April 4, 2003

Track prepares to brave the outdoors

After a groundbreaking year for the women's side and another solid indoor campaign for the men's, both Chicago track and field teams have moved back outdoors where they hope to build on their earlier success.

Both teams finished second at the Indoor UAA Championships, with the men narrowly falling to Emory University and the women bowing to Washington University. For the women, the result was a great improvement over a fifth place finish a year ago. The men managed to once again finish second, despite the loss of several graduated runners who helped win the meet in 2001.

The finale to the indoor season was an even greater success on an individual level. Four Chicago athletes qualified for the NCAA Division III Indoor Championships. Third-year Val Anderson finished 13th in the women's weight throw competition with a throw of 13.99 meters. Third-year Adeoye Mabogunje finished eighth in the triple jump with a jump of 14.16 meters to take home All-American honors.

Third-years Tom Haxton and Patrick Sullivan each earned All-American honors in the distance events; Haxton finished seventh in the 5K in a time of 14:38.31, and Sullivan placed fifth in the 1500-meter event with a time of 3:54.01.

Outdoor track, while similar to indoor track, has several important additional elements (aside from the lack of shelter). The track is twice as big as an indoor track, which forces runners to reconsider the degree of the track's curves. The wider turns and longer straights actually allow for faster times in the longer sprints and shorter distance events.

Another change is the added factor of weather. Very rarely is the weather ideal; temperatures can often be in the low 30s at the start of a season but reach the upper 80s by the season's end in June. Along with that, wind is the other key weather menace and can affect every event, especially the sprints and field events.

While outdoor track features most of the events of indoor track-the 200, 400, 800, 1500, 5K, triple jump, long jump, high jump, pole vault, and shot put-many of the indoor events are replaced with versions more suited to an outdoor environment. Outdoor track also features several events not found inside. In the distance events, the 3K steeplechase replaces the standard 3K run, and the DMR is replaced by the 4-by-100-meter relay. Then comes a grueling 10,000-meter run, an event in which Haxton has had excellent success.

The 100-meter dash replaces the 60-meter dash, and the 110-meter hurdle event replaces its 55-meter counterpart. For the best-trained track stars there is also a very daunting 400-meter hurdle race.

The throwing events gain a much greater significance outdoors. The weight throw is replaced by the hammer throw, and two new throwing events, the javelin and the discus, are also in the mix.

Lastly, the scoring of outdoor track functions in a slightly different way. While only the top six finishers score in indoor track, the top eight finishers score in outdoor track.

Both the greater number of events and the greater number of scoring places shifts the defining characteristic of what makes a good team in outdoor track. While sheer talent defines a good indoor track team, a good outdoor track and field team must have not only talent, but also depth.

Head coach Chris Hall maintains high expectations for both squads. Of the men he affirmed, "Our team goal will again be centered around the UAA Championships," saying that while Emory was "the favorite," he would still like to see the men "win the UAA championship, qualify some athletes to the NCAAs, and come away with a few All-Americans."

As for the women's prospects, Hall is hoping for the same kind of improvements he saw during the winter. "Our women had a wonderful indoor conference meet to move to second in the UAAs. We are not ready to take the next step to catching Washington University, but it would be good to continue to close the gap a little and really establish ourselves as the number-two team in the conference."

Hall also emphasized the importance of every outdoor meet leading up to the UAA Championships, noting that teams like Emory and Washington University had an advantage of warmer weather that gave them a head start in outdoor practice and competition.

"The most important thing," said Hall "is to take advantage of every competition we are in. With only three meets prior to the UAAs, a quick start is important."

Ultimately both teams stand on the verge of winning their first-ever outdoor UAA championships, and a few die-hard members of the both teams returned early from spring break to participate in last weekend's Wheaton Invitational at Wheaton College.

None of the Chicago athletes finished worse than fourth at the meet, and five Maroons won their events. Haxton won the 10K in 32.13, Sullivan won the 3K steeplechase in 9:43.00, fourth-year Clarisse Mesa won the women's 10K in 39.56.00, fourth-year Jelena Pantel won the 400-meter dash in 1:00.58, and second-year GSB student and assistant coach Scott Anderson won the 1,500-meter run in 4:04.58.

First-year Jessica Winter was fourth in the women's 1,500-meter run in 5:00.60, and third-year Darcy Flora finished second to Mesa in the 10K in 40:22.00. Fourth-years Peter Bugg and Paddy White helped complete a sweep of the 10K, finishing second and third with times of 32.14.00 and 33.38.00, respectively.

The entire track team will compete this weekend at the Chicagoland Championships at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, with more events to follow at the end of April and May.