March 8, 2013
• Results | Interviews: Block | Darling | Ahmed | Mudd
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Danny Block said the "energy was right."
So was his timing.
Block unleashed the biggest heave of his career at just the right time, launching a throw of 65 feet, 7 1/2 inches on his final attempt in the men's shot put Friday at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships. The effort made an All-American of Block, who vaulted to third in the event's standings and then let go of a scream almost as powerful as his throw.
Combined with scoring efforts from senior Maverick Darling and junior Mohammed Ahmed in the 5000 meters, Block helped stake the No. 4-ranked Wisconsin men's track and field team to third place in the team standings after the first day of competition.
The Badgers tallied 15 points Friday and trail only home-standing and No. 1-ranked Arkansas, which scored 30 points, and second-place Texas Tech (18).
"We had a very good first day," UW head coach Ed Nuttycombe said. "We had the chance to pick up some points today and, whether it was Danny in the shot put or Maverick and Mohammed in the 5000, we did that. Now it's on us to get the points waiting out there for us on Saturday."
Block's throw improved on his previous lifetime best by exactly two feet. So, how did he do it?
"I don't know. It just happened. The energy was right," he said. "I still can't believe it. I don't think it's ever going to sink in."
By the time the shot sunk into the red foam padding that lines the throwing sector inside the Randal Tyson Track Center, Block was already in celebration mode.
"You know right away," Block said. "I've been throwing long enough to know. Even halfway through the throw, I knew it was going to be a bomb."
And it was. The throw put Block exactly at the 20-meter plateau recognized as the threshold to elite throwing -- and as the "B" qualifying standard for the Olympic Games.
Block had done enough to make the final round of throws with an effort of 62-0 1/2 on his second attempt, an effort that matched exactly his personal-best mark prior to this season.
The finals started unceremoniously, with Block stepping through to intentionally foul his first attempt, one that would not have improved his existing mark.
When he took is second spin around the ring, however, Block launched 62-10 1/2. That set the stage for his finale.
"I knew if I just relaxed a little and just stayed back and held the throw longer, I knew I could get one out there, maybe 19.50 (meters)," Block said. "My last throw, I thought '19.50 or bust' and it ended up being 20."
It made him just the 23rd man in the world to post a 20-meter throw this year and ranks him 11th among Americans.
"I just wanted to make nationals," Block said. "This feels pretty damn good."
Darling also felt good after finishing the first leg of his distance double on a high note, one that saw him run 13 minutes, 41.25 seconds to take fourth place and secure All-America honors in the 5000 meters for the second time in his career.
"We thought it would be a little later ... but he just took off from the gun," Darling said of Texas Tech's Kennedy Kithuka, who set a blistering early pace and won in 13:25.38. "I got back a little bit to eighth or ninth but I kept saying to myself, `Keep going, keep going,' and I kept picking people off one by one."
Darling and Ahmed joined Chris Solinsky, Matt Tegenkamp and James Menon as the only Badgers to earn multiple All-America honors in the indoor 5000 meters. Darling was seventh as a sophomore at the 2011 NCAA Indoor Championships, the same year Ahmed finished 11th.
He improved that effort significantly with a fifth-place showing in 13:41.84, a run he attributed at least in part to Darling's efforts to keep the teammates running together as the race strung out.
"He really brought me back into the race," Ahmed said. "My legs were done. Mentally, I wasn't finished, but physically I was done early in the race."
"This is our last race together in Wisconsin uniforms, so to be there and help pull him along, that means something to me," Darling said. "We're like brothers."
Their teammate, senior Elliot Krause, finished 12th in 13:55.31 just a week after racing his way into the NCAA field at a last-chance meet.
Even though they hadn't made its way to the track yet, Block's effort in the shot put was also a catalyst for the Badgers' distance trio.
"That huge throw by Danny, that really inspired us," Ahmed said. "We said, `We have to score some points in the 5K.'"
With that mission accomplished, Darling will do his part to add additional points when he finishes his double in the final of the 3000 meters Saturday.
"We had a great showing today," said Darling, a team captain. "We've got a great group of guys here. I'm just glad to be a part of it and be a contributor."
Also looking to contribute for the Badgers is sophomore Austin Mudd, who raced his way into the final of the mile. Mudd led early and then closed hard late to secure a third-place finish in his heat of the prelims, clocking in at 4:02.10 to grab one of the four automatic qualifying spots in each section.
"It was a pretty rough race," Mudd said. "I think I saw 2:05 (at 800 meters) and from there we were just hammering. That last lap had to be blazing. It went out a little slow, but it was still a pretty tough race."
Mudd finished behind Penn State sophomore Robby Creese (4:01.67) and Tulsa's Chris O'Hare (4:01.76), the defending NCAA champion who set the collegiate record at 3:52.98 last month.
"I think it was good to have Chris O'Hare, Robby Creese in my heat," Mudd said. "It kind of sets me up for the final. I can build some confidence out of the prelim. I'll know exactly what to do.
"I just want to stay in contention throughout the first 1200 meters and be able to kick it in for the last 400 and finish All-American."