Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championships - Day One, Record Performances Spice Big Ten Championships by Dave Hunter

Dave Hunter is one of my stalwarts: I send him to the tough places, and he then, buys me a cold adult beverage on our next meeting. The following story, the first of three parts, is on last weekend's Big Ten Outdoor Championships. 

Dave Hunter is a life long track fan who is now combining his avocation with his vocation. He tells stories well, the most needed quality of any sports journalist. Hunter weaves a knowledge of the events, the importance of competition and a contemporary knowledge of the players and battles that make our sport so exciting. 

I hope you enjoy this piece. It is a few days late due to yours truly coming down with food poisoning, upon my return to the States, but that, dear readers, is another story...

photo from Brooks PR Invite 2011, 
photo courtesy of BrooksRunning

Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championships - Day One

Record Performances Spice Big Ten Championships

May 10, 2013
Columbus, Ohio

Mother's Day Weekend kicked off in Ohio's capital city with high jinx from Mother Nature as swirling, ever-changing weather created special challenges for Big Ten track & field athletes.  Midday wind and rain - occasionally transforming into severe thunderstorms - played havoc with Friday's event schedule as several events were delayed, or even postponed to Day Two.

But as the day wound down and the evening's distance races approached, the weather broke: the rain stopped and only a gentle wind remained. The air - now light and inviting - was 61 Dave_Hunter_Right_On_Track.pngdegrees.  And the track - although wet - displayed no puddling.  Suddenly, the conditions were near-perfect for the 10,000 races.

At the start of the women's 25-lapper, a tight little pack of 6 women quickly broke away as the lead athletes began rack up 80 second laps.  After three circuits, the trio of Minnesota's Laura Docherty, Wisconsin's Caitlin Comfort, and Illinois' Courtney Yaeger had opened a growing gap leaving Penn State's Emily Giannotti and Katie Rodden and Wisconsin's Gabi Anzalone to give chase.  

80 second 400's proved too much for Yaeger as Docherty and Comfort pulled away.  Docherty - with Comfort hooked on right behind her - continued to lead as the duo went through 5K in 16:52.  The leading twosome circled the track in perfect, matched rhythmic strides - the hunter and the hunted.  But in the 15th lap, Comfort threw down a vicious surge - and, just like that, the race was over.  Covering 800 meters in the midst of the 4th mile in 2:35, the Badger senior broke Docherty as the Gopher junior couldn't hold on.  Comfort - freed from her competitors - continued to press on, building a lead of nearly 200 meters with 4 laps remaining.  The facility 10,000 record at the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium - a 2009 mark of 34:45.70 posted by Megan Duwell - was in danger.  Exhorted onward by the crowd, this year's Big Ten indoor 5000 champion ran powerfully over the final laps to stop the clock at 33:30.16 to set a new stadium record.  Her two closest pursuers - Docherty [34:13.21] and Yaeger [34:17.37] - also dipped under the old venue standard.

The men's 10,000 was an exceptional race.  In distance racing, the term "tactical" - often overused - has come to suggest a boring, plodding affair with nervous competitors anxiously eyeing each other prior to the inevitable frantic scramble for the finish line.  But the Big Ten men's 10,000 championship race was "tactical" in the very best sense of the word.  Starting off at an honest pace, the race had it all - lead changes; tempo shifts initiated by differing protagonists; even team tactics employed by the crafty Wisconsin entrants, seeking to set up the race for their star.

It was clear from the beginning that Wisconsin - which had 4 Badgers in the final - was employing a team approach to the 25 lap affair.  Wisconsin's Brian Leung, Michael Brice, and Elliot Krause each took turns setting the early pace - all in an effort to create the most helpful race tempo for their favored teammate, senior Maverick Darling.  Darling - who might have the greatest name in track & field since 800 specialist Golden Coachman - tucked in just behind the pace leaders and close to his Indiana nemesis Zachary Mayhew.  As the race began to sort itself out, Brice ultimately led the bunched competitors through 1600 in 4:41.  Brice soon relinquished the led to his Badger teammate as Krause - a smooth-striding senior - kept the pace honest during the middle laps. Maverick - laying back - was in the rocking chair, running easily. In lap 10, Krause threw down a surge that gained him a quick 25 meter lead.  Mayhew sensed the real racing was underway and methodically covered Krause's moved in lap 11.  

But the chess match was not over as the paced slowed, the field bunched once again, and the racers resembled Interstate 71 during rush hour.  As the field passed 5K in just under 15 minutes, the opportunity was still there to take down the 2009 facility mark of 30:03.21 held by Hassan Mead.

After a brief leading stint by Iowa sophomore Kevin Lewis, Krause once again went up front to push the pace.  By 8K - reached in 23:50 - the trio of Krause, Darling, and Mayhew - had broken away and gained a decisive advantage.  The trio pressed on and by 9K - reached in 26:47 - it was clear a new venue mark would be set.

With two laps remaining, Darling - who had been waiting for just this moment - made his move.  Mayhew quickly responded as Krause went out the back door.  Covering the 24th lap in 62 seconds, Darling had opened up a 25 meter lead at the bell.  Mayhew's valiant close over the final furlong was too little, too late as Darling's final kilometer in 2:38 couldn't be matched and his finishing time of 29:25.11 gave him the Big Ten title and a new Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium record.  Mayhew [29:28.36] was followed by fast-finishing Illinois senior Jim Riddle [29:30.81].  The top ten finishers - each of whom ran negative splits - all bettered Mead's now-vanquished stadium mark.

Undaunted by the challenging conditions, a score of Big Ten athletes rang up impressive marks during the championship's Day One overture.  And with better weather predicted for the remainder of the weekend, additional sparkling performances are undoubtedly on the way.
~Dave Hunter

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