`Underdog Contenders'

May 12, 2011

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Big Ten Conference has contested men’s outdoor track and field championships since 1901; this weekend marks the 10th time the event has been held in Iowa City.

UI head men’s coach Larry Wieczorek has been in attendance as a non-eligible freshman spectator, a competitor, an assistant coach and a head coach.

The championships 46 years ago in 1965 stick out to Wieczorek. He was a freshman and at that time; freshmen were not allowed to compete in the Big Ten Conference.

“I was pretty impressionable and one of my memories from that meet is Bill Frazier, who still holds our 800-meter record (1:47.64 in 1962),” Wieczorek said. “Bill had torn his Achilles’ tendon and he hobbled around all year — Cretz (head coach Francis Cretzmeyer) didn’t even want him to run. At that time they ran a 660-yard outdoors and Bill was almost running on one leg. I think he placed third.

“It was a moving experience to me. I wrote that in my training journal: When you start to hurt, remember Bill Frazier in the Big Ten Championships. His gutsy performance was always an inspiration to me.”

To watch an uncut video interview with coach Wieczorek, click HERE.

This week Wieczorek shared that story with one of his athletes who will participate in the 2011 meet that runs Friday through Sunday at the newly remodeled Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track. Men’s pole vault is the first event, beginning Friday at 11 a.m.

Iowa City has also hosted league championships in 1922, ’26, ’61, ’65, ’67, ’71, ’75, ’87 and 2000. Like this weekend, the meets in 1987 and 2000 included both men’s and women’s teams.

“The women have quite a few points on paper, which is a good feeling for them. They’re getting better all the time,” Wieczorek said. “Our expectations are petty high. We are fourth again on paper, but I think our guys are underdogs, but contenders. Our attitude is, `Hey, we’re contending for this title.’ If we weren’t a good track and field team and if we didn’t have good athletes, I would want to take the show on the road — get out of town and have the meet.”

Several defending and current Big Ten champions will wear black and gold this weekend: Matt Byers in the javelin, Steven Willey in the 400-meter dash; indoor champions (crowned in February) Troy Doris in the triple jump, Justin Austin in the 200 and the 4×400 relay. Bethany Praska won an individual championship in the 600 during the indoor season for the UI women.

“I feel we have people all over the lineup who are going to do well,” Wieczorek said. “Erik Sowinski and Adam Hairston in the 800, Jeff Thode in the 1,500 — lots of good people out there to watch. In every event on the track at the indoor men’s championship there was a Hawkeye doing something. That was exciting for a fan watching the Hawkeyes indoors and hopefully we can do that again outdoors.”

The UI women should get out to a quick start Friday with Betsy Flood competing in the 10,000 run beginning at 8:30 p.m. During the indoor championships, Flood was runner-up in the 3K and 5K by a COMBINED .28 seconds.

The Hawkeyes savored success at the Drake Relays on April 28-30, winning titles in the sprint medley relays for both men and women. Wieczorek called it a great tuneup on a national stage.

“The Drake Relays are a double-edged sword,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing here in Iowa if you do something well. If you’re not making much of an impact in the meet, you want to go hide somewhere. After we won the sprint medley relays, the announcer said, `No wonder they call this the Hawkeye state.’ My heart was pounding at that statement.”

Iowa’s turn the in the Big Ten hosting rotation was delayed two years because of flooding in the summer of 2008. At the time there was a planned renovation and the track was torn apart when flooding occurred. The UI didn’t have the services of an outdoor track for an entire season (2009); this is the second year for the renovated Cretzmeyer facility.

“We have a brand new, beautiful facility, it’s going to look real sharp and we’re going to do a good job hosting,” Wieczorek said. “It’s a good chance to show off track and field in Iowa City. It’s a chance to show off the sport in town again, with our new facility, and then show off a pretty doggone good track and field team.”

The last Time…

UI men’s individual Big Ten outdoor track championships: Steven Willey, 400 dash, 2010
UI men’s individual Big Ten outdoor field championship: Matt Byers, javelin, 2010
UI men’s Big Ten outdoor relay championship: 4×100 relay (Coleman, Kunkel, Peterson, Dodge), 2001

UI women’s individual Big Ten outdoor track championship: Diane Nukuri, 5K & Meghan Armstrong, 10K, 2008
UI women’s individual Big Ten outdoor field championship: Renee White, triple jump, 2009
UI women’s Big Ten outdoor relay championship: 4×400 relay (Hume, Charles, Steffen, Williams), 2003