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Track & Field

Track & Field (335)

By Mark Winitz
 
Three Californians qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team on the third day of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. before 22,424 fans, the third largest attendance in Hayward Field history. Emotions ran high on a warm, sunny, but sometimes windy day as event finals dominated the slate of the 10-day Trials.
 
For 3-time Olympian and 3-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix (Los Angeles, Calif./Nike) the journey to Rio hasn't been as smooth as she and her coach, Bobby Kersee, would like. Two months ago Felix injured her right ankle doing a medicine ball exercise in the gym and has been re-habbing it since then. Nevertheless, Felix came through with a strong kick coming off the last turn in the women's 400-meter final, topping the strong women's field in 49.68 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. Phyllis Francis (Queens, NY/Nike) placed second in 49.94 and Natasha Hastings (Brooklyn, NY/Under Armour/NYAC) was third in 50.17.
 
"Thankfully, [coach] Bobby Kersee stepped in with a game plan right after I was injured and I started working on it," Felix said. "My family, Bobby, and Jackie [Joyner-Kersee] didn't let me go home alone. They've had me icing every 20 minutes and they were constantly with me. Physical therapy once a day. It was just a team of people that didn't let me go through this alone. And Bobby definitely just believed in me, more than I believed in myself."
 
"It's getting stronger right now but it's really tender," Felix commented about her injured ankle after the race. "This race was different because I came in not really feeling like myself. Lots of times I've come in and I've seen the preparation. I've had preparation this year but it's been different with the injury. I definitely haven't been 100 percent, but now I feel like I have more time, and can get healthier and put it together."
 
Next Felix will compete in the 200m competition at the Trials, an event in which she is a 6-time U.S. outdoor champion. The first rounds of the women's 200m begin on Friday, July 8 with the final on July 10.
 
"Now, I'm just going to get some rest, go at it again, and give it my all," Felix said as she resets her focus on the 200m at the Trials. "My goal was just to make the team. It [the 400m] was definitely the most adversity, and what I've had to overcome the most. As far as the 200, I'm just going to go out there and try to get it done."
 
In a windy men's long jump final Jeffrey Henderson (Chula Vista, CA/adidas) secured his ticket to Rio by topping a strong men's field in one of the greatest long jump shows in track and field history. The event featured seven 27-foot or better efforts (although five were assisted by an illegal wind). Henderson claimed the victory with a windy 8.59m/28-2.25 on his third jump, a personal best. His previous best of 8.54m/28-0 was recorded at the 2015 Pan American Games where he was the gold medalist.
 
Henderson was an NCAA Division II long jump titlist at Stillman College in Alabama and moved to the San Diego area after graduation in 2013 where he resides and trains today at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista under coach Al Joyner.
 
"The wind was hectic. The competition was really good and I'm just glad that I came out on top," Henderson said after the competition. "My expectations for Rio are to just keep doing what I've been doing. Easting and training right. Not stepping too late on the runway. Nothing really changes."
 
Henderson dedicated his win to his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's.
 
"She's had it since I got out of high school," Henderson said. "I don't know whether she'll be aware of what I've done, but I'll be glad to go home and let her know how much I love her."
 
In the men's 400m final, Gil Roberts (Los Angeles/Nike) made the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field squad by placing second to 2008 Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt (Portsmouth, VA). Roberts clocked a 44.73 behind Merritt's world-leading 43.97 effort. Roberts was a member of the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the men's 4×400 meter relay at the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships. Now, he is a soon-to-be Olympian.
 
"I'm ecstatic about making my first Olympic team," Roberts said. "I put everything into this season and I've been healthy, I knew coming into this that I was going to be on the team. I went for it. I never run for second or for third. I always run to win so that's what I did."
 
Roberts said he'll work on tweaking his form prior to the Games.
 
"I'll fix some things when I get back to training and talk to my coach, John Smith, about the things I need to fix. And, hopefully, I'll execute in Rio. I need to work on standing more upright, executing my arms a little better, and opening up my stride. John is a coach like no other. He has an adaptive system and he and I are understanding each other more and more so I'm buying in to everything he's saying."
 
Roberts attended Texas Tech University, and moved to LA in 2012 before embarking on his first post-collegiate season in 2013.
 
Two Californians emerged as winners in the special Masters 1,500m exhibition races: Neville Davey, age, 41, (Palo Alto, CA/West Valley TC) topped the Masters men's competition in 3:57.67 and Kris Paaso, 45, (Menlo Park, CA/Strava TC) easily topped the women's Masters in a wire-to-wire 4:36.34 victory.
 
"It was a windy day and a bad day to be tall," a tall Paaso said. "I thought that if I wanted a decent time and a decent race I should go early and I've felt strong enough in my training to try it."
 
Mark Winitz has written about running and track and field, organized programs for runners, and served as a consultant and publicist for road races for almost 40 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field and is a certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos, CA.
By Mark Winitz — In 2012, Whitney Ashley was ready to hang up her competition shoes in the sport of track and field and move on to pursue a Masters degree in Sports Administration. Now, four years later, aided by fortuitous events and hard work, Ashley is a U.S. national champion in the women's discus throw headed to Rio as a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field team.
 
"This is exciting and overwhelming and I'm kind of speechless at the same time. It's all come together four years later for me and it's really exciting," Ashley said after topping a field of 12 women on Day 2 of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials before 21, 866 onlookers at historic Hayward Field on a warm day in Eugene, Ore.
 
Ashley (Moreno Valley, CA/Nike) secured her victory by recording a best throw of 204 feet, 3 inches (62.25 meters) in the women's discus throw final, over 6 feet longer than runner-up Shelbi Vaughan's (College Station, Tex./Texas A&M) 197-9/60.28m.
 
Ashley graduated from San Diego State University in 2012 owning school records in the discus, hammer and indoor shot. She won the 2012 NCAA discus title. Despite her successes, Ashley left college but soon abandoned aspirations of pursuing a post-collegiate athletics career. That same summer, she competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials, and finished a disappointing 22nd in qualifying. She thought she was done as an athlete.
 
Her plans changed after meeting Coach Art Vanegas that same year--one of the world's finest throws coaches. Vanegas saw Ashley's untapped potential and offered to coach her at the USOC Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. Ashley went home and thought about it for several months before accepting Vanegas' proposal.
 
Now, Ashley takes pride in the fact that she has made every U.S. national team that she's set her eyes on. In 2013, she made the squad for the IAAF World Outdoor Championships in Moscow but didn't progress beyond the qualifying rounds. In 2015, competing at World Outdoors in Beijing, she placed 9th in the final. Last year she also set her personal best in the discus, a 212-7/64.80m toss in Claremont, Calif., the 9th longest throw in the world in 2015.
 
"I never thought I could be Olympic Trials champion some day," Ashley admitted about her Olympic Trials win. "But last year was the first year that I thought I was capable of getting it, and then I got passed in the sixth round (at the 2015 U.S. Championships) and I thought you know, it's just not meant for me. But it's okay. I'll just continue to have goals and be in the top three. And, that was my goal today--not to think about winning. Just to make this team."
 
She continued: "I haven't been beat by an American this year, and I loved coming into this meet with that knowledge and that confidence that I can continue to beat top Americans. I think today is definitely a turning point. I just need to keep training and keep getting better so I can make a name for myself and be dominant in this event."
 
What has Ashley experienced over the past year that has turned her into an Olympic Trials champion? She attributes it to gaining confidence in Coach Vanegas' training system and the U.S. system for helping develop athletes and selecting them for international teams. Plus, more time in the weight room has given her an added boost.
 
"I'm really one of the weakest athletes in my training group (at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista) and I really had to take hold of a weight lifting program because weights are a real contributing factor to throwing the discus really far," Ashley said. "So, getting stronger, continuing to build my confidence, and training at a high, intense level has definitely helped. I'm usually a person who likes to practice and sort of feel things out. But I've had to learn how to compete in practice so when I get to meets it feels the same."
 
And, what are Ashley's expectations for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio?
"To make the final. I think that's very realistic for me," she said. "Potentially to get top five. I think a medal would have to be a huge PR for me. The Europeans are very dominant in this event. But everyone can have a bad day. And, as long as I keep building I can surprise people."
 
Additional Highlights Among Californians on Day 2 of the Trials:
• In the women's long jump final, Brittney Reese (Chula Vista, Calif./Nike) produced the longest leap in the world since 2004 with a stunning 7.31m/23-11.75 in the fourth round. Reese, the 2012 Olympic Games gold medalist, also broke the Olympic Trials meet record. The previous meet record of 7.22m/23-8-0.25 was set by Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1988.
 
• In the women's 10,000m final, 2012 Olympian Kim Conley (West Sacramento, CA/New Balance) was an unfortunate DNF. Native Californian Jordan Hasay, now living in Oregon and competing for the Nike Oregon Project under coach Alberto Salazar, finished 9th in 32:43.
 
Conley was stepped on from behind midway through the race after running among the leaders early, and her shoe came partially off.
 
"I had no choice but to to stop and put it back on before trying to make a controlled push back to the lead pack," Conley said. "Around the 5-mile point I realized the gap was too far too close and decided the best course of action was to stop racing and save myself for the 5,000m. My body feels fine and I'm looking ahead to it."
 
Conley will compete in the women's 5,000m preliminary at the Trials on Friday, July 7.
 
• 2012 Olympic 200m gold medalist Allyson Felix (Los Angeles/Nike) advanced to the finals of the women's 400m with a 50.31 effort in the semis, the third fastest qualifier. (Yes, she's also entered in the 200m where the first round begins on Friday, July 8.)
 
• 800m standouts Boris Berian and Brenda Martinez of Rancho Cucamonga, CA both advanced from the semis to their respective men's and women's 800 finals. Martinez placed first in her semi in 1:59.64 while Berian did the same in his with a 1:45.72 effort.
 
• In the preliminary rounds of the women's 100m, 2015 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Champion Jenna Prandini (Clovis, CA/Puma) had the fastest qualifying time going into the July 3 semifinals, turning in a 10.81. And, in the preliminary rounds of the men's long jump, Jeffrey Henderson (Chula Vista, CA/Adidas) notched the longest jump with a 8.22m/26-11.75.
 
Mark Winitz has written about running and track and field, organized programs for runners, and served as a consultant and publicist for road races for almost 40 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field and is a certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos, CA.
Sunday, 03 July 2016 20:39

2016 USA Olympic Trials - Day Two Video

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2016 USA Olympic Trials - Day Two Video

Sunday, 03 July 2016 17:53

Image Gallery: 2016 US Olympic Trials Day 2

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Image Gallery: 2016 US Olympic Trials Day 2

By Mark Winitz
 
In front of 20,987 fans on Day One of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, OR, Californians fared well in their bids to make the U.S. Olympic track and field squad headed to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games.
 
In the men’s shot put final, World champion Joe Kovacs (Nazareth, PA who trains in Chula Vista, CA/Nike)) sealed his spot on the Rio squad with a clutch 21.95m/72-0.25 throw in the final stanza to take second place behind winner Ryan Crouser (Boring, OR) who became the latest American to top 22 meters, with his 22.11/72-6.5.
 
Big Bear Track Club teammates Boris Berian and Brenda Martinez of Rancho Cucamonga, CA both progressed from their initial rounds of their respective 800m events to the semi-finals. Martinez won Heat 2 of five women’s 800m preliminaries in 2:00.85 while Berian won his men’s Heat 2 in 1:46.03, the fastest men’s 800m time of the day. Alysia Montano (Berkeley, CA/ASICS/NYAC) recorded the second-fastest women’s 800m time of the day with a second place 2:00.56 in Heat 1 behind Molly Ludlow’s winning 2:00.30, also advancing to the semis. 
 
“My confidence level was kind of neutral coming into the Trials,” said Berian, the 2016 World Indoor 800-meter champion who settled a lawsuit regarding his sponsorship agreement with Nike just prior to the Trials and was wearing a pair of new New Balance shoes. “You’ve got some great competition out here and you can’t really let off too much. You can’t count anybody out.” 
 
Martinez commented: “We saw the times after the first heat, so we knew the kind of time we needed to hit to be safe. I didn’t want to race to just be in the top few, but wanted to race to win. I know my strengths pretty well, and I believe I can cover the athletes pretty well. I was pretty confident coming in. I’ve done this so many times it doesn’t scare me, but I’ve trained harder knowing the depth of this field.”
 
2012 Olympian Duane Solomon (Lompoc, CA) got caught in a slow opening men’s heat and finished fourth in 1:48.71, missing out on a spot in the semifinals.
 
In women’s discus throw qualifying, Whitney Ashley (Moreno Valley, CA/Nike) was the top automatic qualifier Friday, tossing 61.1m/200-8 on her first attempt to go one-and-done on the day. Just behind her was Beijing Olympic champion Stephanie Brown-Trafton (San Luis Obispo, CA/Nike) with a best throw of 60.79m/199-5. Rachel Varner (Bakersfield, CA/Unatt) also progressed to the final with a 58.81m/192-11 6th place qualifier. Liz Podominick (Chula Vista, CA/Unatt) also progressed with a 55.7m/182-1.
 
Windy conditions plagued the field in the women’s long jump, but reigning Olympic champion Brittney Reese (Inglewood, CA/Nike) wasted no time in nabbing the top automatic qualifying mark for the next day’s final, riding a 2.7 mps breeze to a 7.01m/23-0 on her first attempt. Whitney Gipson (Chula Vista, CA./Unatt) also qualified for the final with a 6.65m/21-10, the sixth longest prelims jump of the day.
 
Diego Estrada (Salinas, CA/ASICS) came into the men’s 10,000m final with the second fastest qualifying time, 27:30, behind Galen Rupp’s 27:08. Estrada, however, stepped off the track midway through the race, recording a DNF, as Rupp made history as he won his eighth consecutive USATF 10,000m title in 27:55.
 
On Thursday John Nunn (U.S. Army, Bonsall, CA) won the Trials men’s 20K Race Walk conducted in Salem, OR in 1 hour, 25 minutes, and 36 seconds. Earlier this year, Nunn also won the Trials 50K Race Walk, qualifying him to complete for his third U.S. Olympic team. Nunn competed in the 50K event at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, as well as in the 20K at the 2004 Games in Athens, and will do so, again, in Rio. Nick Christie, 24, (Unatt, El Cajon, CA), who is coached by two-time Olympian Tim Seaman, finished second in 1:27:28, making his first Olympic team. Emmanuel Corvera (Unatt, San Diego, CA) was fourth in 1:30:31.
 
In the women’s 20K Race Walk, Miranda Melville (San Diego, CA) and Katie Burnett (El Cajon, CA) finished second and third, in 1:34:11 and 1:41:12, respectively, making the women’s team headed for Rio.
 
The Opening Ceremony on Day 1 of the Trials featured a parade on the track of past U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials and Olympic Games star performers.
 
 
MARK WINITZ has written about running and track and field, organized programs for runners, and served as a consultant and publicist for road races for almost 40 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field and is a certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos, CA.
Saturday, 02 July 2016 18:25

Image Gallery: 2016 US Olympic Trials Day 1

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Image Gallery: 2016 US Olympic Trials Day 1

Mark Cullen wrote for us in Beijing in 2015. Here is his first piece of the Olympic Trials for RunBlogRun, on the men's and women's 20k race walks. Mark has a superb blog at www.trackerati.com.

The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field will be broadcast live from Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon Friday, July 1 through Sunday, July 10 via NBC and it’s family of networks. Check local listings for TV channel assignment.

By Cait Chock
Tara Welling is right back chasing her Olympic Dream. Distance runners are often accustomed to forcing their mind to supersede what the body is saying, but last spring Welling could no longer ignore the physical. After a torn hamstring, Welling was at peace with veering from one dream and set out on a search for another.
 
Until, the itch came back. Living in Portland, Oregon and married to a competitive runner, many of Welling's friends were runners and after a three month layoff, her hamstring fully healed, she partook in what had been her passion for so many years. She went for a run.
 
Tentatively at first, she went in with no expectations, no definitive plan, nothing more than being out doing something she loved with people she loved being around. Keeping up with fast friends and with an inborn goal-oriented drive, Welling found herself curious. Could she get back in racing shape? How fast could she be? Had she really, truly, given up her dream or had she just needed a reminder that injuries don't last forever? Yes, very, and a reminder is all it takes.
 
Welling started hitting the workouts from Scott Guerro, her Loyola Marymount College coach, and in time caught the eye of Jonathon Marcus. Marcus was now living his dream, spearheading a highly competitive racing team unlike any other. The concept for which was something he had been working towards for years: a means to unite the incredible amount of unsponsored talent across the greater Portland area. Talent that came from individuals balancing training between school, work, and family. He dreamt of a set-up that saw their 'outside life' parameters not as obstacles, but rather, as assets. Marcus's highly individualized training plans work around each of his athletes' other commitments and spins the traditional training-focused grind to this: creating a life outside of the track makes you better on the track. From balance comes better performance. A 'simple theory' often preached but effectively pulling it off is a far cry from easy.
 
Marcus had, High Performance West, and Welling's renewed drive to race couldn't have come at a more perfect time. Even still in its infancy stages, HPW had already raised eyebrows and anyone in the 'know' knew it would be something big. Welling joined instantly recognizable names like Nicole Blood, Julia Webb, McKayla Fricker, and Jen Bergman among others.
 
"HPW and Marcus have helped me come back to the sport because it is a low stress environment and there isn't much emphasis on every single workout," shares Welling. "We always keep the big picture in mind and don't let one workout define the shape we are in." In addition to running, Welling works part time as a real estate broker's assistant and is currently working on her real estate license.
 
Thanks to the perspective brought from injuries, Welling also has learned there are times when you need to quiet the mind's urge to grind and tune into the body. "Since coming back, Marcus has been great in letting me have a voice in my training and listening to the feedback I give him on a daily basis. When writing a workout it is sometimes a back-and-forth process between him and I." In the end, Marcus has the final ruling, but both coach and athlete take each workout with a high degree of flexibility, which could mean breaking up the intervals or using progressive runs.
 
Stepping to that first starting line came with some nerves and a necessary degree of rust-busting. "The first few races after coming back to the sport were pretty hard for me, but it was also a time when I was truly enjoying what I was doing, so it was bittersweet." Competitive by nature, and knowing she wasn't at the fitness level she had been accustomed to racing at, it took both courage and the support of her team to put herself out there. "I remember a few times after races calling Marcus and saying I was never going to be able to run fast again or set PR's, but he has unending faith that he is able to instill in athletes. I don't know how he does it, but it works and I think my teammates would agree."
 
As races and times progressed, rightfully so did her confidence, PR's have a way of doing that. Welling was back chasing that Olympic Dream at full force, "My only goal for the Trials is to make the team." A goal that she, Coach Marcus, and all her teammates firmly stand behind.
 
As we approach the Trials, Welling has dropped her mileage down to 85 from the usual 100 miles per week, "I have backed off the miles a bit now because we are more focused on running fast." Placing 10th at the Bolder Boulder this past Memorial Day, Welling had come directly from a month of altitude training camp in Flagstaff. "I love putting in the high mileage and feeling exhausted from training everyday, but I always have sub-par workouts at altitude and find myself eager to race."
 
Welling admits she craves the anticipation and excitement of a race atmosphere between large blocks of training. "I know that a race will give me a better workout then doing what is assigned on paper because I will have the extra endorphins from a race atmosphere. I had higher expectations at Bolder, but overall I wasn't too displeased." The race was made even more special having grown up an 'Air Force Kid'; Welling's father, grandfather, uncles, and aunts all serve. "To run into the stadium with everyone chanting USA just gives you chills. I loved the camaraderie amongst the girls and being able to race for something greater than yourself."
 
With those Marcus prescribed Wednesday and Saturday workouts, Welling does her long run on Sunday (15-18 miles) and a mid-week medium long run of 14 miles. She doesn't have a staple workout for the simple reason that Marcus doesn't want his athletes to get overly focused on looking back and comparing their times. Instead, Marcus is a master of ingenuity and some of Welling's favorite workouts are mile repeats and long runs with the last 7-10 miles progressively faster.
 
With all eyes on the Trials, "I will have done all the preparation needed, so I am not worried about what the finishing time is. After the Trials, and hopefully Olympics, I will turn my focus back to the roads and hopefully run another half marathon with the goal of getting under 1:10:25."
 
Back chasing her dream, she's enjoying every step.
 
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Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer and artist, you can see more of her work on her website and Instagram @caitchock.
Mark Winitz starts off his coverage for the US Olympic Trials for RunBlogRun and Caltrack.com with his feature interview on Barbara Nwaba.
 
By Mark Winitz
If her past three track and field seasons are any indication, U.S. multi-event athlete Barbara Nwaba is poised to turn heads in an important Olympic year. The 2012 graduate of University of California, Santa Barbara, who competes for the heptathlon and decathlon focused Santa Barbara Track Club, won the heptathlon at the 2015 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships while scoring a personal record 6,500 points. That score ranked her #6 in the world last year, and #1 in the U.S. Only five U.S. athletes in history have turned in higher scores for the seven-event heptathlon competition composed of the 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin, and 800m. Of course, the U.S. and world all-time list is headed by legendary Jackie Joyner-Kersee who scored the current world record of 7,291 in 1988 at the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
 
Last March, at the 2016 U.S. Indoor Combined Events Championships in Portland, Nwaba, age 27, captured the win in the indoor pentathlon (composed of five events) with 4,415 points, a personal best. That was followed by a fourth place overall and top American performance at the IAAF World Indoor Championships with 4,661 points, another personal best. Then, switching to outdoors, on May 29 she placed fifth and top American with a 6,360-point heptathlon at the prestigious international Hypo Meeting in Götzis, Austria which is billed as the most prestigious meet for multi-event athletes outside of the Olympic Games. Canada's Brianne Theisen Eaton--a favored contender for a medal in Rio--won the event with 6,765 points.
 
How has Nwaba acquired the multiple, refined skills to sit near the top of the world in multi events? Where did she come from and where is she headed at the relatively young athletic age of 27? Let's find out.
 
Nwaba was born and raised in Los Angeles by parents who moved to the U.S. from Nigeria. She is the oldest in a family of six brothers and sisters. In elementary school, she was heavily active in an after school sports program organized by LA's Best which involves children in a different sports activity every month. She graduated from LA's University High School in 2007 where she competed in the California State Track and Field Championships as both a Junior and Senior, in the 300m hurdles and high jump. Nwaba was recruited by the University of California, Santa Barbara where she graduated in 2012 with a Sociology degree.
 
It was at UC Santa Barbara where Nwaba first met Josh Priester, the coach that guides her today. Following a successful multi-event athletic career at George Fox University, Priester was hired by UC Santa Barbara in 2008 to coach the sprints, hurdles, and combined events. Nwaba was in her sophomore year at UCSB after competing in the hurdles and high jump as a freshman.
 
"I distinctly remembered our first coach-athlete meeting," Priester recalled. "I found that Barbara had done some high jumping in high school. I took one look at her and thought she was probably going to be able to take up the throws because she is a big, strong girl. I asked her 'what do you think about training for the heptathlon?' Her first question was 'what's the heptathlon?' So, I explained all the events and told her that there was an 800 at the end of it. She wasn't too excited about that. Ironically, Nwaba had the fastest 800m time (2:07.13) in the world last year for the heptathlon."
 
Priester served as the Associate Director of Track & Field at UCSB until the summer of 2012 when he left the college. That Fall, Priester and Nwaba formed the Women's Athletic Performance Foundation, a non-profit organization specifically to support U.S. female elite multi-event athletes. In 2013, the organization evolved into Women's Athletic Performance Foundation "doing business as" Santa Barbara Track Club, to include male multi-eventers.
 
"The driving force behind the whole thing is to improve the heptathlon and pentathlon in the U.S.," Priester said.
 
And, what is Priester's general coaching philosophy that he employs to successfully develop Nwaba and some of the other finest combined event athletes in the nation?
 
"There's no cookie cutter approach to training for the decathlon or heptathlon," Priester believes. "Some athletes can handle a lot more volume than others. So, the most important thing is getting to know the person and not just the athlete. In my opinion, the athletics take care of themselves when you truly have the best interests of the person in mind. The nature of the decathlon is eliminating weaknesses over time. If you can eliminate weaknesses and have an even keel you can do really well in the multis."
 
Priester's club now includes 12 open division athletes. Watch for at least four of them at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials: heptathletes Nwaba (who is the top women's automatic qualifier) plus Lindsay Lettow and Lindsay Schwartz, and decathlete Tom FitzSimons (who will likely compete based on minimum field sizes).
 
Under Priester's direction, the organization also organizes a youth section of the club that currently has over 125 youth athletes who are guided and mentored by the club's elite/open athletes, plus track and field and cross country camps and clinics for youth and high school athletes, and private and group training programs. Santa Barbara Track Club also organizes the Sam Adams Combined Events Invitational--all at Westmont College in Santa Barbara where SBTC trains. Priester currently works as an Assistant Track and Field Coach at Westmont, an NAIA member school.
 
Both Ashton Eaton (the reigning world record holder in the decathlon and indoor heptathlon) and his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton (the Canadian heptathlon record holder) spend much of each winter and spring training in Santa Barbara, hosted by Westmont College and the Santa Barbara Track Club.
 
The SBTC and its athletes, including Barbara Nwaba, are sponsored by ABEO biomechanical footwear.
 
Nwaba_Barbara800m-USAout15.jpgBarbara Nwaba, photo by PhotoRun.net
 
We caught up with Nwaba two weeks before the start of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials and asked her some questions about her training, progress to date, and her outlook for the Trials and beyond. The interview is below.
 
Q: Barbara, how did the Santa Barbara Track Club come about with you and Josh?
 
During the last few months of my Senior year (at UCSB) Josh told me that he was thinking about starting his own non-profit and giving me and other athletes a situation where I could train and live without struggling too much. Luckily, my athletics at UCSB went well. Otherwise, I didn't know where I was going to go. Because, with the multi events, it's really hard to find a post-collegiate training situation.
 
Q: Yes, you're certainly blessed in that respect--having other multi-eventers to train with. On any particular day, do you focus your training on one specific event as a group? Or, are you spread over the track in groups, working on different events?
 
In the Fall, we're pretty much all together. That's when we do a lot of our general conditioning work. We're not doing a lot of technical work yet. The wintertime is when we start doing a little more technical work and we usually do it all together at that point. In the spring, it gets a little harder because everyone is on different pages depending on their competition schedule.
 
It's great having a group that's pretty much all on the national stage. When we first started the club it was only me and it was really hard. I was asking 'Is this what professional track life is like? I want someone else out here with me.'
 
Q: Can you describe what a typical in-season training week looks like for you?
 
Yes, we have Sundays off. We come back on Monday where we have shot put. We start with a little longer warmup, going through a netball series of drills. After that we do some grass running to shake off the rust from the weekend--maybe some 200s combined with a couple of 100-meter striders. Tuesdays and Thursdays are a little harder where we do two technical events and work out up to four hours. Tuesday is long jump and sprints. Wednesday is our active recovery day so everything is non-impact. We can go on the bike, stationary bike, or ElliptiGO® (outdoor elliptical bicycle). Thursdays is hurdles, high jump, and a little bit of grass running. And, on Tuesdays and Thursdays we always go to the weight room and lift: A lot of Olympic lifting and cleans, bench press, inclines, netball, plus a lot of plyometrics. Fridays are javelin and our 800 or 1, 500 meter workouts. We also might lift on Fridays or have active recovery again.
 
Q: How important is it for you to work with other athletes during your workouts? How do the other athletes in SBTC support you during workouts?
 
It's definitely a huge benefit having other athletes with you. All of us have different talents and specialties. Like, my best event is high jump. The long jump is usually one of my tougher events. But Lindsay Lettow is an awesome long jumper. So, every now and then, when something my coach is telling me isn't really clicking, maybe she sees something and she might say 'Hey, Barb, maybe if you try this...' So, if you're willing to accept it, everyone can give you cues to help you get better. That's, definitely a huge benefit.
 
Even just watching other athletes, seeing how they go through the process--say, like wow, the way she turns her foot is something that I never do, That's definitely been a big help because I'm very much a visual learner.
 
Q: Coach Priester has guided you since your collegiate days. What are the key aspects of his guidance that have contributed the most to your development?
 
I think, a lot of it is his positive outlook. He was a multi-eventer himself, so he is very aware of the mentality that must have when you compete. Especially, if things go bad, he's, like, Hey, you're fine. Look at the bigger picture. He's the person that always believes more than I thought I was capable of. If sometimes I feel like this is it for me he'll come in and be, like: This is where I see you in the future. This is where you'll be if you just keep on the path you're going. I see you at this level. He's always upbeat. That energy, you just feed off it.
 
Q: You've experienced steady improvements over the past several years, to the point where you were ranked sixth in the world last year in the hep and first in the U.S. with a 6,500-point outing at the 2015 U.S. Outdoor Champs. Can you tell me what's contributed the most to these improvements?
 
It's definitely the time I've spent in the sport. Just learning the events is the biggest part for any multi-event athlete. For example, a single-event athlete, such as a long jumper, might hit the runway three or four times a week. Well, multi-eventers can only hit the runway once because we have other events to work on, The more time we spend at any particular event, the better we get at it. Most of my success to date is just patience and time and knowing that if you just keep at it things will get better.
 
Also, having the experience at big meets. I've been competing at the U.S. Championships since my junior year in college when I redshirted. Also, learning how to just step back, be yourself, relax, and do your own thing...and the points will just happen.
 
Q: In a seven-event competition such as the heptathlon how do you keep your focus on the event that you're competing in, without thinking about what happened in the previous event or what's coming up next?
 
No matter what the outcome in a specific event, I have to process what happened and park it. You need to reflect on what happened in any particular event when the meet is over. You can't waste energy on events that are already finished. Plus, in practice, we go through a progression for each event. For example, I know the specific warm-ups I need to do for every specific event. If I just go through those steps, I know I'll be fine. I'll know my mindset has changed to 'OK, now I'm specifically a 200-meter runner,' or 'now, I'm just a long jumper and nothing else matters.' If I constantly practice this in training I know I'll be OK.
 
Q: Do you want to talk about your experience at the outdoor World Championships in Bejiing last year? You recorded new PRs in the javelin and shot put, but the hurdles posed a bit of a challenge. What did you learn from your experience?
 
Editor's Note: Nwaba had a heartbreaking hurdles race--the hep's first event of the day. She mis-stepped hurdle one, then hit hurdles two and five going down both times. She did not finish the race, lost valuable points, and ultimately finished 27th in the hep competition.
 
It you're talking about experience, that was pretty much the biggest stage I've ever been on. I was seeing all these amazing athletes all around me. So, I almost felt that I was out of my element when I went into the hurdles. I was nervous. I think I just pressed too much in that race. I'd never taken an eighth step into the first hurdle. It just came out of nowhere. But continuing on to complete the competition was essential. I knew that it was the best practice that I could get going into an Olympic year. I was very proud of myself about everything else I was able to do at Outdoor Worlds.
 
Q: Moving ahead a little, to this year's big outdoor season, you had an excellent opener outdoors at the Hypo meet in Austria among a number of the best heptathletes in the world. That fifth place performance must now give you a lot of confidence going into the U.S. Olympic Trials and, hopefully, beyond to Rio.
 
Definitely if I repeat that kind of performance in Eugene I should be fine. Last year, winning USA's and then competing in the World Championships, I was in awe. Now, I feel like, yes, I belong. There's no need to be in awe, or be afraid. I just need to trust in my abilities. Now, I'm ready to go and just do my own thing.
 
Q: At this point, are you looking a little bit past the Trials? Do I dare ask, if you are competing in Rio, who your biggest competition might be? Brianne Theisen-Eaton?
 
Definitely. She's just a monster. As far as I can see among the top spots--who really wants it and has been working hard--it's Brianne for sure. She's been at the top for so many years now. It's always been a blast competing against her. Then there's Laura Ikauniece-Admidiņa from Latvia. She placed third at Worlds last year and had a huge PR (6,622 points) in the hep this year (at the Hypo Meeting in Austria). Also, Carolin Schäfer from Germany. So, if I want to get up there on the podium in Rio those are the girls I'll need to contend with.
 
But right now I'm not focused so much on that moment. Right now, it's just getting through the U.S. Trials and just making sure that I execute there.
 
Q: Barbara, what are your other goals this year besides that big, ultimate goal of representing the U.S. at the Olympic Games?
 
Yes, the ultimate goal is to make my first Olympic team. I'd also love to go out there, pull it all together, and PR. It would be great to keep climbing up there on the U.S. (all-time) list.
 
Q: And, what are your long-term goals in the sport?
 
Hopefully, to go another four years and, hopefully, to make two Olympic teams. And, hopefully, to reach the podium at the Olympic Games. Also, to make a lasting impact on the sport. If I can inspire anyone to even try the multi events once, it's an accomplishment because I feel like there is just so much talent in the U.S. and it's definitely growing. You can see that compared to the qualifying standards for the 2012 Trials, and what it takes now to qualify. The women's multis have absolutely exploded, which is awesome for our sport.
 
Mark Winitz has written about running and track and field, organized programs for runners, and served as a consultant and publicist for road races for almost 40 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field and is a certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos, Calif.