For most track and field athletes, setting a new personal record simply means outperforming their own previous time or distance. For a few of the top performers such a feat might also mean setting a new school record. For Duke junior Curtis Beach, a new personal best in the 1000-meter portion of the heptathlon also meant a new world record, and he shattered his own world record in the event en route to a national title.
Beach and teammate Michelle Anumba competed at the NCAA National Indoor Championships, which took place Friday and Saturday in Nampa, Idaho. Beach earned a top finish in the heptathlon, while Anumba placed 11th in the women’s shot put, earning second team All-America honors.
Beach and his coaches had set their eyes on a national title in the fall, but many experts did not see Beach winning it all.
“I really wasn’t in the discussion in the track community as an actual potential winner,” Beach said. “It was between three other guys who were ranked higher than me.”
He posted solid performances in the first two events, placing sixth in the 60-meter dash and fourth in the long jump among a field of 16 competitors, setting personal records in both events. The third event—the shot put—is his worst event, and he fell back with an 11th-place finish despite tallying his third personal record in a row. Coach Shawn Wilbourn began to worry after an eighth-place showing in the high jump, though.
“He started off with three PR’s and then the high jump didn’t go as well as we had hoped,” Wilbourn said. “That was one of the moments of concern. But I was still fairly confident because all along I knew he had the 1000m at the end of the meet in his back pocket.”
He broke two more personal marks and finished seventh and sixth, respectively, in the 60m hurdles and the pole vault before the 1000m race.
Entering the final event, he stood in fourth place, needing to make up more than 200 points on Wisconsin sophomore Japheth Cato. Such a deficit meant that Beach had to beat Cato in the 1000m by about 21.5 seconds.
After a false start, Beach put in the best performance of his life, blazing through 1000 meters of track in just 2:23.63, about 15 seconds faster than second-place finisher Marcus Nilsson of UCLA and some four seconds faster than his own world record, which he set in this same meet two years ago. But the world record still did not yet spell a national title for Beach.
“I didn’t know I would’ve won until I saw [Cato] cross the line. So I was just there, and I had finished. That’s what’s weird about the multi-event competitions—you don’t know if you won until everyone is done.”
Cato finished in 2:49.34, well over 21.5 seconds behind Beach, putting Beach in the winner’s circle. And it was the national title, not the world record, that made Beach proud to take his victory lap and greet the large group of family members who traveled with him to Idaho.
“It’s kind of cool [to hold the world record], but I’m just happy that I was able to perform better than I ever had in the past,” Beach said. “I could’ve broken the world record by just a little bit in that event, but I could’ve done so much better in the shot put—which would’ve been not even close to any kind of world record in that event—and I might be happier with that.”
Anumba said she watched most of Beach’s performances and that it was “encouraging” to see a teammate show such dedication and achieve such success on a national stage. Though she did not advance to the finals of her own event, she was pleased to have qualified for the national competition with a personal-record throw of 55-09.75 at the Virginia Tech Final Qualifier a week earlier.
Her best throw at the national meet was 53-0.75, but she said the biggest takeaway was the experience of competing in such a prestigious atmosphere. She returns to Durham with “a sense of belonging and then accomplishment, because I understand that it’s not easy to get here.”
Both Beach and Anumba have qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials, which will take place in June.
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