Oct. 21, 2008
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 7, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2008-09 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It might come as a shock to discover that one of the premiere men’s quarter-milers in the Big Ten Conference is more of a video game fan than a sports fan. That’s the case with University of Iowa sophomore Chris Barton, a California native, whose dream job is working for Rockstar games, possibly producing another in the long list of Grand Theft Auto titles.
Outside the fantasy world of the XBox and PlayStation, Barton is in the process of becoming one of the top sprinters in the conference.
“I’m tall and I have a long stride,” said the 6-foot-5 Barton. “I have a little bit of speed and I don’t have the slow turnover pace of an 800 runner. I have a faster turnover so I can get going a little quicker and maintain it.”
As a junior at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., Barton was a member of the state-champion 4×100-meter relay team and placed third in the open 400 (47.7). He is injury-free now, but while running the 4×100 relay as a senior, Barton pulled both hamstrings and missed the rest of the season.
“Chris is a guy who has great potential for us,” UI head coach Larry Wieczorek said. “He’s one of the best 400 runners in the Big Ten and eventually I really think he’s going to be able to help our 4×100 relay and I think he’s going to be strong in the 100 and 200.”
For now, Barton says the 400 is his “favorite and only” event. As a freshman he posted season-best times of 22.68 in the indoor 200 and 47.31 in the outdoor 400.
“In high school, everyone runs the 1,2,4 and 8 just because you can,” Barton said. “You aren’t running at as high of intensity as in college.”
Barton can understand why he might be a candidate for competing in the 100 or 200 dashes. The thought of making the trek around the oval twice for the 800 seems out of the question.
“I ran an 800 when I was 10 years old and I hated it,” Barton said. “It was the worst race of my life. I can’t run more than one lap and I can barely run that.”
“Iowa has a good engineering school and Coach (Joey) Woody was a professional athlete and ran the 400, which is my event. I didn’t know anyone when I came to the school, but I had the track team as a big friend base.”
UI sophomore Chris Barton
Actually Barton is quite adept at running one lap. When he competes, it could be said that the stop watch is the one barely moving. Last season Barton anchored the 4×400-meter relay to fifth-place at the Big Ten Championships (3:11.39).
“Chris is still a work in progress,” Wieczorek said. “Last season was a learning year for him. He probably didn’t accomplish everything that he would have hoped. We thought he would probably score in the Big Ten outdoor championships and he just missed. The things he learned last year will really enable him to perform at a high level this year.”
Barton said there isn’t much difference between the track competitions in the state of California as compared to life against Big Ten foes. Differences between the states California and Iowa are more noticeable.
“The population,” Barton said. “It’s a little less crowded here, so there’s not as much traffic on the roads. There’s not a lot of smog in the air.”
Iowa’s strong reputation for both academics and athletics share the credit for luring Barton from Southern California.
“Iowa has a good engineering school and Coach (Joey) Woody was a professional athlete and ran the 400, which is my event,” Barton said. “I didn’t know anyone when I came to the school, but I had the track team as a big friend base.”
Barton is majoring in computer and electrical engineering. During the summer he worked for EA games and Activision as a video game programmer and game designer. Fall weekdays are taxing Barton’s time-management skills, but he hopes the spring semester will provide more free time when track meets begin.
“Right now it’s go to class, class, class, practice and homework,” Barton said.
Last season the Hawkeyes finished eighth during both the indoor (49 points) and outdoor (68 points) conference championships. Barton was 15th in the indoor 400 (49.58) and ran the third leg of the fourth-place 4×400 relay team (3:15.12). During the outdoor Big Ten Championships, Barton was clocked in 48.40 in the 400, but again just missed the finals in that event. He anchored the fifth-place 4×400 relay in 3:11.39. That relay consisted of Barton and then fellow freshman Steven Willey, along with sophomores Zach Splan and Ray Varner.
“The individual events are fun, but the relays are more fun because you get the whole team involved,” Barton said. “The 4×4 is the last race of the meet and it’s the most exciting race in track. The whole team comes together and they’re yelling.”
Now that Barton has a year of collegiate competition under his belt, his expectations have increased.
“When you get here, you start practicing and people are cheering for you and you feel into the team and the big family spirit. Being a Hawkeye means a sense of commitment to your team and a sense of commitment to your school. You want to represent your school with pride.”
UI sophomore Chris Barton
“I want to place in the top three in the Big Ten in the open 400 and the 4×400 relay,” he said. “I would also like to bring my mark down to a low 46 or high 45 and go to nationals. As a team, hopefully we’ll be up in the top three or four in the Big Ten.”
Barton said it didn’t take him long to become acclimated to life as a Hawkeye.
“When you get here, you start practicing and people are cheering for you and you feel into the team and the big family spirit,” he said. “Being a Hawkeye means a sense of commitment to your team and a sense of commitment to your school. You want to represent your school with pride.”
Barton agrees that he didn’t accomplish all his goals last season. But he is encouraged and excited to get the 2009 season underway.
“Classes and training have gone really well,” Barton said. “I didn’t attain the marks I wanted last year, but I feel this year will be quite different and a little better. We have a new strength coach and we’re working more on form running and speed work.”
There is no denying that the scholastic strain of an engineering major is very demanding. When Barton needs a recess from that stress, he finds refuge on the track.
“When I run I really don’t think of anything,” he said. “It’s just running and I get out there and get natural. It gives me a time away from my studies and it’s a time for me to be alone and do something that I enjoy. At meets you have a big block of time for yourself and you’re just having fun with the team.”
Iowa opens the indoor track & field season with back-to-back home meets. The Hawkeyes host Illinois in a dual Jan. 10, a week before the Iowa Open.