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The NCAA Indoor Championships were a thrilling wild time this weekend. Just one athlete of the week award won’t cut it. I’m giving out four, in no particular order. Who deserves them? Let’s get to it!
Athlete of the Week #1: Curtis Beach, Duke
Simply to say that Beach won the heptathlon does not do the story service.
Beach was a star in high school, setting the national high school decathlon record(s). (All of them, for all the different hurdle heights and throwing implements.) He was expected to make a big impact at the collegiate level, but progress was slow. He was runner-up at the NCAA decathlon last spring, but he still wasn’t quite the superstar.
He is now. He set PRs in six of the seven heptathlon events. He set three PRs in the pole vault alone. To win he needed to beat Wisconsin’s Japheth Cato by 21 seconds in the culminating 1000 meters, an insane amount, but Beach ran an insane race—2:23.63, breaking his own heptathlon world record run by over four seconds. That’s a great time for a middle-distance runner, let alone a heptathlete at the end of two intense days of competition. It missed the Duke school record by a second, and puts him tenth on the 2012 collegiate list, right behind Jeremy Rae, anchor leg on Notre Dame’s champion distance medley.
Beach’s final score of 6138 is very good. How good? Of collegians, only two-time World Champion Trey Hardee and Worlds silver medalist Ashton Eaton have beaten it.
If Beach had scored that at this weekend’s World Indoor Championships, he would have won silver (behind Eaton’s World Record). The possibility of a US medal sweep at this summer’s Olympics is real, and has usually been talked as some combination of Hardee, Eaton and defending Olympic champion Bryan Clay. Could it instead be Hardee, Eaton and Beach?
If Beach had been his own team at the IC4A Championships (Duke participates outdoors but not indoors), he would have qualified in five of the seven heptathlon events. He would have scored in four of them (winning the 1000, of course) for 21 points, beating 32 of the participating teams. All by himself.
If Beach had run a leadoff off Friday night’s distance medley relay, he would have handed off in first place. Heck, with PRs of 46.90 and 3:59.13, you wonder if a team of four Curtis Beach clones could have been close to winning.
This is beginning to sound like an old Hey Mon! sketch from In Living Color. If Beach ran an airline, he’s be the captain, the flight attendant, the baggage handler, the ticket agent, the mechanic, and the in-flight chiropractor!
Athlete of the Week #2: Lawi Lalang, Arizona
Young Lalang was the meet’s only double winner, taking the 3000 meters and 5000 meters a couple of great last-lap fights. He wins a lot. He hasn’t lost to a collegian since last year’s NCAA Outdoor Championships 5k. Shockingly, he only has barely more than a year of competitive running under his belt, but has now run a 3:55.08 mile and a 13:08.28 5k. If he doesn’t skip out early to go pro (and, since he trains with umpteen-time World Champ Bernard Lagat, that’s a very real possibility), he could be mentioned with Henry Rono as the greatest collegiate runners of all time.
Lalang is one of only two collegiate 3:55.0 milers who has won an NCAA cross country title, the other being Steve Prefontaine. He’s won national titles now at 3000 meters, 5000 meters, and the grassy undulating version of 10,000 meters. His ranks on the all-time indoor collegiate lists: #3 in the mile, #5 in the 3000, #1 in the 5000.
Did I mention he’s only been running competitively for just over a year?
Athlete of the Week #3: Chris Derrick, Stanford
Derrick was the meet’s only double runner-up*, both times to Lalang. He has yet to win an NCAA Championship, individual or team. If it stays that way through June, he might be the greatest collegiate runner who never did. He lost those two races, Friday’s 5000 meters and Saturday’s 3000 meters, by 1.77 and 0.17 seconds respectively.
*only men’s double runner-up, which what I meant, but I should have said so.
Derrick’s 7:46.81 is a tremendous accomplishment in its own right. The only better non-winning time in collegiate history (at the championships or anywhere else) was back in ’98 when Colorado’s Adam Goucher held off a Washington State runner named Bernard Lagat.
Athlete of the Week #4: Jeff Demps, Florida
A guy who wins his third straight NCAA title should get some attention. Demps, who recently abandoned football for a full-time life as a trackster, more than deserves it. His semifinal on Friday night was tremendous, a 6.52 PR. A personal record for a three-time champion is a big deal indeed. On Saturday, he ran a good 6.56 to win, but it was much closer than was expected.
The biggest buzz around Demps’ move away from football has been about losing some extra muscle and becoming more like other sprinters. What I think he’s going to get most out of it is extra time, which will improve his consistency. A lack of consistency has been the bugaboo of his collegiate career. He was beaten at the SEC Championships two weeks ago because he had a bad start. He didn’t make it out of the NCAA Championships semifinals last year because of a bad start, and he false-started out of last spring’s SEC outdoor meet. That he didn’t have a great race yesterday but still came out the winner shows he’s making progress in this area.
Team of the Week: Florida
The national championship makes this something I neither have to think about nor explain.
Upset: Mason McHenry, Arizona State
McHenry’s win in the 800 meters was, I think, the most unexpected of the meet. The 800 lends itself to upsets, and this year there was no strong favorite, but McHenry’s win still stands out.
Only tenth on the yearly list going into the meet, McHenry showed his form right from the get-go in Friday’s heats. He cruised to 1:47.87, only 0.01 off his PR, taking the lead on the third lap and running the best of either heat. In the final he took the lead with 100 meters to go and held on for the win.
McHenry may not be a household name among us college track geeks, but he’s been running decently well for a long time. He qualified to the NCAA Indoors two years ago, failing to get out of the heats, and twice qualified to the West regional during the outdoor season. However, this is a big, big breakthrough for him.
This was only the second win of the season for McHenry. The first was at the NAU Lumberjack Invitational, where most of the other entrants were long-distance racers using the race as speedwork. You may have heard of two of the guys he beat: Cam Levins and Diego Estrada.
Last moment heroics: Jordan Clarke, Arizona State
In my meet previews, I called Clarke, the 2011 outdoor national champion, the least likely to win of all former NCAA champs. Of course I was wrong, like always. Clarke went from third to first on his final throw. Shockingly, he added over a meter to his PR in the process. This is the same style in which he won his title in Des Moines last spring, where he took the lead on his fifth throw with a PR of over a foot.
Division II: Ryan Loughney, Ashland
Loughney is the first D-II athlete ever named the The Bowerman award watch list. His winning distance in the weight throw was 22.20 meters (72′ 10″), which would have won the D-I championships by 16 centimeters (6 inches). (Note: the NCAA.com story on Loughney says Ashland University is in Columbus, Ohio. It is in fact in—you guessed it—Ashland.)
Division III: David Pless, Bates
Pless broke the meet record in the shot put with a throw of 18.45 meters. He broke his own school record three times during the competition, and three of his throws were beyond the 16-year-old meet record.
CIS: Dontae Richards-Kwok, York
Richards-Kwok was named the outstanding competitor at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championships, where he won the 60 (6.73) and 300 (33.74) and ran on the second-place 4×200 and fourth-place 4×400 relays.
Athlete of the Week #1: Whitney Gipson, TCU
Gipson tied the indoor collegiate record with a massive leap of 6.91 meters (22′ 8″), a PR by 24 centimeters (9 ½ inches). Such notables as Brittney “The Beast” Reese, Carol Lewis, and Tianna Madison never jumped that far in indoor collegiate competition. It would have been good enough for third at Sunday’s World Championships—which would have given the USA a medal sweep. If she can reproduce this kind of leap at June’s Olympic Trials, she’ll likely be on the team going to London.
Athlete of the Week #2: Diamond Dixon, Kansas
Dixon won the 400 meters in an indoor PR of 51.78, making her the 10th fastest US collegian of all time. She followed that up with the fastest 4×400 split of the championships, moving her team from fourth to third. Like Gipson above, her time would have been third at Saturday’s World Championships, which also would have given the USA a medal sweep.
Coming into this season, Dixon was best known as a high school star and US Junior champion, as well as the answer to a trivia question (Who was the only collegian to beat Jessica Beard in 2011?). Now she’s known for quite a bit more than that. Her efforts led the Jayhwaks to a surprise runner-up finish.
Athlete of the Week #3: Tia Brooks, Oklahoma
Brooks won the shot put with a throw of 19.00 meters (62′ 4″), a massive PR by 0.51 meters (18 inches). It’s the third-best throw in collegiate history, indoors or out. It would have been good for sixth at Saturday’s World Championships. I am still researching this, but I believe 2012 the only year ever that three American women have put the shot 19 meters or more.
Brooks’ improvement curve has been almost unreal. Check it out:
2008 (HS senior): 14.64m / 48′ ½”
2009 (redshirt): 15.64m / 51′ 3 ¾”
2010 (freshman): 16.74m / 54′ 11 ¼”
2011 (sophomore): 18.00m / 59′ ¾”
2012 (junior): 19.00m / 62′ 4″ … and the entire outdoor season to come
Athlete of the Week #4: Brianne Theisen, Oregon
Theisen won the penathlon with 4536 points, the third-best score of all time by a collegian. It hasn’t quite gotten the attention it deserves because, of course, it’s only Theisen’s third-best score, and not even her best of the year. Still, it’s outstanding, and she makes Oregon a formidable opponent in any kind of meet. She’s good for at least ten points in a national championship, twenty or more at the Pac-12, and three or four event wins in a dual.
Team of the Week: Oregon
Obviously you have to go with the national champions. How good are the Ducks? They don’t really take indoor track seriously and they still won by 19 points, keeping some of their stars in just a single event and leaving points on the table in the 200, 400 and high jump. They could have left their leading point scorer at home, superstar Jordan Hasay, and would have won comfortably anyway.
Division II: Lindsay Lettow, Central Missouri
Lettow broke her own D-II record in the pentathlon with 4193 points, which would have put her fifth in Division I. She also took second in the high jump, beginning her competition just five minutes after the pentathlon 800. If that wasn’t enough, she placed seventh in the long jump and ran the hurdles (but failed to qualify to the finals). She accounted for 20 of her team’s 42 points.
Division III: Skye Morrison, Wartburg
Morrison was the spark plug for Wartburg’s third national championship in the past four years. She broke the meet record in the long jump with 6.17 meters (20′ 3″), which would have placed her eleventh in D-I. She also took third in the 400 and fourth in the triple jump, and led off the Knight’s 4×400 relay (which narrowly missed breaking the meet record).
CIS: Kimberly Hyancinthe, Université du Québec à Montréal
Hyancinthe was named the outstanding competitor of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championships . She won the 60 (7.45) and 300 (38.30).