U track secures Big Ten crown

Jim Schortemeyer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There was no suspense at the end of the men’s Big Ten outdoor track and field championships. No last-minute drama, and no down-to-the-wire heroic efforts.
Minnesota knew it had won its first outdoor team title in 30 years before the last race even started. The Gophers beat runner-up Wisconsin by a handy margin of 14.5 points, while Iowa finished a distant third.
After the last event — the 4×400-meter relay — all that remained were the celebration and kudos.
“This meet is simply about beating people,” Minnesota head coach Phil Lundin said. “It’s not about time or distance, and the guys are just tough competitors.”
A Big Ten championship banner was liberated from a nearby wall and covered with tape to read “Big Ten Champions.” The banner and a slew of white championship T-shirts and hats accompanied the Gophers to the victory stand.
The only tension came when a water hose — which was dousing the women’s champions from Michigan — headed towards the Minnesota contingent on its victory lap. Fortunately, Gophers pole vaulter Tye Harvey charged the sprayer and calmly returned to Cooper Stadium.
Minnesota got to its celebration with its best collective effort of the spring, particularly in the field events. Two of those competitions, the high jump and pole vault, accounted for more than 40 of the team’s 134.5 points — a hefty total for a 20-event meet.
The Gophers led Wisconsin by a point after Saturday, but that thin lead changed hands several times before Minnesota put its stamp on the championship. Lundin was gratified, especially given his concerns before the meet.
“Maybe it’s just because I’m a skeptic,” Lundin said. “It’s very satisfying because of perceived beliefs about Minnesota as a back-waters in track, due to the weather.”
The men claimed to be confident before the meet, but smiles were hard to come by as Sunday’s events unfolded. At one point, the Gophers led by seven points; later, they were down by 10, and the outcome seemed to grow even more uncertain.
Ultimately, Minnesota can thank its pole vaulters for sealing the victory. The vault was the second-to-last competition of the day, and Minnesota took second, third, fourth and eighth places. Mike Brockwell, who finished fourth, added eight centimeters to his personal record.
“It was really unexpected,” Brockwell said. “I don’t think I was expected to score any points, so I just went out with no fear.”
The throwers’ efforts were solid — not quite up to last year’s 1-2-3 finish in the discus, but earning respectable points with a 4-5-6 finish in the event. Throwing coach Lynne Anderson reasoned the lower output was because of the loss of some key seniors from last year.
“This is a younger group,” Anderson said. “We usually go above (those distances). I was still very proud of them.”
Personal records and competing in several events was the common thread between the Gophers athletes. Minnesota’s Staffan Strand won the high jump Saturday, and competed in the triple jump Sunday with virtually no practice. Strand managed a sixth-place finish with an effort of 49 feet, 7 inches.
Just ahead of Strand in fourth was junior Marcus Westberry, who had personal records in the long jump and triple jump competitions. Westberry was ecstatic when talking about the weekend’s results.
“The competition was very stiff,” Westberry said. “Phil and Roy (Griak) deserve this. The captains and the seniors deserve this.”
It has been a long time coming for the Gophers, who finished second in 1996 and 1997. This is their first outdoor championship since 1968, and the first double win (indoor and outdoor) in Minnesota history. Griak, the team’s head coach from 1964-1995, was in attendance at Cooper Stadium and was all smiles while carrying around championship hats and shirts.
But it was work that earned the trophy for Minnesota — work like Scott Beadle running two 400-meter races and a 200-meter race in the span of two hours. Beadle placed as high as second, and was visibly fatigued at the end of the day.
“I knew it was going to be busy, but I didn’t think it would be like this,” he said.
One athlete who wasn’t fatigued was sprinter Fred Rodgers. Rodgers won the 100-meter dash and helped the 4×100 team to its second-place finish. He trained for only four weeks, but in that time never lost a 100-meter race.
His victory in the 100 was made even sweeter by the second-place finisher, Iowa’s Tim Dwight. Both are football players, and Rodgers admitted it was nice to get revenge for Minnesota’s recent gridiron bludgeonings at the hands of the Hawkeyes.
On the whole, however, the meet wasn’t so much about personal glory as it was team pride. The normally aloof throwers joined in with more than 30 teammates and coaches in the victory celebration, creating a moment that left senior Scott Beadle reflecting on his career at Minnesota.
“You can’t go out any better than this,” he said.