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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Hastings_NatashaFV-NBind16.jpgNatasha Hastings, NBIndoorGP2016, photo by PhotoRun.net

Multi-Time Relay Gold Medalist Senses She's Poised For Individual Glory

Every once in a while, you can uncover a world-class United States track & field athlete whose journey to stardom reinforces the hope that our country can still identify future elite performers and steer them to the path that allows them to achieve full potential as an athlete and, more importantly, as a person. Natasha Hastings is one such athlete.

Born and raised in the maelstrom that is New York City, the young Hastings didn't get lost in the shuffle. As a 16 year old, she won the 400 meters [53.41] in the 2003 Youth Girls Division of the USATF Junior Olympics. That achievement did not go unnoticed. With the double barreled benefit of attending A. Philip Randolph Campus High School - a Harlem-based institution known for its blend of top flight academics and athletics - Hastings bloomed as a student and as an athlete. "It was kind of like the best of both worlds," notes Hastings. "There was a good track program at Randolph, but I was also going to a good school." It is no surprise that the nearby Armory would play a role in her development. "On my gosh, the Armory was like home," declares Hastings excitedly. "I'm pretty familiar with the Armory and I sure know my way around that building."

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David Hunter interviews Shawn Barber, photo by Margaret Hunter

Barber Survives Close Shave, AL for Nageotte

Akron, Ohio

While arctic temperatures and bone-chilling winds punished most of the country, a select group of elite pole vaulters were heating things up inside the Stiles Athletic Center on the University of Akron campus at the 5th annual Pole Vault Convention.

IMG_0024.JPGJenn Suhr being interviewed by David Hunter, photo by Margaret Hunter

Members of pole vault royalty were in attendance. In the women's competition, the headliner was Jenn Suhr. The 2012 Olympic vault champion and the indoor world record holder had made the trip down from her upstate New York home to take on a worthy field that included former national champion Mary Saxer and emerging young star Katie Nageotte. In the men's event, reigning world champion Shawn Barber and former Zip vault star was looking to make it three Convention wins in a row. Although not competing, retired 2004 Olympic champion and former Olympic record holder Tim Mack was present along with several of his Knoxville vault pupils here to compete and to pick up some technical pointers during the 3-day instructional seminar. Even though she has yet to open her 2017 season, the reigning Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi and her husband Mitchell Krier - new northeastern Ohio residents - were also in the house.

Dennis Mitchell, Akron .jpgDennis Mitchell, courtesy of YouTube.com

Akron Head Coach Transforms Zips Into A Track Power

In the summer of 1995, University of North Carolina field events coordinator Dennis Mitchell had just completed his 4th year as a member of the Tar Heels track & field coaching staff, which had guided its UNC athletes to their 3rd straight Atlantic Coast Conference title. Suddenly, Mitchell was presented with the dream of every assistant coach: an opportunity to take on the head coaching duties at a Division I university. But the new position offered by the University of Akron would not be without its challenges. The programs at Akron were woeful indeed. Earlier that spring, the men's and women's track & field teams had finished dead last in the Mid-American Conference outdoor championships - both by sizeable margins. The Zips' programs were in disarray: with few standout athletes; the absence of cohesive program or vision; no real indoor facility; and a subpar outdoor track shoehorned into a gritty urban neighborhood.

Huddle_MollyWideF-NYC16.JPGMolly Huddle, photo by PhotoRun.net

Versatile Distance Star Finds Peace, Sets American Record

One of the more frequently-cited quotations of the Dalai Lama - a gentle man of many observations - notes that "not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck." Deep thinker, the Lama. And perhaps no person better personifies the Tibetan Buddhist's wise saying than American distance star Molly Huddle.

It's been over 16 months since Huddle's premature celebration in the final strides of the Beijing's World Championship 10,000m final allowed her USA teammate Emily Infeld to nip her at the line, costing Huddle the bronze medal. The commission of a horrific mistake in front of a capacity stadium crowd, a vast television audience, and countless more who viewed the virally-transmitted video would have been enough to devastate a lesser person. But Huddle found a way to transform crushing misfortune into a positive force in her life. What did she do? Among other things, she went on a road race tear in the fall of 2015 - winning national road championships at 5K, 10K, 12K, and 10 miles. She rode that momentum on into 2016 by ringing up a second place performance at the Millrose Games 5000 meter run, nipping Joyce Chepkirui at the line to successfully defend her New York Half Marathon title, and grabbing the laurel wreath with a victory in the B.A.A. 5K on Patriot's Day weekend. "I don't think I'll ever get over it," explained Huddle earlier this past summer. "I just want to move past it, not dwell on it, and not let it steal anymore from me by fixating on it."

 

Dwight Stones by Jonathan Jude Kainas.jpgDwight Stones, photo by Jonathan Jude Kalnas

 

High Jump Legend, TV Commentator Calls It As He Sees It

When older followers of track & field first think of Dwight Stones, they often recall "the Rookie" - the brash young high jumper who embraced the revolutionary Fosbury Flop, was the youngest member the 1972 USA Olympic track & field squad, captured the bronze medal in Munich, and went on to author a truly outstanding high jump career. Yet younger fans see Stones in a different way - as a passionate, informed track & field commentator who does his homework and has earned respect as a true professional from all corners of the sport. Both assessments are right on target.

Raised in southern California, Stones was at the vanguard of the first wave of athletes to tackle the vertical jump as it was undergoing an event-changing transition. "I pretty much showed up when the event was at the very early transitioning point in the high jump with Dick's ['68 gold medalist Fosbury] success in Mexico City," offers the two-time Olympic bronze medalist. "A lot of athletes - who had no business - were trying to switch to the flop. They weren't built for it. They tried to switch to it without much success. There were other guys who probably should have, but didn't." But the young Stones was intrigued by what he saw and the unexplored possibilities the new jump technique might provide. "I embraced it in my high school years and just got it. I can't explain why. It made sense to me. And the very first day I started working with it, it made sense to my coach. And in the absence of any materials or film, we took it apart and put it back together. I added some stuff I thought was workable from the straddle, the double arm approach, and it all seemed to work." For Stones - aided by his superb technical prowess - the progression was stunning. "I quickly went from being a 6' high jumper to a 7'1½" high jumper. I broke the high school national record. A year later I was on the Olympic team and won an Olympic medal. And a year later I was the world record holder."

Crouser_RyanWide-Rio16.jpgRyan Crouser, photo by PhotoRun.net

Olympic Shot Put Gold Medalist Has Upside Potential

A favorite, accurate, and often-used sports saying declares, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." So true. Ah, but when talent does work hard you have, well, Ryan Crouser - a young, gifted, and dedicated athlete who is the reigning Olympic gold medalist and Olympic record-holder in the shot put.

2016 NCAA Div. I Women’s Cross Country Championships

Terre Haute, Indiana

With only 1 kilometer remaining in the NCAA women’s cross country championship race, an icy wind whipped across the Terre Haute race course, and Missouri junior Karissa Schweizer – 20 meters behind race leader Anna Rohrer and working hard to hold her 5th place position – faced a moment of truth as she reflected on her progressive race day goals. "Honestly, I really just wanted to be in the top 10. But I knew if I was there, I could be in the top 5. And I knew if I was in the top 5, I would have a kick,” explained the Urbandale, Iowa native. “And I trust my kick."

At that moment, Schweizer went all in. Tearing into the final kilo, Schweizer soon dropped Sharon Lokedi and passed Brenna Peloquin to move into 3rd. "I knew I had a kick,” she explained. “3rd is nice, but I wanted to win." With third-year Mizzou coach Marc Burns exhorting her onward – "You can win this thing!" – Schweizer dug down deep. "I just knew I had another gear. So I just went for it. It was unbelievable. It was just crazy. I was catching them. Coming up the final straight, I just kicked into another gear." And in doing so, she sailed past highly-touted Anna Rohrer and Erin Finn on her way to a most improbable national championship victory.

"I thought she could be in the top 5,” a beaming Marc Burns explained afterwards. “Our goal was to be top 10, give ourselves a chance to be in the top 10 somewhere. We just talked about being in position to beat somebody who – on paper – you're not supposed to beat. I don't think she even thought she had a chance to win, honestly. I wanted her to know that she could do it.” The Mizzou coach analyzed the keys to Karissa’s victorious championship run. “She was really smart early. She was relaxed, fought the wind. The big early pack, suggesting a modest pace, may have helped her a little bit,” noted Burns. “As the race whittled down, she looked good and gave herself a chance.

With Schweizer – who finished 3rd in last spring’s NCAA outdoor championship 5000m – breaking through with a stunning upset win in Terre Haute, Burns is looking forward to cultivating further progression with his new champion. “She's obviously got wheels. We're going to keep plugging, focus on the process, and keep her healthy," offered the Missouri coach. Following a pause, Burns added, "After today, it is going to incredible to see what she can do on the track.” Those who witnessed Schweizer’s national championship upset win can’t help but share those same sentiments.

2016 NCAA Div. I Women’s Cross Country Championships


Schweizer, Oregon Are Upset Victors


Terre Haute, Indiana

The 2016 women's NCAA cross country championship competition kicked off a race day that was full of surprises and underscored the often-overlooked importance of total team performance.

With temperatures in the mid 30's and stubborn, powerful gusting driving wind chills into the teens, some 250 finalists answered the gun at Terre Haute's Lavern Gibson Championship Course. Leading a tightly-bunched field, Michigan senior Erin Finn and Notre Dame sophomore Anna Rohrer hit 1K in 3:10. At 2K, Rohrer – always striving to push the race pace – was up front, with Finn a half step back, and the New Mexico duo of Alice Wright and Calli Thackery rounding out the top four. After racing past 3K in 9:50 and stringing out the field, Rohrer – who placed 6th in last year's championship race – soon signaled the start of earnest racing as she tossed in a downhill surge just before 5K [passed in 16:20] in an effort to break away, leaving Finn and Boise State sophomore Brenna Peloquin 10 meters back with another duo – Kansas sophomore Sharon Lokedi and Missouri junior Karissa Schweizer – back yet another 10 meters. After the leaders turned into a biting headwind for the long final drive to the finish, Midwest Regional Champion Schweizer – who had moved into 3rd yet still down 20 meters with 300m to go – began her drive. Witnessing Rohrer and Finn beginning to falter against the gale energized Schweizer as she caught and promptly passed the struggling duo with just 100 meters remaining. Neither could respond to the Tiger’s finishing sprint. The exuberant surprise winner crossed the line in 19:41.6 – #9 on the course’s all-time list. The new champion was followed by her spent competitors – Finn [19:44.2] and Rohrer [19:44.6].

Meanwhile, the women's team race created its own surprising drama – ultimately affirming that a fully-performing squad is the key to a national team title. Favored Colorado – which had handily won the Mountain Regional with a cruise-control tight-pack strategy – came up short when Erin Clark, 11th in last year's championship, had a bad day at the office, struggling home 105th as the Buffaloes' final finisher. Simply an expected performance in the top 24 by its senior leader would have secured the team title for the Colorado women who totaled 134 points – 9 behind team champion Oregon.

An analysis of the team victory by Oregon [4-9-16-47-49=125] – a 1 point win over runner-up Michigan [2-13-24-37-50=126] – reveals not only how close the team battle was, but also the importance of every one of each team's scoring members. After a 6000 meter battle and buried in a covey of finishing athletes, Maggie Schmaedick – the Ducks fifth finisher – capped a maniacal race-ending sprint by crossing the finish line to just edge the Wolverines' final scorer by only 1/10th of second. Had that 1½ foot blanket finish been reversed, Michigan takes the team title by a point.

"I thought we could break 200 points and get a trophy,” proclaimed an ecstatic Maurica Powell. “Going into the race we had three really good front runners. I hoped we'd be top 4, but 125 points blows my mind," said the Oregon women’s assistant coach. “I saw them at 2K and told them, 'Guys, we're winning. Just stay where you are. We're in great position. Just stay calm.' At 4K, I think I yelled, "Guys, we're winning. Don't do anything stupid,'" laughed Powell.

"We were 5-for-5. I mean every kid we lined up today had an incredible race,” explained Powell who relished the win by her 12th ranked Ducks – the lowest-ranking team in NCAA history to win a national title. “I couldn't be prouder of these kids." Before turning to join her celebrating athletes, the Duck coach added, “We were only 4th in the PAC-12 and 4th in our region, but if you have three front-runners at this meet, it gets you something.” And on a championship day full of surprises, that something proved to be an unexpected NCAA cross country team championship for the women of Oregon.

WC_FEA_RALLY_008_r600x400.jpgUniversity of Arkansas T&F team, with Coach Lance Harter, photo by Andy Shape for WholeHogSports.com

Back in the late-70's when Lance Harter began his collegiate coaching career, he was wise enough to observe and listen to older, more experienced track & field coaches knowing he could pick up valuable pointers from them. "When I was getting started, I was the young buck at the Cal Poly SLO. And everybody would call me "kid' or 'son'", laughs Harter. "I'm very blessed that I've had the opportunities that I've had. And I attribute a lot of it to the mentors that I've had. I was very fortunate to have mentors that said, 'You're the young buck. But let's do it the right way.' And I'm very appreciative of that." Now the roles are reversed as Harter - one of the most respected and decorated college track& field coaches in the game - is the one from whom advice is sought.

 

usainbolt.jpgUsain Bolt, adidas GP 2015, photo by Kevin Morris

Sprint Legend Makes Unmatched Greatness Appear Commonplace

Having earlier stepped up with my evaluation of the elite women and unveiled my selection of the 2016 Track & Field Female Athlete of the Year [Polish hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk], it is high time I followed up with my analysis of this past season's exceptional track & field men and declare my pick for this year's Track & Field Male Athlete of the Year.

Using the subjective metrics of progression of marks, head-to-head competition, and honors won, here is how I see the top track and field men for 2016:

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.