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DUKE’S BEST ATHLETE VS. THE WORLD

Curtis Beach will compete Friday against top athletes like Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay  in the Millrose Games.
Curtis Beach will compete Friday against top athletes like Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay in the Millrose Games.

When sophomore Curtis Beach decided to commit to Duke University, he confused a lot of people.

For almost 30 years, Duke Track & Field’s standing as a competitive program has left quite a bit to be desired. However, when it was time for the high school record-holder to pick a school, Duke was his first choice.

“What I was looking for in a college was a place where I could develop for long term success in the decathlon,” Beach said. “I was already thinking when going into college about being a professional athlete and hopefully going to the Olympics.... At other colleges they would use me to score as many points as I could for the school each and every meet.... Here, the later stuff is the focus and anything that happens along the way in college is just part of the process.”

On Friday, Beach will take a major step toward those professional goals when he competes in the world-renowned Millrose Games in New York. He will participate in the 60-meter hurdles, high jump and shot put against some of his sport’s top athletes.

And according to Beach, he got to this current lofty position by keeping one goal in mind: to be the best at what he does.

When Beach started his running career, back in 1997, he was seven years old. Originally a cross-country runner, Beach started track at the suggestion of his middle school coach, James Ciccarello. But unlike a lot of college and high school athletes, he was never able to settle on a favorite event. Luckily, he found his niche in multi-event competitions, and was successful in everything from the pentathlon to the 13-event decathlon that he competed in during his last high school meet.

Of course, a lot has changed since those middle school and high school days on the track. Now, Beach is a major part of the running world, in way that he could only dream of in those early years.

“Every kid dreams of being a professional athlete at some point, so I thought in the back of my mind, you know maybe I can do pro track, but it was more of a fantasy than a serious consideration,” Beach said. “I think when I was in ninth grade, I kind of thought that this may be a real possibility.”

The current reality is that Beach has kept up the impressive performances he began in high school as a Blue Devil. In his first year alone he was able to set a school record for the 4x800m relay as well as a collegiate meet record at the New Balance Invitational at the Armory Track & Field Center in New York.

“That was really special, to actually share that experience with my other teammates, and all of us ran well and that was just an amazing experience from last year,” Beach said.

Other outstanding moments in Beach’s short-yet successful college career include his world record-breaking 2:27.88 in the heptathlon at the NCAA Indoor Championships and his school record-breaking heptathlon performance at the ACC Indoor Championships. The key to all this success, according to Beach, is to run for the love of the sport.

“Each competition I just try to do the best I can,” Beach said. “I think it’s just as simple as that; not thinking about why you’re actually competing… not being consumed by the results. Just focus more on the process and let the results take care of themselves.”

This intense focus will be crucial for Beach as he heads to Madison Square Garden Thursday to compete in the Millrose Games. Beach will participate in the Millrose Multi Challenge, competing against the current indoor heptathlon world record holder Ashton Eaton and Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay. Despite the intense scrutiny that comes with such high-level competition, Beach is still able to maintain his relaxed and optimistic mentality.

“I tend to perform better in bigger meets,” Beach said. “I think that a big part of the Millrose Games is that no one expects me to do well, they expect me to finish last. So that takes a lot of pressure off and I can just go at it with no regrets.”

Despite acknowledging that he could easily fulfill expectations and come in last, Beach also maintains that there is always a chance for greater success. Adding to his sense of comfort is the fact that his family will be there to watch him compete, something he felt was missing from his collegiate career. Knowing that they are there to support him makes a real difference to Beach, whose goal is to simply make the meet memorable, and to enjoy his biggest competition yet.

All those years of hard work and focus, from his first run at the age of seven to the Millrose Games in which he will soon compete, have combined to mark Beach as one of track and field’s most promising rising stars.

“In a sense,” Beach said, “track kind of defines me as a person.”

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