have -  it will surely be a great race in Moscow.

If you have any headlines that you think people should watch in Moscow, be sure to write your replay below!!

Ashton Eaton (Bend, Oregon)

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  • High School: (2003-2006)

-Attended Mountain View High School in Bend, Oregon

-In 2006, he won the state high school 400 metres championship in 48.69 seconds and the long jump championship with 24 feet 0.25 inches (7.3216 m).

-Only a few colleges recruited Eaton.

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  • College: (2007-2010)

-Attended University of Oregon

-Majored in Psychology

-3x NCAA Decathlon champion

-Set World Record in Indoor Heptathlon at 6499pts in 2010

-Eaton won the Division I field athlete of the year award in 2009.

-2x NCAA Indoor National

-Score of 8457pts ranks #3 all-time on collegiate list

-Member of 2009 World Championship Team in Berlin

  • Professional:

-Broke World Record in decathlon at 9039pts at 2012 Olympic Trials (Obviously, also broke American Record)

-2012 Olympic Gold Medalist

-2011 World Championship silver medalist

-3x US Outdoor National Champion

-Broke World indoor Heptathlon record twice since 2010, latest being 6645pts to win world indoor heptathlon title in Istanbul in 2012.

 

Lindaman’s Take: This track & field late bloomer is arguably the greatest athlete to have ever walked the earth. It has long been the standard in athletics that the decathlon is a measurement of the greatest track & field athlete in the world, and Ashton Eaton has dominated the decathlon in a way that the world has never seen. Holding the World Record in both the indoor Hepathlon (also has the top 3 performances in world history) and the outdoor Decathlon, Ashton possesses the rare combination of speed, stamina, and strength that the multi-events demands out of athletes. Ashton has accomplished a great amount of success in his short experience with the multi-events (only been competing in the multis for the past 7 years), but without the encouragement of his high school coaches and committed coach in Dan Steele that recognized Ashton’s ability and had a well-designed game plan to get the most out of Ashton’s potential in his early, inexperienced years as a decathlete – Ashton may never have developed into the superstar athlete that we all know him as.

     Growing up, Ashton was a very active kid; taking part in anything from soccer to taekwondo to running. Ashton’s mother, Roslyn Eaton, instilled a great sense of commitment and dedication in Ashton – something that would prove to be a critical factor in Ashton’s success as a decathlete. While attending Mountain View High School in Bend, Oregon, Ashton experienced great success in the sprints and long jump. He was a two-time state champion his senior year and a runner-up in the long jump his junior year. Ashton demonstrated great character after the defeat his junior year by immediately congratulating the state champion after the competition. That type of character and athletic talent caught the eye of the Oregon track & field coach Dan Steele. Ashton’s high school coach, Tate Metcalf, had called Dan Steele to let him know that he was coaching a potential decathlete in Ashton. Coach Steele listened with interest, but said that he gets those types of phone call constantly, and have to be somewhat hesitant that you don’t fall in love with someone’s persuasive sweet talk. At a meet at Williamette University his senior year, Coach Steele watched Ashton compete in the long jump and immediately jumped at the opportunity to recruit him. Coach Steele actually told me that he knew when he watched Ashton warm up for the long jump that he was sold. While being recruited by Williamette University and somewhat by Boise State, Ashton decided to take his talents to the University of Oregon to pursue his multi-event career, even only on a 35% scholarship.

            In talking with Coach Steele, he mentioned that he was more excited about his other decathlete he recruited, Marshall Ackley, than Ashton because Marshall had done more of the events in the decathlon than Ashton and had experience in the pole vault. While Marshall turned out to be a great decathlete and an NCAA qualifier himself, I’m sure that Steele didn’t even see what Ashton had in store for the world.  

      As a freshman, Ashton started out with the growing pains that any beginning decathlete goes through. Coached by coach Kelly (field events, hurdles,) and coach Steele (mainly sprint workouts and discus), Ashton finished his freshman year with ~7100+ points in the decathlon and was a bronze medal winner in the 2007 USA Junior Nationals. Ashton would continue his success into the indoor season of his sophomore year, earning All-American in the indoor heptathlon. Under the sole direction of coach Steele, Ashton would go undefeated in both the indoor hepathlon and decathlon for the rest of his college career. Ashton would start off this streak by winning the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Nationals; an event he wasn’t the clear-cut favorite and needed a monster PR in the javelin to help secure a victory. Coach Steele told me the javelin at 2008 NCAA’s was his best memory of coaching Ashton. To be in the mix for a national title, and to unleash a monster PR to help win his first national title, was something Coach Steele said he’ll never forget. He also still remembers the “cue” or advice he gave to Ashton was to think of the javelin as building up power in a video game. Getting your character to build up this power by pressing a billion buttons and then getting the chance to unleash that power at the end was how Steele cued Ashton to throw the javelin.

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We had no idea he was sitting on this much untapped potential, Steele said in 2008.

 

He would go on to win both the 2009 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Nationals. Ashton would also make the 2009 World Championship team that competed in Berlin -  finishing his first ever international competition in 18th place.

      The first major bump in the road came when Coach Steele left Oregon to take the head coaching position at the University of Northern Iowa. (He subsequently then became my coach :-) ). Oregon would use the services of decathlon legend and guru Harry Marra to coach Ashton during his final year at Oregon. Ultimately, Harry would become the coach for Ashton and his newly-married wife, Brianne.

       Ashton’s senior year at Oregon was one for the ages. He started off with a performance that would turn the track world upside down by breaking the WORLD record in the Indoor Hepathlon at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Nationals; using PR’s in 6 of the 7 events to break the record. If my research is correct, that is the first time in a LONG time that a collegiate has broken a world record in an IAAF certified event. (Texas men have the distance medley indoor world record, but it’s not recognized by the IAAF as an official event).  That performance is something that was truly special and may never be matched by a collegiate athlete in the near future. Ashton would close out his illustrious collegiate career in front of the hometown crowd at Hayward Field by winning his 3rd consecutive NCAA Outdoor national championship – doing so with a score (8457pts) that ranks him #3 on the all-time NCAA list.

       Turning professional in any sport is very difficult, and is never as easy as some people believe it to be. Track & field is not only difficult to turn professional in, it’s virtually down-right impossible to do it and have a great amount of success. With very little money in the sport of Track & Field, only a small, small, small fraction of athletes actually make enough money to get by. Most are stuck working full time jobs and somehow finding time to train ——-Luckily for Ashton, that wasn’t the case. He is one of the very blessed individuals that has the support of a financial sponsor and has surrounded himself with great individuals, who are all invested in making Ashton the best athlete and person he can be. Competing for the Oregon Track Club (OTC), Ashton had a very successful first year as a professional. He started off by re-breaking his indoor hepathlon world record in a rather low-key heptathlon in Tallinn. He would go on to win his first USA Outdoor title in the decathlon and use a inspiring 1500m run in Daegu to capture a silver medal at the World Outdoor Championships.

——————————————

     Just when you think Ashton has reached a “ceiling” or the limits of his potential, he’ll just do his patented shoulder-shrug and raise the “bar” that much higher.

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The best way he showed that was over a blustery, rainy, and sunny two-day decathlon at the 2012 Olympic Trials in Eugene. If there was ever a decathlon that was set up for athletes to have success, this was not one of them. Cold rains and windy conditions would make any decathlete a little nervous. Putting yourself through two days of basically hell, you want to make sure you take advantage of that opportunity because most decathletes only get maybe 3 decathlon opportunities each year. All those variable aside, Ashton made a statement with his first two events, the 100m and Long Jump, by setting decathlon “world records” in each of those events respectively. Over the course of the next seven events, Ashton would battle cold rain, wind, and the occasional ray of sun shine to put himself into position to break a world record. I was very fortunate to make the 28hour road trip with one of my best friends to watch the Olympic Trials that year, but even I was unprepared for something as earth-shattering at this. Anxiously waiting in the stands, I was doing metaphorical back-flips before the 1500m. The opportunity to witness a world record, especially in my event I do at UNI, is something that doesn’t happen every day. As Frank Zarnowski hopped on the mic to give the run-down on the potential for Ashton to break the world record, the weather shifted from a cloudy-drizzle to rays of sunshine beaming down onto Hayward Field. It was almost as if mother nature was rewarding Ashton for putting up with her crap over the past two days. When Frank announced that Ashton needed to run a 4:16 to break the World record (Ashton’s PR at the time was 4:20), I about cracked my head open on those metaphorical back-flips. Any decathlon will tell you that the 1500 flat- out SUCKS! I have yet to meet a decathlon, other than Curtis Beach, that actually enjoys running the 1500m. After 9 grueling events, the last place you want to be is toe-ing the line and running a 1500m, let alone running a 4-second PR – and 4:16 is a pretty blistering pace for a decathlete, so my optimism dropped ever-so-slightly. Once the gun when off and everyone rose to their feet to cheer Ashton on, I got a feeling that it was possible. If anyone can dig down and fight for that 1500m, it was Ashton. Constantly checking the clock myself, the reality that Ashton would break the world record grew with every stride. During that last 100m, it became a reality. Once he crossed that line and the clock read 4:14, I about lose my s***. A world record in the most difficult event in track and field, and one that is used to determine the world’s greatest athlete was broken. Who does that?? It was the most unreal experience for me and I didn’t even run! I can’t even imagine what it felt like from Ashton’s view. I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life and I thank Ashton for giving me and the fans at Hayward that memory to hold on to. Coming from a family that would endured some hardship with Ashton’s parents and being overlooked by numerous colleges, Ashton stood atop the podium in Eugene and a few months later in London as a gold medalist and the title as the great track athlete to ever live. I can only imagine what Ashton will bring to the table in the comings years —-because the man is only 25 years old. Ashton is my #1 “late bloomer/sleeper/unknown” athlete because his skills and rise to the top is simply unmatched.

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High School

College

Professional

100 meters

10.84

10.33

10.21

200 meters

21.69

21.03

20.76

400 meters

48.69

46.28

45.65

1500 meters

—–

4:20.56

4:14.48

110H

—–

13.54

13.35

Long Jump

24’1

26’4.5″ (8.04m)

27′ (8.23m)

High Jump

—–

6’11 (2.11m) (i)

6’10.5″ (2.10m)

Pole Vault

—–

17’3 (5.26m) (i)

17’4.5″ (5.30m)

Shot Put

—–

43′ (13.11m)

50’6.25″ (15.40m)

Discus

135′ (1.6kg)

143’4.75″ (43.71m)

155’4 (47.36m)

Javelin

—–

176″11″ (53.93m)

218’7.5″ (66.64m)

Indoor Hep.

—–

6499pts

6645pts (WR)

Outdoor Dec.

—–

8457pts

9039pts (WR)