Track team loses Jensen

by Scott Bradley

Track and field standout Ben Jensen, one of only two NCAA automatic qualifiers for the Gophers this year, had his appendix removed Monday night and will likely miss the rest of the season.
Jensen said he complained of stomach pains during practice Monday afternoon at Bierman Track and Field Stadium. Trainer Steve Westereng diagnosed the problem and Jensen underwent surgery at Boynton Health Service.
Jensen, a freshman from Mandal, Norway, was a big reason the Gophers expected to finish in the top three at this weekend’s Big Ten championships at Penn State. In the first meet of his collegiate career in April, Jensen set the school record in the decathlon by scoring 7,590 points.
With the NCAAs starting on May 29, Jensen, a 1994 world junior champion, said the timing of the injury is terrible.
“(The trainers) told me there’s a slight possibility that I will compete at the NCAAs,” he said. “But I don’t think that it is (possible), and I don’t want to take any chances with it either. If there’s any doubt about my condition, I won’t compete.”
Timing isn’t the only frustrating aspect of the injury. Jensen received a medical redshirt last year because of an ankle injury, which sidelined him early in the track season.
“It’s not fun when it happens again,” he said. “I was just getting back into running pretty well. But it won’t take that long to heal up, and hopefully I can have a good summer competing at home.”
Until Monday, Jensen had his sights set on competing for Norway this summer in the Olympics. Although he will resume training after he recovers from the surgery, he said his chances are minimal.
“I still have hope, and I will keep trying and trying,” he said.
Former Minnesota track coach Roy Griak, who has reduced his role to administrative assistant, said the team will miss Jensen at the Big Ten championships this weekend. Despite competing in just one decathlon this year, Jensen is ranked third in the conference. And only 13 points separate first and third place.
The decathlon consists of 10 single events ranging from the 1,500-meter run to the pole vault. Jensen said he was going to compete in only one or two events at Big Tens to prevent injury because he has already qualified for the NCAAs.
Westereng said the method of the surgery used in Jensen’s case was different than traditional methods to increase the speed of recovery.
Jensen is frustrated with the injury and said he will take the situation day by day.
“If the doctors say I can compete and if I feel good, then I’ll go ahead and take it as a nice surprise,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it. I have to look forward to next year.”