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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Hurdling over all expectations

    Tenth place in the pole vault and eighth in the 300-meter hurdles at the 2002 California state high school meet and Arizona track and field head coach Fred Harvey knew he had a world-class athlete on his hands.

    Okay, maybe he didn’t know it at all, but he gave a walk-on position at the University of Arizona to the right guy.

    Robert Jake Arnold was that guy.

    “”He was a pole vaulter primarily in high school,”” Harvey said. “”Basically, he ended up with an injury (and) broke his hand senior year. He couldn’t really pole vault during that time so he decided to take up hurdling a little bit more senior year and did very well in the northern California state meet.

    “”That being said,”” Harvey added, “”We recruited him to try the vault, but his mark wasn’t high enough where we could give him a scholarship.””

    Lucky for for Harvey, Arnold would raise the bar above his 15-foot vault measurement from the state meet; way above.

    Arnold, who goes by Jake, redshirted his freshman year as the coaching staff discovered his quick learning curve in multiple events. They decided to make him a decathlete, a track and field athlete at its finest. Decathletes compete in ten events over a two-day period – that’s five contests a day for anyone counting.

    Bursting onto the national scene by his junior and senior year campaigns, Arnold proved Harvey a good decision maker. In both 2006 and 2007, Arnold took first in the Pacific 10 Conference Championships, won the NCAA crowns and finished as the third-best decathlete in the United States.

    “”We definitely knew that he could be a very competitive decathlete,”” Harvey said. “”I don’t think any of us would have predicted that he would have gotten to this level based upon what we had seen early on.””

    Despite the impressive performances, Arnold’s staggering success on paper has not satisfied him. He wants more, and after missing an Olympic birth, he’ll get his chance in the 2009 Berlin World Championships.

    A helping hand

    UA assistant track and field coach Sheldon Blockburger, Arnold’s personal coach, is unlike the javelin – he’s quite blunt.

    “”Sheldon and I have such a great relationship, we understand each other,”” Arnold said of Blockburger. “”He’ll be right upfront with me, but that’s a lot of times what you need. He’s really there to help me know that it didn’t go well and why it didn’t go well.””

    After Arnold scored 7984 – a below average score for a world-class decathlete – at the June 24-25 USA Championships, Blockburger was again honest. After a third-place finish that qualified Arnold for the USA team in the upcoming Berlin World Championships, it wasn’t praise-filled honesty either.

    “”To get respect from the rest of the world, you’re going to have to score about 8200 points in the (Berlin) meet,”” Blockburger said of Arnold’s performance. “”He just had a bad meet, probably the worst jumping he’s had in the four year’s I’ve known him was in that meet right there.””

    Arnold’s low scores were a result of poor performances in the high jump, long jump and javelin. If he can jump as he does in practice and add 15 feet to his nearly 190 foot javelin throw, Blockburger said, his scores can improve to around that 8200 point range.

    “”If you do it right in practice all the time then you start to trust in it,”” Blockburger said. “”He can do things pretty good in practice right now, but he’s not sure it’s going to work in a meet yet. We’re hoping that switches over here pretty quick.””

    Now injury free, Arnold has taken about a week off to recover from the exhausting two-day meet and is in California to pick up training where he left off.

    For the country

    In the 2008 USA trials, Arnold scored a steady 8130, which earned him fourth place. Unfortunately, places one through three earn a competitor the right compete for the the USA team in the world championships or every four years, the Olympics; such was the case last year.

    Being the odd-man-out hurt him, but Arnold will hope to find redemption in Berlin on August 19 and 20.

    “”It is a huge, huge honor to put on the USA jersey,”” Arnold said. “”If you’ve worked on something really, really hard and you end up succeeding in whatever you’re doing, that feeling that you get when you succeed at something is … you can’t describe it, you know?””

    Such feelings can make anyone nervous. Walking the field of the world’s finest athletes, Arnold knows that’s the mental obstacle he must overcome.

    Calm down. Focus on yourself.

    “”It always gets you,”” Arnold said of the pressure that comes from competing in world-class meets. “”But the one thing that I try to work on is not thinking about it too much and really making sure I do what I can do instead of worrying about other people.””

    Still, the once unknown kid out of Santa Rosa, Calif., cannot help but savor the experience.

    “”All the time I’ve put in,”” Arnold added, “”has allowed me to make the world team and represent my country overseas against every country in the world.””

    Talk about raising the bar.

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