Wednesday, May 30, 2012


TigerBlog was listening to Fred Samara as he spoke about what a gifted natural athlete Conor McCullough is, how he could have been a tight end, how far he could drive a golf ball, and he came back to the same thought he always has: How do kids end up in the sports (and positions) that they play in high school and college?

And, growing off that idea, there's the question of just how transferable athletic ability is. If you are a great basketball player, could you also be a great fencer? Or do you have some specific skill set that only lends itself to that particular sport?

Forgetting the obvious that you need to be 6-5, 300+ to play offensive line in the NFL or that it's hard for 6-3 to guard 6-11 in basketball, the answer to the skill set question is a little of both.

There are some athletes who could drift easily from sport to sport. There are others who found the one sport (and in certain cases, the one position) in which they could excel. So maybe the question should be what percentage does each answer get? In that case, TB would say more find their niche than could do just about anything, probably at around a 2-1 margin.

McCullough, though, is definitely in the "could do anything" category.

Every now and then, there is the freak athlete whose natural ability is just overwhelming, and that's what Princeton has in McCullough. As it turned out, he ended up as a hammer thrower because his father did the event for Ireland in the Olympics.

McCullough has destroyed the competition to this point.

He is the Princeton and Ivy League record-holder indoors (the weight throw) and outdoors (the hammer). At the NCAA regional this past weekend in Florida, all six of his throws eclipsed the best throw from anyone else in the field, a group of 48 other throwers that just happened to include the second- and third-best throwers in the country.

In other words, McCullough would have finished 1-2-3-4-5-6 in the competition, one that included the next two highest-ranked athletes in the country.

McCullough is probably headed to the Olympics, though not likely this year. Donn Cabral might be Olympic-bound in his event, the steeplechase, and he'll find that out in the Olympic trials in late June/early July.

Where McCullough and Cabral are both headed is the NCAA outdoor track and field championships in Des Moines, Iowa, June 6-8, and both could come back from the event with a championship.

Princeton is wrapping up an extraordinary year of men's track and field/cross country. The Tigers won all three Ivy League team championships, running their two-year streak to six, by the way.

Individually, Princeton is sending six men (and one woman, 1,500 runner Greta Feldman) to the NCAA championships. The six from one gender and seven total are both records for the program.

It goes way beyond the number of athletes who have qualified.

It's the fact that two Princeton athletes have legitimate chances - in fact may actually be the favorites - of winning their events and that the others have real chances at earning All-America honors.

For Cabral, his road won't end in Des Moines. He hopes that a year that started with summer training in high altitude in Utah and saw him go through three seasons at Princeton will end in London at the Olympics.

McCullough in all likelihood is in the wrong event to get to that stage this quickly, as the hammer throw is dominated by those who have reached full physical maturity and have international experience. In other words, by those who are where McCullough will be in four years or even eight years.

Cabral was a decent youth soccer player who turned to distance running in high school and took to it immediately.

McCullough is a freak of nature who could do any sport.
Different paths. Same goals.

On the same team.

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