Track’s star athletes twinkle at Big Tens

Scott Bradley

The Gophers men’s track team sent a message to its conference foes Sunday at Penn State when it earned its highest finish in the Big Ten outdoor championships since Lyndon Johnson was president.
Minnesota hadn’t finished better than second since 1968 when it won the title under former head coach Roy Griak. The team earned a second place finish at this weekend’s meet with 104.5 points, while Wisconsin continued its dominance by winning its second straight outdoor championship.
Explaining the Gophers success at this year’s meet is easy for junior runner Rick Obleman.
“Everybody pulled together and did really well,” he said. “We had a really good turnout. We got done what we needed to get done for points.”
Heading into the weekend, the Gophers anticipated points from athletes, such as Vesa Rantanen (pole vault), Jason Schlueter (discus) and Paul Michalek (middle-distance). Rantanen and Schlueter were ranked No. 1 in the conference and Michalek was ranked No. 2 in the 800 meters.
Those athletes provided 34 team points, and Minnesota took second place because of its depth in many events, including the pole vault and shot put.
Beside Rantanen winning the pole vault title, Minnesota’s Seth Mischke and Jon Anderson also earned points for the Gophers. The top-eight finishers in every event score team points ranging from 10 for first place and one for eighth place.
“We had the big guns with Vesa and Jason,” Obleman said. “But pretty much everybody we sent was scoring points for us and contributed to the team. That’s what gave us a second-place finish.”
In the shot put, Minnesota scored nine team points between Chad Yenchesky and Jeff Marsh, who placed fourth and fifth respectively. Yenchesky, a sophomore, threw 57 feet, 11 inches. Indiana’s Nathan Davis won the shot put title with a throw of 61 feet, 5 inches.
Another event where Minnesota’s depth worked to its advantage was in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Obleman, a junior from Regina, Saskatchewan, placed third with a time of 9 minutes, 9.57 seconds. The Gophers’ Tony Riter also scored team points by finishing fifth.
This weekend the Gophers will find out who qualifies for the NCAA championships. Junior Adrian Ellis improved his chances of qualifying in the triple jump Sunday when he finished third with a leap of 52 feet, 3 1/4 inches.