The word ‘competition’ took on a whole new meaning this past weekend when the Blue Devils sent six of their top athletes to contend with the nation’s best at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.
Sophomore Curtis Beach, along with teammates Devotia Moore and Cydney Ross, went up against professional athletes in the Senior Championship. At the same time, freshmen Hannah Goranson and Erica Brand met their rivals in the USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
“USATF is the highest level track meet in the United States,” director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “It was a good thing for these athletes to get the extra competition and compete in a big-time setting. This is the big-time…with sold out crowds.”
As Ogilvie pointed out, competing at Hayward Field is a prestigious accomplishment for aspiring Blue Devil runners, especially taking into consideration that next year’s Olympic Trials will be held at the same location.
“At the Olympic Trials, they’ll have seen the competition and will know what it’s like,” Ogilvie said. “And that’s certainly going to be a focus for some of our athletes.”
Beach will almost certainly fight for a spot on the Olympic team. He is the current men’s junior American recordholder in the decathlon, though he now competes in the senior division.
At the USATF Championships he was Duke’s highest placing athlete, finishing seventh in his signature event with 7,573 points, 1,153 short of the top spot. Beach was dominant in the 1,500-meter race, finishing over 11 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
Unlike some of the other Blue Devils, however, Beach was already acquainted with a few of his professional competitors, most notably Bryan Clay, gold medal winner in the decathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Ashton Eaton, world recordholder in the indoor heptathlon, both of which
“It was an extra fun track meet to do,” Beach said. “I’m not really focusing on [the Olympic Trials] right now. All I’m trying to do is take my abilities as far as they can go and see where I end up…I’m really happy I got to compete with those guys.”
His teammates, senior Devotia Moore and junior Cydney Ross, shared the unique opportunity of competing in the Senior Championships, as both Blue Devil women raced in the preliminary round of the 800-meter run. Moore took 19th place to finish off her final season as a Blue Devil, and Ross finished eight spots behind in 27th place.
In the Junior Championships, Goranson and Brand competed in the 100-meter hurdles and the discus, respectively. Goranson finished third in her preliminary heat, but faster subsequent heats left her .04 seconds short of eighth place overall. Her time of 14.02 seconds gave her a tenth-place finish. Brand’s final throw flew 45.18 meters, 5.25 meters short of the championship mark but good for eighth place.
And though their classmate, Tanner Anderson, was injured, he still found motivation from attending.
The freshman, whose personal record for the high jump was good enough to qualify for both the Senior and Junior Championships, used the opportunity to watch former NCAA outdoor champion and 2008 Olympian Jesse Williams compete in the high jump. Although Williams and Anderson have indirectly been in competition with each other since April of 2010 when Anderson eclipsed Williams’ North Carolina high school high jump record, this past weekend was the first time they had ever met in person.
“He introduced himself and said, ‘Oh, you’re the one that’s breaking all my records,’” Anderson said. “He was really nice about that…and just told me to keep my head up and keep working really hard and that all my success would just fall into place.
“I hope to follow in his footsteps. Seeing him jump, and his success, and the recognition he gave to God and his family, really inspired me….It really motivated me.”
The current Duke athletes also got a look at where a career as a Blue Devil might lead them after graduation, as they watched alumna Shannon Rowbury qualify for the IAAF World Championships with her top-three finish in the 1500-meter race.
When those six Duke athletes walked off the track and left Hayward Field behind, they left with the experience they had earned from competing with the best in the nation, and a vision of the type of success that hard work and a passion for their sport could create.
As Anderson put it, in an understatement, “it was definitely worth the trip.”
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