From Germany to Oregon, Gophers decathlete looks to end collegiate career strong

Luca Wieland travels to the NCAA Track and Field Championships June 7.

Senior Luca Wieland recovers after his pole vault before heading to the NCAA championships in Eugene, Oregon on June 7.

Easton Green

Senior Luca Wieland recovers after his pole vault before heading to the NCAA championships in Eugene, Oregon on June 7.

by Karim Nabhan

Senior Luca Wieland has found a multitude of successes in his four years as a Minnesota athlete.

Wieland’s various accolades include a national championship individual title, All-American honors and three Big Ten championships. Now, he looks to finish off his Gophers career strong, as he competes in the decathlon in his final NCAA Championship meet starting Wednesday in Oregon.

“It will be one of the best decathlons in NCAA history, and I want to compete with the best and beat them,” Wieland said.

Wieland qualified for the NCAA Championships after registering a score of 8,201 points at the Mt. SAC Multi-Events and Relays event in California in April, beating the previous school record of 7,862.

Nate Davis, an assistant coach at Wisconsin, introduced Wieland to college sports as a high schooler in Germany. Wieland explored his options, and after a variety of offers, landed with Minnesota, Wisconsin’s rival.

“I wanted to combine athletics and academics, which is pretty hard in Germany because the universities there do not have athletic programs like we do here,” Wieland said.

Assistant coach Paul Thornton recruited Wieland five years ago. Thornton coaches the sprinters, jumpers, hurdlers and multi-event athletes for the Gophers, and works with Wieland during the season.

“The thing that strikes me the most about [Wieland] is his mental growth,” Thornton said. “Obviously, we can talk about his physical attributes, but what has really allowed him to take the step forward in collegiate track and field is truly the mental aspect.”

Wieland’s college career didn’t start as planned. He dealt with injuries throughout his first year with Minnesota.

“I had a lot of ups and downs,” Wieland said. “My freshman year was terrible.”

He finished 11th in the 2014 Big Ten Championships in the heptathlon with a score of 4,918 in his freshman season. However, Wieland would improve on his heptathlon score throughout his career. Currently, Wieland holds the heptathlon record for the Gophers with a score of 6,070.

“From the very beginning, the coaching staff was aware that he had immense talent,” said head coach Steve Plasencia. “He has the talent that shows he can give a lot and is his own biggest critic, which a lot of good athletes are.”

Wieland’s personal record for the high jump stands at seven feet, 2.5 inches, which he recorded at this year’s Big Ten Outdoor Track and Field Championship. Wieland said the high jump is his favorite event.

“It’s just pure athleticism and is really fun,” Wieland said. “Also, I’ve never gotten hurt doing the high jump.”

Wieland said he wants to continue training somewhere in the Southwest after college, and hopes to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo for his native Germany.

The 2016 Olympic standard for decathletes was 8,100 and above, according to USA Track and Field. Wieland has broken that milestone and currently holds the program record for that event with 8,201 points.

“It was really emotional for me to finally break that 8,000-point barrier and get a good deck together,” he said.