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National track meet a busy time for UAA's multi-event athletes

Mike Nesper

UAA freshman Jamie Ashcroft qualified in an impressive three events for the NCAA Division II outdoor track and field championships.

Yet that's less than half the work awaiting Karolin Anders and not even a third of what's facing Cody Thomas when nationals start Thursday in Allendale, Michigan.

Thomas and Anders are the Seawolves' two multi-event athletes. During the outdoor season, that's a decathlon -- a 10-event competition -- for Thomas and a heptathlon -- seven events -- for Anders. In the indoor season, Thomas competes in the heptathlon and Anders in the five-event pentathlon.

Anders' attitude about her events fluctuates.

"I love them all but sometimes I hate them all," she said. "It depends on which one is working."

All of the events were working for both athletes three weeks ago when Anders claimed the heptathlon title and Thomas repeated as the top decathlete at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships.

Anders and Thomas are ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, among Division II multi-sport athletes heading into this week's championships. While their coach is hoping for a top-eight All-American finish for both of them, there's no telling what will happen once the meet starts.

"The multi is so unpredictable," Anders said. "Nothing is set until after the last event."

Competition is split between two days. Athletes strive for success on the first day, but no lead is safe. A stellar performance in one event can provide a buffer, Thomas said, but it can all be undone with a scratch in a field event.

"All it takes is one thing to go wrong," Anders said.

Consistency is the key, Thomas said, but after competing in the first five events, the second day of the decathlon is grueling.

"The hardest part is to start again," he said.

"Your body is tired," added Anders, "and you have to ignore that."

Getting more than the required 30-minute break between events is rare, Thomas said, and athletes aren't resting during those interludes -- they're using the time to prepare for the next event.

mental test

The multi tests mental toughness just as much as it does athletic ability, Anders said. Not only do athletes shift from hurdles to sprinting to throwing, they can't dwell on previous events, whether it was a personal-best time or abysmal effort.

"You need to get over it so quickly," Anders said. "It's so much different than doing an individual event."

Anders said she tries to stay focused on herself during competitions, but as the final event approaches, inevitable number crunching begins. The last event -- a 1,500-meter race for the men and an 800 for the women -- is all about strategy. Athletes know who they need to beat and by how many seconds in order to leapfrog competitors in the final standings.

"It becomes a game of cat and mouse," Thomas said.

Training for the distance events is the most painful, Anders said, which is why she and Thomas dread speed and endurance workouts on Wednesdays and Fridays.

"Those are crying days," Anders said.

Competing in multis requires significant training, which is why Anders and Thomas work with UAA assistant coach Ryan McWilliams prior to UAA's regular team workouts.

"It's a pretty big workload," said McWilliams, a former decathlete at Angelo State, a Division II program in Texas.

long way from home

Anders, a 21-year-old sophomore, and Thomas, a 22-year-old junior, are both foreigners.

Anders came to UAA from Germany with her boyfriend Franz Burghagen -- who is ranked second in javelin among all D-II collegians -- for a popular reason, adventure.

She also came to pursue athletics while attending college, something she couldn't have done at home. The same goes for Thomas, a New Zealand native known as "Kiwi" to distinguish him from two other Codys on the team.

Thomas used Wikipedia to search for Division II schools in the United States and started contacting them -- a lot of them.

"In one week, I sent over 200 emails," he said.

McWilliams said he tries specifically to recruit multi-event athletes. UAA has a small team, so having versatile athletes helps the Seawolves in team standings. Fast sprinters tend to do well in other events, he said, and good hurdlers can develop into solid open runners and jumpers.

"It's all power based," McWilliams said.

The mental aspect trumps athleticism when it comes to recruiting for multis, McWilliams said. If an athlete isn't gung-ho, he said, he doesn't push them into the event.

good training pair

A jumping specialist in high school, Anders -- who placed second in high jump at the GNAC championships -- competed in one heptathlon before college. Her will to win is what stands out to McWilliams.

"I don't have to worry about her being afraid of anything," he said.

Thomas was a good sprinter and jumper in high school, but lacked pole vault and hurdle experience. Prior to his first multi in New Zealand, Thomas received a few pole vaulting tips from a milkman while practicing in a sand pit.

Still, his potential was evident.

"You could see the talent was there," McWilliams said. "He ended up being the athlete we thought he'd be."

Thomas and Anders' approach to meets couldn't be more opposite. She prefers a vigorous workout while he likes to relax.

"The day before an event, she would work on all seven events and Cody would take an entire week off," McWilliams said.

Anders said she benefits from Thomas' laid-back attitude.

"I really appreciate Kiwi," she said. "He keeps it calm."

"They make a really good training tandem," McWilliams added.

Anders said she loves the challenge of competing in multis, and Thomas likes the variety.

"I don't know if I could survive college running in a straight line, turning left," he said.

Anders and Thomas are among 10 UAA athletes who will compete in the national championships. Competing in multis certainly makes the 3,000-mile trip worth it, Thomas said.

"We're not going to Michigan for 10 seconds," he said.

Reach Mike Nesper at mnesper@adn.com or 257-4335.

Decathlon events

100 meters

Long jump

Shot put

High jump

400 meters

110 hurdles

Discus

Pole vault

Javelin

1,500 meters

Heptathlon events

100 hurdles

High jump

Shot put,

200 meters

Long jump

Javelin

800 meters

Off to nationals

Ten athletes will compete for UAA at this week's NCAA Division II national championships in Allendale, Michigan:

Women

• Karolin Anders, heptathlon

• Sasha Halfyard, 400 relay

• Ivy O'Guinn, 1,500

• Joyce Kipchumba, 5,000, 10,000

• Rosie Smith, 400 relay

• Jamie Ashcroft, 100, 200, 400 relay

• Makenzie Harsch, 400 relay

Men

• Cody Thomas, decathlon

• Isaac Kangogo, 1,500

• Franz Burghagen, javelin

Decathlon events

100 meters

Long jump

Shot put

High jump

400 meters

110 hurdles

Discus

Pole vault

Javelin

1,500 meters

Heptathlon events

100 hurdles

High jump

Shot put

200 meters

Long jump

Javelin

800 meters


By MIKE NESPER
mnesper@adn.com