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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Arnold takes decathlon title

    Arizona redshirt junior decathlete Jake Arnold clears the bar in the decathlon pole vault at the NCAA	Championships Thursday in Sacramento, Calif.
    Arizona redshirt junior decathlete Jake Arnold clears the bar in the decathlon pole vault at the NCAA Championships Thursday in Sacramento, Calif.

    An Unsuspecting Champion

    At the time, it was a stroke of bad luck. In hindsight, however, it could turn out to be one of the best things to ever happen to Arizona’s newest national champion.

    Then a senior – and solely a pole-vaulter – at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, Calif., Jake Arnold, or Arnold-the-pole-vaulter, took a giant step toward becoming Arnold-the-decathlete by breaking his hand midway through his final high school season.

    Always an athlete – Arnold was a four-year letter-winner in track who also earned letters in basketball, soccer and football – the 6-foot-3 soon-to-be Wildcat couldn’t stand the thought of being relegated to watching from the sidelines, so he took to the hurdles, going as far as California’s state meet, where he took eighth place in the 300-meters.

    Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that four years later, as a redshirt junior under the guidance of former Louisiana State decathlete and current Arizona multi-events coach Sheldon Blockburger and Wildcats head coach Fred Harvey, Arnold began his quest of the decathlon championship last Thursday by winning the 110m hurdles in 14.59 seconds at the NCAA Championships in Sacramento, Calif. that took place June 7 through Saturday.

    It wasn’t until a day later, however, that Arnold accomplished something even he never thought he would, becoming a national champion decathlete, winning with a score of 7,870 – 98 points more than second-place finisher Chris Helwick, a junior from Tennessee, and second place all-time in Arizona history.

    In fact, he said out of high school his first goal “”was just being on a track team, being able to vault still, and being able to compete.””

    “”I’ve always done sports my whole life, so it was really nice to be part of a team again,”” he said. “”I never really expected – maybe like Pac(ific) 10 (Conference) champion, but never national champion.””

    But Arnold’s accomplishment was more than individual, as his 10-point contribution to the team-score event propelled the men’s team to seize the overall team lead through the third day of the championships, until Florida State came roaring back to win the title with 67 points.

    Arizona finished with 34 points and an impressive fourth place finish, tied for the best in school history with the 1998 squad.

    It also marked the third straight year a Wildcat won an individual championship.

    “”It absolutely set the tone in the competition for us,”” Harvey said. “”One of the things we kept saying to our athletes going in was to forget about the rankings, forget about where your rankings are as an individual athlete because they hold this meet for a reason.””

    Arnold became the reason the meet was held last weekend. It’s a fact Texas senior Trey Hardee learned the hard way.

    Hardee, the NCAA record holder in the heptathlon – indoor track’s multi-event competition – looked to have things sewn up just before the pole-vault event for his second national championship of the year.

    “”I don’t believe in luck,”” Harvey said. “”Luck is preparation and giving yourself an opportunity, and Jake’s situation was unbelievable because he was so prepared.

    “”Trey Hardee was the favorite beyond a shadow of a doubt,”” the coach added, “”but Jake was having the meet of his life and was right in position that if Trey made a mistake, it would give him an opportunity to win the competition.””

    As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened. After Hardee no-heighted (essentially failed to clear any height) in the pole-vault, the chance at grabbing Arizona’s first decathlon title since 1998 was in Arnold’s hands.

    “”When (Hardee) no-heighted in vault … it was just, ‘Get through your next two events, don’t hurt yourself,'”” Arnold said.

    But he still needed to score well in the remaining javelin and 1,500m events, which didn’t turn out to be too troublesome.

    “”Luckily,”” he said, “”I went and set personal records in both of them.””

    Arnold’s rise to the country’s best decathlete didn’t happen overnight but was certainly aided by Harvey’s decision to bring in Blockburger as multi-events coach.

    From tips in nutrition to his understanding of each individual event, Blockburger was a driving force in Arnold’s progression.

    “”Development to me is everything, and … to really see him take those types of jumps, it’s so satisfying as a coach,”” Harvey said. “”It’s what you dream for.””

    Amidst hordes of congratulatory phone calls from a long list of friends and family, Arnold said his title is just beginning to sink in. But no matter how many times he is congratulated, the unsuspecting champion remains surprised by himself.

    “”I don’t even really know to explain it,”” he said. “”It’s a big shock.

    “”But it’s a good one. It’s a real good one.””


    Notes

    Senior thrower Rachel Varner scored the women’s team’s only point by placing 8th in the discus … Cheseret, Shields and Varner are the only seniors among athletes scoring points…The third through eighth place men’s teams were separated by only 6 points…Cheseret and Shields both have won nine All-American honors in their track and field careers…Cheseret was slowed by a sore hamstring that caused him to place 11th in the 1,500m and score just two points over the weekend.

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