Thursday, June 12, 2014

43, Courtesy Of Julia Ratcliffe

The number 42 has been retired across all sports at Princeton University.

This was done a few years ago to honor two former Tiger athletes, Bill Bradley and Dick Kazmaier, both of whom wore the number during their time at Princeton. Bradley and Kazmaier, along with Hobey Baker, are probably the three greatest athletes in school history.

Baker's number isn't retired in either football or hockey, largely because numbers weren't worn yet when he played. At least they weren't in football. TigerBlog is positive of that. He assumes they weren't in hockey either, since he figures he would have seen something by now of a number that Baker had worn.

The number 42 almost got retired again at Princeton this year, only not in the way that anyone associated with the athletic program wanted.

Headed into the 2013-14 academic year, Princeton Athletics had produced at least one team or individual national champion for 42 consecutive years. Headed into the final event of the academic year - the NCAA track and field championships in Eugene, Ore. - Princeton had not yet stretched that streak another year.

Then the women's hammer throw began, and Julia Ratcliffe took over. And when she was done, the sophomore had put up some important numbers, including:

219-5 (or 66.88 if you prefer).

And of course, 43.

What do those numbers stand for?

Ratcliffe threw the hammer 219-5 feet (that's 66.88 meters) to win the championship.

Each competitor gets three throws to start out with, and the top nine in each of two flights get three more after that. After each has gotten a total of six throws, the longest distance of any of those six throws is the winning one, even if it came in the first round.

The number three in this case doesn't stand for three throws. Nope. It stands for the fact that Ratcliffe had the top three throws in the competition. Among her six. Her first throw wasn't her best, and she'd already clinched it after everyone else had gone six times and she hadn't yet thrown her last one. And even with that, she still managed the best three.

And the No. 1? Princeton had never had an individual NCAA champion in women's track and field. The closest was in 2002, when Lauren Simmons was second in the 800.

That all changed yesterday in Oregon, where Ratcliffe simply dominated. And now she's the first NCAA women's track and field champion in program history.

TigerBlog remembers when Ratcliffe first arrived in Princeton. She had just gotten off the plane from her native New Zealand and had found her way to Jadwin Gym, a bit tired and a bit wide-eyed and probably a whole lot nervous about what she'd gotten herself into.

She stopped in TigerBlog's office asking where the track and field office was, and the answer, as it turns out, was actually this: "about 10% of the distance she can throw the hammer."

Peter Farrell, the only women's track and field head coach Princeton has ever had, came down a few minutes later to talk about how special Ratcliffe was and how limitless her potential was. It reminded TB of the time another Princeton head coach, then-men's squash head coach Bob Callahan, came in and talked that way about another incoming freshman just off the plane from far away, Yasser El Halaby, who won four individual championships during his time at Princeton.

Julia will not win four championships. That vanished last year, when she finished 11th in her first trip to the NCAA championships. She fouled twice and had one disappointing throw.

It wasn't what she had been expecting. What word would best sum it up? She, well, er, well, let her tell you what word she'd use. She "bombed," as she says in the video on after her win yesterday.

TigerBlog knows that Ratcliffe was aware of the long streak of national championship wins that she was trying to extend. He wonders how much pressure, if any, that added to the task she had of trying to win the program's first NCAA title.

It doesn't matter now though. If there was extra pressure, it didn't show, or she thrived on it, or she was just too good for the field.

The only drama came when Colorado's Emily Hunsucker took her sixth throw, and for awhile, it looked like it might have been in the same neighborhood as Ratcliffe's best efforts. Ultimately, it fell more than two meters short.

Julia Ratcliffe was the NCAA hammer throw champion.

She comes across in the video as she does in real life, as friendly, happy and humble. TigerBlog loved this quote from her:
“I’m just so thankful to the people who helped me out get here; my coach, my dad, my family and the Princeton team,. But I’m also really proud of myself because last year I kind of bombed so to come back and win….it just feels so good.”

And then it was over. Ratcliffe had her trophy and flowers.

And Princeton's streak lives on.

The streak, which dates to when Richard Nixon was President of the United States and Ken Fairman was the Director of Athletics at Princeton, has come down to the wire before, most recently in 2010, when the men's lightweight rowing team won to keep it going. Before that it was 1995, when women's open rowing did so.

Those were a little different than what happened yesterday. For starters, Princeton has always been a formidable rowing power. For another, that was a team event, not the pressure on one individual.

As it turned out, Princeton's streak had nothing to worry about.

Thanks to Julia Ratcliffe, its at 43 ... and counting.

Don't believe Princeton has actually done this for 43 straight academic years? Here's the year-by-year recap:

2014 - Julia Ratcliffe (women's hammer throw)
2013 - field hockey, Eliza Stone (women's sabre fencing), Peter Callahan/Russell Dinkins/Austin Hollimon/Michael Williams (men's indoor track and field distance medley relay), combined team fencing
2012 - men's squash, Donn Cabral (3,000 meter steeplechase)
2011 - Todd Harrity (squash), women's open rowing (1st varsity 8)
2010 – men’s lightweight rowing
2009 – men’s lightweight rowing, women’s squash
2008 – women’s squash
2007 – women’s squash
2006 – women’s open rowing (1st varsity 8), Yasser El Halaby (squash),
2005 – Yasser El Halaby (squash)
2004 – Yasser El Halaby (squash)
2003 – women’s lightweight rowing, women’s lacrosse, Yasser El Halaby (squash)
2002 – women’s lightweight rowing, women’s lacrosse, Tora Harris (indoor and outdoor high jump)
2001 – women’s lightweight rowing, men’s lacrosse, Soren Thompson (epee fencing), David Yik (men’s squash
2000 – women’s lightweight rowing, Eva Petchnigg (foil fencing), Julia Beaver (women’s squash), Peter Yik (men’s squash
1999 – women’s squash, women’s lightweight rowing, Julia Beaver (women’s squash), Peter Yik (men’s squash)
1998 – men’s lacrosse, men’s heavweight rowing, men’s lightweight rowing, women’s squash
1997 – men’s lacrosse, Katherine Johnson (women’s squash)
1996 – men’s lacrosse, men’s lightweight rowing, men’s heavyweight rowing, Max Pekarev (saber fencing)
1995 – women’s open rowing
1994 – men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, men’s lightweight rowing, women’s open rowing, Harald Winkmann (epee fencing)
1993 – men’s squash, women’s open rowing
1992 – men’s lacrosse
1991 – women’s squash
1990 – women’s open rowing, men’s swimming 200-yard medley relay (Mike Ross, Ty Nelson, Leroy Kim, Erik Osborn)
1989 – men’s lightweight rowing , women’s squash, Demer Holleran (women’s squash), Jeff Stanley (men’s squash), men’s swimming 200-yard medley relay (Mike Ross, Ty Nelson, Rich Korhammer, Rob Musslewhite)
1988 – men’s lightweight rowing, Jeff Stanley (men’s squash)
1987 – Demer Holleran (women’s squash)
1986 – men’s lightweight rowing, Demer Holleran (women’s squash)
1985 – men’s heavyweight rowing
1984 – women’s squash
1983 – women’s squash
1982 – men’s squash
1981 – women’s squash, John Nimik (men’s squash)
1980 – women’s squash
1979 – women’s squash
1978 - women’s squash
1977 – men’s squash
1976 – women’s squash, Nancy Gengler (women’s squash)
1975 – women’s squash, men’s squash, Wendy Zaharko (women’s squash)
1974 – women’s squash, men’s squash, Wendy Zaharko (women’s squash)
1973 – women’s squash, Cathy Corcione (100 butterfly, 100 free), 200-yard freestyle relay (Cathy Corcione, Jane Fremon, Barb Franks, Carol Brown)
1972 – Wendy Zaharko (women’s squash), Charlie Campbell (200-yard backstroke)


Anonymous said...

Also in 2012 senior Donn Cabral was the NCAA Champion in the 3000 meter steeple chase.

TigerBlog said...

Ah. Good catch. Donn Cabral has been added.

Anonymous said...

Does the NCAA track this streak? If so, where does it rank overall when compared to other schools' streaks?

Ed Roskiewicz said...

Thank you for acknowledging Julia's great accomplishment!

I take great pride knowing that I recruited her! Sort of a parting thank you gift to Princeton for all the great experiences I had while working in Jadwin Gym.

Ed Roskiewicz

Anonymous said...

Many of these national titles have come in non-NCAA sports (such as squash), so it's difficult to compare the streak across the NCAA.

Also, before Julia Ratcliffe there had already been not one but two national titles for Princeton in 2013-2014: Olympian Ariel Hsing '17 and the table tennis club won the national (NCTTA) championship in women's singles and women's team.

It would be nice if TigerBlog could one day acknowledge the existence and importance of club sports at Princeton.