Border battle set for Big Ten track

Jim Schortemeyer

The Minnesota men’s track and field team is going after its second Big Ten championship in three months, but things are different this time around.
The Gophers won the indoor title in March by a scant margin of 14 points over second-place Wisconsin. As those two teams and the rest of the field prepare for this weekend’s outdoor championships in Columbus, Ohio, the tables have turned somewhat.
Wisconsin was troubled by injuries to key athletes in March, and Minnesota’s health was near perfect. With injuries being less of a factor this time, the race between the Badgers and Gophers — the teams favored to win the title this weekend — is expected to be quite close.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, its team has not appeared to be at the height of its performance in the outdoor season. In light of recent injuries, the Gophers are making do with what they have left.
What Minnesota has going for it is experience. More than half the athletes competing this weekend have previously placed in the top eight at the championships.
“It’s a seasoned group,” head coach Phil Lundin said. “Most of the kids have been there before, so there’s an element of experience that you can’t buy.”
One of those experienced athletes is senior Rick Obleman. Obleman is expected to do well in his signature event, the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
“I’m sitting fourth in the Big Ten, so it’s going to be a very good race,” Obleman said.
One athlete who won’t have the chance to compete is Jason Owen, who recently suffered a partial tear in his hamstring. Although coaches have hinted he might be able to run, the outlook appears grim for Owen.
But it’s the field events that will likely be the linchpin in Minnesota’s effort. Those are the events Lundin said could make or break his team’s championship run.
The Gophers showed promising signs in the pole vault at last week’s Last Chance Meet. Vesa Rantanen and Tye Harvey cleared 17 feet, 11 inches en route to winning the competition. Rantanen expects the vaulting to be difficult at Ohio State.
“I’ve heard some rumors that vaulting over there is pretty hard because of crosswinds,” Rantanen said.
Most of the throwers appear solid headed into the weekend, including some who are fresh off personal records in the past few weeks. Adam Reed recently cranked out a 183-foot discus toss — good enough for a new personal record. That bodes well for Reed and the Gophers, as he was the runner-up in discus at last year’s outdoor meet.
Back on the running side, the surprise performer thus far for the Gophers will get his last chance at a Big Ten title. Scott Beadle will be running his final Big Ten 400-meter dash, and is going into the meet with the second-fastest qualifying time. Beadle shaved a second off the 400-meter school record this spring, as well as 0.2 seconds off the 200-meter record.
Coaches have been frustrated by mixed results this spring, and hope the team comes together in time for the Big Ten meet. While some athletes have surpassed expectations, others have been hampered by injuries and poor results this season.
“What we’re looking for is guys who haven’t been solid to get there, and guys who have been there to stay there,” Lundin said.