Men’s track a favorite

David La

A friendly rivalry has developed between teams on opposite ends of the men’s Big Ten outdoor track and field spectrum.
Defending champion and repeat favorite Minnesota has a fan in coach Darroll Gatson of Michigan State, whose Spartans finished last at the outdoor championships last season.
“Tell Phil (Gophers coach Lundin) that the meet is his to win,” Gatson said, adding, “I’m putting the pressure on already.”
Gatson led the Spartans to a surprising upset win at the Big Ten indoor championships in February, and credits Lundin’s program as an example after which he tried to model his own team.
The gracious Gatson couldn’t maintain his diplomatic front for too long, however. After all, there is a meet to try and win this weekend, and his team has a legitimate shot.
“I tell you what, we’re not going there to say hello,” Gatson said. “We’re going to try and kick some ass, too.”
Having failed to repeat as indoor champions, the Gophers now look to this weekend’s championship in West Lafayette, Ind., as an opportunity to kick a little posterior, themselves. And the good news is that all available legs will be on-hand.
“One good thing is we’re not leaving anybody home due to injuries,” Lundin said. “Last year we left home Benjamin Jensen, Glenn Lindqvist and Jason Owen.”
Jensen, winner of the heptathlon at the indoor conference championships in February, and Lindqvist, who is ranked fifth in the nation in the decathlon, will solidify the decathlon, while Owen is the team’s top competitor in the 800-meter run.
Along with that impressive trio, Minnesota also has the services of high jumper Staffan Strand, who is aiming for his sixth consecutive Big Ten title, and junior Fred Rodgers, the defending champion in the 100-meter dash.
The supporting cast primed for wins of their own include sophomores Tom Gerding, a Big Ten athlete of the week in the 400-meter dash, and Steve Burkholder in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.
Even with a solid number of major contributors at his disposal, Lundin is not conceding his team another championship just yet.
“I think we’ll be in the fight; we’ll be in there right down to the wire,” Lundin said. “We’ve got many guys that could be Big Ten champions, but on that particular day could just be out of placing. Much of it is just throwing the dice.
“There’s a lot of times throughout the year where injuries break the continuity of the training, so that has an effect on how prepared guys are. But all that is moot now; this is it. You’ve got to produce results. It doesn’t matter where you are in the rankings, you’ve got to compete.”
If the members of the Lundin regime are dealing with the pressures that come with being a favorite, Gatson and Michigan State are taking a nothing-to-lose approach and loving it.
“We’re one of those teams that no one knows what to expect from us,” Gatson said. “We just show up and whatever happens, happens.
“But do we expect to go from last to first? Hell, no.”