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Four Duke track and field athletes gear up for NCAA Championships

The Devils took down the Florida State Seminoles, previously undefeated in the ACC, Saturday at Indoor Cameron Stadium
The Devils took down the Florida State Seminoles, previously undefeated in the ACC, Saturday at Indoor Cameron Stadium

Closing out a record-filled outdoor season, four Blue Devils will compete at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Decathlete Curtis Beach, 800-meter runners Cydney Ross and Anima Banks and discus-thrower Austin Gamble will all represent Duke as they compete for All-American honors and national championships Wednesday through Saturday at Heywood Field in Eugene, Ore.

“This outdoor season, I’ve never seen anything like it in my time at Duke. We’ve had at least one school record every weekend this outdoor season dating back to the last weekend in March so that’s quite a streak to be on,” head coach Norm Ogilvie said. “And of course at this point, these athletes are really good, so for them to top their own school records would result in All-America-type performance.”

The 2012 indoor national champion in the heptathlon, Beach begins competition in the decathlon Wednesday afternoon, representing the Blue Devils’ best shot at bringing home a national title.

The Albuquerque, N.M. native finished second in the competition at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships and currently holds the third-best decathlon score in the nation this year, leaving him in a prime position to compete for the title.

“He’s competed in a lot of big meets, done a lot of big things this spring,” Ogilvie said. He’s set a lot of school records himself… but this is the big one. [A decathlon championship] is the one he wants.”

To achieve that goal, Beach will have to top two foreign-born freshmen. Texas’ Johannes Hock, originally from Germany, and Georgia’s Maicel Uibo from Estonia. Each posted scores this spring that topped Beach’s best 2013 score of 8,011 at the Texas Relays March 27.

But Ogilvie said he would put his money on Beach to claim the crown due largely to his advantage in experience. In order to succeed, both Beach and Ogilvie know that he will have to put up a strong middle-distance running performance.

“It’ll probably come to the 1500 meters,” Ogilvie said. “And Curtis is definitely the best middle-distance runner of the three, so he’ll have to play catch-up. They’ll be ahead on points and the only way for him to win is to come from way back in the 1500 and… dominate that event. He’ll know what he’ll have to do. That’s one of the fun things about decathlon. It’s all basically a math problem in the end.”

Joining Beach for a third consecutive NCAA Outdoor Championship appearance, Ross will contend for All-America honors in the women’s 800 meters, beginning with the semifinal heats Wednesday afternoon.

The redshirt senior returned this year as a student at the Fuqua School of Business for one last season as a Blue Devil and has found plenty of success, winning the ACC Championships both indoors and outdoors, and earning indoor All-American honors in the 800 meters. Ogilvie said that with a strong performance this weekend, Ross could become an All-American outdoors as well.

Ross also may be peaking at the right time. As she heads into the final runs of her collegiate career, the veteran is coming off a personal record at the NCAA Eastern Preliminaries May 23.

“It’s possible she can win the whole thing,” Ogilvie said. “At the NCAA first round in Greensboro two weekends ago, both times, she raced the number one girl in the country [LSU junior Natoya Goule]. Both times, she pushed her to the limit.”

Competing alongside Ross in the 800-meters, Banks will be one of just three true freshmen competing in the women’s 800 in Eugene. Banks posted a personal record as well at the NCAA first round, clocking in at 2:06.82.

Referred to as a Cinderella story by Ogilvie, Banks secured the very last spot to advance in each of her first two races at the Eastern Preliminaries.

“She’s here to get experience,” Ogilvie said. “She’s surprised us twice. We’ll see if she’s going to surprise us a third time.”

Lastly for the Blue Devils, Gamble will compete in the discus event Friday. The redshirt junior, who hold the school record in the event, will likely have to increase his distance to qualify for the finals.

Gamble set a school record of 58.07 meters at the Virginia Challenge May 7 but will likely need a 60-meter toss to have a chance at winning the competition, Ogilvie said.

Although each Duke athlete will most likely need to set a personal record to compete for a title this week, Ogilvie said the conditions at Heywood Field will provide a great opportunity to attain those.

“Heywood field in Eugene, Oregon is kind of like the grand cathedral of track in this country,” Ogilvie said. “Some of the great performances of track and field history have occurred here. Adding to that, we have probably the best weather forecast Heywood field has seen I would guess since 1978. That also gets athletes excited, when [they] know they can compete in good conditions.”

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