Thursday, June 10, 2010

Donn's Year

TigerBlog was going to write the 2009-10 Princeton Athletics Year in Review the other day when this fact dawned on him: The year isn't over yet.

It won't end for Princeton Athletics until the last of Princeton's six competitors at the NCAA track and field championships in Oregon is finished. The latest that could be would be Saturday.

If TB is reading the calendar correctly, Saturday is June 12. The first athletic events of the 2009-10 season were back on Sept. 4, when the men's and women's soccer teams opened their seasons.

And, of course, it won't be all that long - a little more than two months from now - that the fall athletes will return to campus to begin preparations for the 2010-11 school year.

Princeton has more than 1,000 student-athletes, yet there is still quite a bit of drama left for the six who are still competing.

Princeton actually sent seven athletes to the track and field championships; it is the highest total Princeton has ever had qualify for the NCAAs.

Sophomore Donn Cabral ran the fastest time in qualifying in the steeplechase, and Cabral figures to go head-to-head with Matt Hughes of Louisville (fastest time in the season, second-fastest in qualifying, whereas Cabral had run the second-fastest time in the country prior to the championships) in tomorrow night's final.

TigerBlog has always thought the steeplechase was an interesting event, though his exposure to it was usually limited to seeing it in the Olympics. When TB walks around the Weaver Track on his way to the football stadium or the other side of campus, he often stops at the water jump for the steeplechase and thinks about how much it would stink to trip on the top of the hurdle and fall into the water.

Beyond that, TB never thought about the origins of the event. Before he went to Wikipedia a few minutes ago, he would have guessed - and been right - that there was some sort of British tradition to the steeplechase.

Cabral's time of 8:42.84 in the NCAA qualifying would have been, at least according to Wikipedia, the world record as late as 1955. Today, the world record is 7:53.63, nearly a minute faster than it was 55 years ago.

Cabral's year has been an interesting one, and it gives a pretty good insight into the physical nature of being a collegiate runner.

When you think of the physical toll playing sports can take on an athlete, you usually start with something like football or hockey. In reality, it's probably as demanding to be a distance runner as anything else an athlete can do.

Cabral's year, for instance, started way back in the fall in cross country season. The Glastonbury, Conn., native finished sixth at the Heptagonal championships, which was probably the toughest team moment of the year for any Princeton team, as the Tigers finished second in the league by one point to Columbia, which means that any one place change would have made the difference.

The indoor season saw him finish second at Heps in both the 3,000 and the 5,000 as Princeton won the men's (and women's) indoor team championships.

At outdoor Heps, where Princeton's men finished second, Cabral won a grueling individual double of the steeplechase and the 10,000, becoming the first Ivy athlete ever to win those two events at a single Heps.

He then ran a school record 8:35.60 at the NCAA regionals two weeks ago, giving him the second-fastest collegiate time and the sixth-fastest time overall in the country this year.

And now he has a good a chance as anyone to win the NCAA title. Should he be successful, he would be just the third outdoor individual champ in Princeton history, after legendary Tiger athletes William Bonthron (who won the 1934 mile) and Tora Harris (who won the 2002 high jump).

How many miles do you think he's run in training for these successes, and how hard has he had to push himself to achieve all this? Think that's easy?

While Cabral's year won't be over when even when the NCAAs end, as he has qualified for the U.S. championships as well, Princeton's 2009-10 athletics year ends with this weekend.

Writing the year in review? It'll have to wait until next week, because the lead may still not have happened yet, even after more than ninth months of competition.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Little known fact about Heyward Field, the track and field facility at the University of Oregon ... it is the stadium that is in the background of the great scene from “Animal House” when Neidermeyer rides in on his horse to disrupt ROTC drills and yell at Flounder for wearing his pledge pin.

I never realized it until I had the opportunity to go there for the 2001 NCAA championships. I had friend take a photo of me pretending to swing a golf club like Otter and Boone pegging Neidermeyer with golf balls, but I lost it in a recent move.