Another Shoulder Ride for `Wiz'

May 17, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Larry Wieczorek is no stranger to shoulder rides. The first came 24 years ago; he received another Sunday on Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track.

You can call them boosts to Cloud Nine. When Wieczorek was an ambitious throws coach he was hoisted over a fence and carried for a `victory lap’ by Big Ten Conference shot put champion Chris Gambol after Gambol threw 60-feet-1/2-inch in 1987. The most recent came Sunday after Wieczorek’s crew of deep and talented Hawkeyes won their first conference title since 1967.

A common theme? The Big Ten Conference Championships in 1967, ’87 and 2011 were held in Iowa City. In 1967 Wieczorek was a student-athlete for the UI, in ’87 he was an assistant on Ted Wheeler’s staff, and presently he is one of the most content track and field head coaches in the land.

“For sure it’s a dream come true for me,” Wieczorek said. “In my life, this is the crowning glory for me personally.”

It was an interesting weekend in Iowa City; a stretch that demanded attention and focus of athletes in the face of adverse weather. Wind, rain and cold is OK for November or February in Iowa, but not mid-May. Yet within the Hawkeye bulb on Friday and Saturday, there was a flower ready to bloom when the sun broke through Sunday. It was a final day when the Iowa men scored 110 ½ points, overcame a 53 ½ -point deficit and edged two-time defending champion Minnesota, 125 ½ to 123.

“One of the assistant coaches, Jason Wakenight, talked to the guys about Hawkeye weather, and we’re going to be the toughest team, and we’re going to want it the most, and so the weather didn’t bother them one bit,” Wieczorek said.

The result was the UI men’s team scoring its most points ever in a conference outdoor championship.

“For sure it’s a dream come true for me. In my life, this is the crowning glory for me personally.”
UI head coach
Larry Wieczorek

It is impossible to highlight one effort in a meet that spans three days and 21 events. Winning the league trophy in track and field takes plentiful contributions across the board. That means it’s imperative to get a point from Zeke Sayon in the 100-meter dash, two points from Jeff Thode in the 5,000 run, four from Matt Banse in the shot put, three from Adam Hairston in the 800 run and so on and so forth.

“I came here five years ago and we kept getting better and better every year,” Hairston said. “You couldn’t ask for a better feeling than to go out as a Big Ten Conference champion.”

Final results at league meets from 2007-10 support Hairston’s claim. The Hawkeyes scored 74 ½ in 2007, 68 in 2008, 69 in 2009 and 86 a year ago when the UI finished fourth behind Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

On paper, the Hawkeye forecast in 2011 included 100 points and a potential return to fourth place in the conference standings.

“We exceeded that,” Wieczorek said.

“We said we can go above and beyond that and we did,” added Hairston. “We knew we were going to have to do that to win.”

It took extraordinary achievement from an extraordinary group of Hawkeyes. One example was a 2-3 finish in the 400-meter hurdles by Ethan Holmes (50.65) and D’Juan Richardson (51.52).

“Obviously it was a total team effort, but I thought that the 400 hurdles with D’Juan Richardson getting third…” Wieczorek said. “It’s pretty hard to pick out anybody special, but Zeke Sayon limping through the 100. It was a total team effort to get it done.”

In a matter of minutes late in the afternoon on the meet’s final day, Iowa vaulted into title contention with gold medal efforts from Justin Austin in the 200, Troy Doris in the triple jump and Matt Byers in the javelin. Byers, a sophomore, already owns two individual championships.

“I knew coming in we were going to be close and I knew we could win this because we had people in the right places,” Byers said. “We kept doing what we had to do.”

“I was focused on doing what I came here to do and that was to get 10 points,” Doris said. “That’s the most important thing. My teammates expect big things from me and I can’t let them down.”

Following Sunday’s final event — the 1,600-meter relay — Wieczorek, who was rumored to be wandering beneath the grandstands during the race, flashed a smile as long and wide as the storm front that passed through eastern Iowa a day earlier.

He called perseverance a good thing. But don’t expect a 44-year pause before the next Big Ten Conference men’s track and field championship at the UI.

Wieczorek won’t wait that long for another shoulder ride.