Friday, June 12, 2015

Hammer Time

The best part of TigerBlog's half-year in the weight room - other than big arms, of course - has been the opportunity to see Princeton's athletes as they go through their own strength and conditioning programs.

He's seen tennis players and soccer players, water polo players and basketball players, squash players and swimmers.

And track and field athletes. One of them has been Julia Ratcliffe.

When you first meet Julia Ratcliffe, you'd think she looks more like a women's soccer player or softball player than a hammer thrower.

She is, though, incredibly strong and athletic, and that has made her one of the best hammer throwers in the world.

Ratcliffe, a junior, finished second at the NCAA championships yesterday in Eugene, Ore. The winner was DeAnna Price of Southern Illinois, who set a meet record with a throw of 71.49 meters (234-6). Ratcliffe's best throw was 67.3 (220-9).

Only one other Princeton women's track and field athlete has ever had two career top 10 finishes at the NCAA championships, and that was Ashley Higginson in the steeplechase, who was third in 2010 and sixth in 2011.

Ratcliffe now has a first and second. Her championship last year is the only one in program history.

Ratcliffe is one of the most impressive athletes TigerBlog has met at Princeton.

In addition to being a national champion, she is also a top student, one who won the national coaches association scholar-athlete of the year award a year ago. She's personable and funny and easy to root for and really is, in many ways, the embodiment of everything that makes Princeton Athletics so special.

She's also a native of New Zealand, and she hopes to compete for her country in the 2016 Olympic Games. TigerBlog remembers when she first arrived at Princeton, fresh off the long plane ride from New Zealand, when she basically knew nobody on this campus.

She stopped into TigerBlog's office for about 10 minutes of so, while she waited for Peter Farrell, the women's track and field coach. After she got settled and went on her way, Farrell came by and told TigerBlog how special Ratcliffe was and how she was going to have a great career at Princeton.

How right he has been.

TigerBlog watched the women's hammer throw yesterday on ESPN3. If you haven't seen the hammer throw - and TB hasn't seen much of it - the event requires a lot of timing, quickness, balance and strength.

There were two flights for the first three throws, and the top nine advanced to get three more throws. The standings would be determined by the distance of each competitors top throw, regardless of whether or not it came on the first throw or sixth.

The favorite, as TB understood it, was Brooke Pleger of Bowling Green, who had the early lead but who then would finish third.

Ratcliffe briefly took the lead before Price bettered her by one inch. Had that been Price's best throw, then Ratclife would have lost by a single inch. Instead, Price had two more throws better than that one.

Ratcliffe wasn't the only Princeton athlete to compete yesterday. Cecilia Barowski did not advance out of the 800 heats, and Lizzie Bird finished 22nd in the steeplechase.

Steven Soerens completed his incredible two days of the decathlon.

It was Soerens who gave Princeton the deciding points in the Ivy League Heptagonal championships as the Tigers rallied past Cornell for the team title.

Because the decathlon is so grueling, there is no NCAA regional qualifying, like there is in every other event. Soerens was one of the 24 athletes who qualified directly into the NCAAs, qualifying 24th, actually.

Soerens was in the top 10 for the entire two days though. He entered the final event - the 1,500 - in sixth place.

TigerBlog actually paused episode 79 of "Parenthood" to watch Soerens in the 1,500. TB's first thought was to wonder how big Soerens is. He certainly looked bigger than the rest of the competition.

The decathlon, as everyone knows, is grueling. As TB watched the final event, he wondered what went through their collective minds as they reached the end. Relief, he supposes.

Soerens ran a 4:37.74 for the 1,500. It left him with 7,669 points, which beat Peter Hunt's 1988 school record of 7,466. 

He also maintained his sixth-place finish, which earned him first-team All-America honors.

It was a truly stunning achievement, going from the 24th seed to finishing sixth and earning first-team All-America. That's not something that happens routinely.

The final Princeton competitor was Megan Curham, who finished 12th in the 10,000. She was in the lead for much of the first third of the race of so.

With the end of Curham's race, Princeton's six athletes at the NCAA championships were also finished.

The final total was four All-Americas, first-teamers Ratcliffe and Soerens and second-teamers Curham and Sam Pons in the 10,000s.

It wasn't a bad trip to Oregon for the Tigers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Now that the academic year is over, just a word to encourage more of your feature stories which include your personal memories or historical compilations. Here are some unsolicited ideas:

Greatest games or events you've witnessed, with and without regard to historical context
Happiest moments you've experienced due to Princeton sports
Weirdest fluke plays
Most improbable comebacks
Most inspiring student-athletes

Keep up the good work in the gym: Sun's out, guns out.