Jensen looks to squash injury bug

by Allison Younge

Sophomore decathlete Benjamin Jensen appears to possess all of the essential qualities of a world-class athlete — a solid reputation of success, the hunger for heightened achievement and the focus of a champion.
“His greatest strength is his composure,” Gophers coach Phil Lundin said. “He doesn’t get rattled. It’s the personality that you have to have to be successful.”
Last weekend at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., Jensen won the decathlon with 7,669 points. In the process, he broke his own school record — which he set last year on April 13th at the Sea Rays Relays — by 79 points. That mark automatically qualified him for the NCAA championships in June.
The amazement surrounding this performance isn’t that Jensen broke the record, however. It’s that he broke the record seven weeks after undergoing knee surgery with practically no prior event training. Jensen injured his knee while training for the Big Ten Indoor Championships in late February.
“I entered the competition as a question mark,” Jensen said. “I had no idea where I was at, or how it would go. I pole vaulted once in practice, but that was it.”
Throughout his career with the Gophers, Jensen has experienced two conflicting trends — breaking records and breaking down. He has only competed in two decathlons during his 2 1/2 year stint in Minnesota but has managed to set record-breaking marks each time.
Two and a half years ago, Jensen joined the Gophers track and field team as Minnesota’s newest world-class hopeful. The Mandal, Norway, native had just won the decathlon, scoring his all-time personal best at the 1994 World Junior Championships in Lisbon, Portugal. He owned the Norwegian decathlon record with 7,657 points — and sparkled with promise for the future.
“At 19, I was really fired up to come here. I wanted to show that I could improve a lot and do well,” Jensen said.
In January of his freshman year, the excitement and determination were replaced by agonizing frustration. Jensen slipped on the ice while training and broke his ankle, forcing him to redshirt his first season.
“It was hard, but I knew I had to accept it,” Jensen said. “It was an accident, and there was nothing I could do about it.”
However, the ankle injury marked only the first in a string of five serious injuries Jensen would suffer. While with the Gophers, he has endured a broken ankle, stress fractures in both legs, two knee surgeries and an appendectomy.
“It’s weird,” Jensen said. “I never missed a season at home before I got here.”
Jensen’s event-interrupting injuries have been straining both physically and mentally, but he has learned to cope with the pain and pressure.
“I expect more out of myself than people do around me,” Jensen said. “I’ve had a lot of bad luck, but I know someday it will have to change, I hope. I feel like I deserve it.”
Lundin also hopes that his talented decathlete will experience good health for the remainder of his eligibility.
“In the decathlon, injuries are one of the biggest bugaboo’s because so much training is involved in so many different areas. We hope the worst is over,” Lundin said, “but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
The next time Jensen will compete in a decathlon will be at the NCAA championships. In the Gophers’ remaining regular season meets, he will specialize in a few individual events, hoping to improve on his personal best performances and sharpen his skills.
“I’m in better shape now than I’ve ever been in,” Jensen said. “I haven’t improved on my high school personal best yet, but I’m hoping if I’m healthy for maybe four months in a row, I can do it.”
One of Jensen’s goals at the NCAA’s is to break his personal best by scoring 8,000 points. That mark would qualify him for the World Championships this summer.
“To break my own personal record means so much more to me than breaking a school record or getting my name on some table in the field house,” Jensen said. “As long as I can improve on my own results, I’d much rather do that.”
Jensen, along with the rest of the Gophers, will compete at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, this weekend. He will run the second leg in the hurdle-shuttle relay race.
With two more years of eligibility, Jensen should have many opportunities to improve his standings.
“I feel like I have the potential for huge improvement, but I can never show it because of these injuries,” Jensen said. “It’s like (my improvements) are about to show, and then they go, ‘Oh, tricked you,’ and then toss you down in the mud again. Hopefully, this year that change will come.”