The Wizard of Championships
May 15, 2011
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The University of Iowa men's track and field team used a late burst to capture its first Big Ten Championship since 1967 in front of the home crowd Sunday afternoon at Cretzmeyer Track. Iowa's runner-up finish in the 1,600-meter relay secured the win over second place Minnesota, 125.5-123. The Iowa women placed with eighth with 59 points.
The men's championship came down to the final race of the weekend, the men's 4x400. Iowa came through on the biggest race of the day, earning second-place and edging out Minnesota by 1.42 seconds to clinch the Big Ten title. Iowa trailed the Gophers by .5 points prior to the start of the race. Ethan Holmes was the first to take the baton around the track before handing off to senior Chris Barton. Erik Sowinski took a narrow lead on the third lap and handed off to senior Steven Willey. Willey, a runner-up in the open 400, ran stride for stride with the Ohio State anchor through the final quarter mile, crossing the finish line at 3:06.70. Ohio State won the race at 3:06.45, but Iowa won the meet by virtue of its finish ahead of Minnesota.
"It's almost impossible to put into words this feeling," said Head Coach Larry Wieczorek, who was a member of Iowa's last championship team 44 years ago. "We are so grateful and blessed to have these championships in Iowa City. I couldn't ask for anything better. The team effort - through the wind and rain. I was praying during that final 4x400. I made up my mind I wouldn't ask the Good Lord for another thing in my life."
Senior Adam Hairston, who redshirted in 2010 for the opportunity to compete at the Big Ten Championships in front of his home crowd, finished sixth in the 800 meters with a season best time of 1:49.38. His sixth-place finish counted for three points towards the team's total.
"On the home track, it just means a lot, it's indescribable," said Hairston. "This is why I came back, for the team, to win a Big Ten Championship, to win at home and with the crowd supporting us. I couldn't ask for anything more. It's great to get this for Coach Wieczorek. All the coaches have been working so hard, Coach Woody, Cappos, all of them."
Iowa made huge strides in the team race on the final day of competition, scoring 110.5 points to jump from ninth-place to first.
"We met last night and just said let's keep our focus and keep doing what we're doing," said Wieczorek. "We knew we were in good shape with the number of qualifiers we had and I certainly think the guys did a good job. The first couple days we thought it would be our kind of day where everyone went out and fought hard. We knew the weather wouldn't hurt us and the guys kept their focus. Now we're the champs."
The first of the Hawkeye men's three Big Ten Champions was sophomore Justin Austin. The Milwaukee, Wis., native, finished the half lap in 20.46, a time that ranks third in the country. Austin's efforts were good enough for a school and facility record. In addition to the 10 team points Austin racked up with the win in the 200, he also scored points in the 100 (10.21, third-place, 6 points) and the 400-meter relay (40.97, fourth-place, 5 points).
With the margin of points in the team race slimming, sophomore Matt Byers secured 10 points with a gold medal in the javelin. The defending Big Ten Champion won the event for the second consecutive year with a throw of 235-4 (71.73m). Byers became the 19th athlete in program history to win back-to-back conference championships in the same event.
Junior Troy Doris narrowed the team race when he soared to a triple jump victory, landing in the sand at the 53-8 ½ (16.37m) mark. Doris crushed the previous school record of 15.86 meters, set by Paul Jones in 1990. His mark ranks fifth in the nation and first in the conference. His outdoor title comes just months after winning the Big Ten Indoor Triple Jump Championship.
The Hawkeye women crowned two conference champions. Bethany Praska, the women's school record holder in the 800, became the first Iowa woman to capture a Big Ten Championship since 2009 when she raced to an 800 meter gold medal with a time of 2:05.63. The winning time is also a Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track record.
The women's 4x400-meter relay team captured the women's first relay championship since 2003 with a record-breaking performance. Praska started on the gun for Iowa and gave the Hawkeyes an early lead. Senior Tiffany Hendricks ran the second leg of the race and junior Nicole Erickson took the baton for the third lap. Freshman Ashley Liverpool got the baton in second place and pushed ahead of the Penn State Lady Lions to cross the finish line in first place at 3:36.15, a new facility record.
Sophomore Majesty Tutson set and reset the school record in the women's discus on her way to a runner-up finish. Tutson's first throw of the day landed at 167-11 ¾ (51.25m), breaking her previous record of 166-10 ½ (50.87m) set at the Sun Angel Classic. She then broke the school record a second time with a toss of 172-4 (52.52) to secure second place.
Freshman Ethan Holmes had a busy day, scoring points in three events for the Hawkeyes. In addition to leading off the 1,600-meter relay, the freshman scored second place finishes in both the 110- (13.73) and 400-meter hurdles (50.65). Teammate D'Juan Richardson followed Holmes across the finish line in 400-meter hurdles to place third with a time of 51.12.
Hawkeye juniors Betsy Flood and Erik Sowinski also scored a pair of runner-up finishes in their respective events. Flood clocked a collegiate best 16:12.01 in the 5,000 meters to secure eight points in the women's team score. Sowinski crossed the finish line at 1:48.58 in the men's 800 meters to score eight points towards the men's team total.
The Hawkeye men and women return to action May 26-28 at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore.