7 Blue Devils named All-Americans at NCAA Championships, Guttormsen wins bronze

Simen Guttormsen jumped higher than any Blue Devil ever has in the pole vault at the NCAA Championships.
Simen Guttormsen jumped higher than any Blue Devil ever has in the pole vault at the NCAA Championships.

Up in Eugene, Ore. for the week, the Blue Devils left it all on the track (and field) as they contested nine events at the NCAA Championship meet. After a grueling four days, the Duke men and women returned seven All-Americans, headlined by graduate student Simen Guttormsen’s third-place finish in the men’s pole vault. 

From any angle, the meet was one for the record books, even at the famed Hayward Field: Six collegiate records were broken. Florida claimed the men’s team title, and it wasn’t much of a surprise when Arkansas, after breaking the women’s 400m record and sweeping the event’s top four, took it for the women.

“It's like another stratosphere, how difficult the level of competition [is],” head coach Shawn Wilbourn said. 

Vaulting himself straight into another stratosphere on day one, Guttormsen changed Duke history. With a clearance of 5.52m in the pole vault, the Norway native became an NCAA bronze medalist and a First Team All-American, bettering his fourth-place showing at this meet two years ago. 

Coming in with a season-best mark of 5.65m from the ACC Championships, Guttormsen had his sights set on a national title. But with the bar set so high — literally — the top few places were decided by a matter of inches. For Guttormsen, that meant the difference between bronze and gold. After passing the opening two heights, the program record holder comfortably cleared the next two on his first attempts. However, when the bar was raised to a height of 5.62m, Guttormsen was unable to clear it. That left him in a tie for third place and the highest finish ever in the event by a Blue Devil at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

“He had an opportunity to win,” Wilbourn said. “Anytime you're in that position, it's awesome to coach that.”

The other highlight of the day came from the men’s hammer throw, where graduate students Christian Johnson and Aimar Palma Simo capped off electric seasons with All-American honors. In every competition this year, the pair have put on a show, consistently pushing each other to their limits. Wednesday, it was Johnson who came out on top, walking away with a 12th-place mark and Second Team All-America honors to boot, thanks to a monster throw of 68.80m on his first attempt. Palma Simo wasn’t far-off, landing a spot on the All-American Second Team with a toss of 67.99m to end his season as 14th in the country. 

“They did what they’ve been doing all year,” Wilbourn said. “[I’m] proud of those guys to finish as high as they did.”

Still, the day wasn’t over without Duke’s workhorse, Ezra Mellinger, who made his NCAA championship debut in the long jump. After a dream season of personal bests in both the long jump and the 200m, the graduate jumper finished 18th in the nation, snagging Honorable Mention All-America honors with a mark of 7.43m.

“It's just tough your first time here,” Wilbourn said. “It takes experience.”

Despite making her own championship debut, senior Moorea Mitchell seemed unfazed in the women’s hammer throw. The Sunnyvale, Ca. native blew away her personal best by over a meter with a mark of 61.36m, moving to No. 2 all-time in Duke lore. Honorable Mention All-America honors were just the icing on top as Mitchell finished 19th amongst a stacked field.

Come Saturday, it was all Lauren Tolbert. Holding her own in a star-studded 800m final that included the past three NCAA champions in the event, the sophomore star pushed to the line in 2:01.95 to place eighth and earn First Team All-America honors. But that wasn’t all. En route to the final, Tolbert broke the Duke record for the second time this season, running 2:01.79 in the prelims. With her ACC 400m individual title back in May, it’s safe to say that the future is bright for Tolbert. Wilbourn certainly thinks so. 

“She's a superstar now, but the sky's the limit for her,” Wilbourn said. “She's only gonna get better and better.”

For senior Brianna Smith, the championship meet wasn’t an easy road. She injured her ankle and failed to clear the opening height in the women’s high jump, but rallied back to complete her double duty in the women’s heptathlon — bringing her total to an astonishing eight events contested in a span of two days. After racing through the last one — the 800m — Smith ended with 5,355 points and secured Honorable Mention All-America honors. 

“The whole season, we're talking about what [this meet’s] going to be like,” Wilbourn said. “Overcoming the adversity throughout the season prepares them."

In two weeks, three Blue Devils — Johnson, Tolbert and graduate student Halle Bieber — will be back at Hayward Field to chase every athlete’s dream at the Olympic Trials. Pending the status of an ankle injury, Wilson might also be in the mix. So the national championship meet is over and done with, but one thing is for sure: The Blue Devils aren’t finished.


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