May 11, 2013
• Results | Ziemek Interview | Photo Gallery | Brill Wins Steeplechase
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On a cool day in Columbus, you could almost feel the warm air rushing out from between Zach Ziemek’s lips.
For an athlete quickly becoming known for screams of excitement during competition, it was an understated reaction. But while the exhale itself was quiet, the message sent by his sigh of relief came across loud and clear.
Any pressure Ziemek felt Saturday disappeared when he touched down onto the cushioning of the pit that sat some 15 feet below the bar he’d just cleared. While two events remained on the schedule, a second-attempt clearance at 15 feet, 9 inches in the pole vault essentially made the Wisconsin sophomore a Big Ten champion.
By building on his already solid lead in the vault, Ziemek was able to coast home to his first conference title in the decathlon at the 2013 Big Ten Outdoor Championships. He amassed a lifetime-best score of 7.640 points to easily hold off runner-up Teran Walford of Nebraska (7,432 points) and Kurt Reichenbach of Michigan (7,412), both seniors.
In doing so, Ziemek helped boost the Badgers’ team title chances, as well. UW enters the final day of competition just two points back of leader Nebraska. The Huskers tallied 46.5 points through the meet’s first seven events, with the Badgers racking up 44.5.
“It’s hard to ask for a lot more than we’ve gotten out of our guys so far," UW head coach Ed Nuttycombe said. "They really have done a tremendous job of rising to the occasion, which is something we talk about all the time as a team.
"We’re doing what we need to do, and now it’s just a matter of seeing where that puts us.”
Along with Japheth Cato's third-straight crown in the heptathlon indoors, Ziemek helped the Badgers secure a sweep of the Big Ten's men's combined events titles.
Ziemek and Dorcas Akinniyi, who claimed the heptathlon Saturday, became the first pair of athletes from the same school to sweep the men's and women's multi-event crowns outdoors. UW is also the first Big Ten program to sweep all four combined events championships -- between men and women, indoors and outdoors -- in the same year.
The relief Ziemek felt was deeper than decathletes normally feel when they clear an initial height in the vault, an event that can greatly impact the outcome of the 10-discipline competition.
What normally would be a height of little consequence to Ziemek -- an accomplished vaulter who tied the collegiate record in the heptathlon pole vault with a clearance at 17-8 1/2 at the NCAA indoor championships in March -- carried much more weight in light of the shoulder injury that had dogged him for several weeks.
Ziemek had only returned to the air in practice just prior to the Badgers’ departure from Madison, and Saturday’s clearance on his second attempt at 15-9 was the first bar he’d gotten over since making 16-2 3/4 in a meet on March 30. In fact, Ziemek withdrew from his only previous decathlon this year -- at the Mt. SAC Relays in April -- prior to the vault.
“I was pretty nervous,” he said. “My stomach was really cramping up on me and I took one warm-up and it kind of pinched a little bit, but I was like, ‘Just go out there and do what you need to do.’
“So I just went out there and fought.”
After clearing his opening height, Ziemek passed as the bar went to 16-0 3/4 and then rejoined the competition and got over easily at 16-4 3/4 to tie for the best mark in the field.
“Nutty said, ‘You can start feeling comfortable after the pole vault,’” ZIemek said of the advice from head coach Ed Nuttycombe. “I made that opening height and I had a good lead and I was like, ‘I got this.’”
After that, there was little the competition could do to catch him. He finished out with a solid throw of 176-7 in the javelin and then jogged the 1500 meters in an extremely slow 5:16.40. The opportunity to save energy on the 1500 could benefit Ziemek on Sunday, when he’s back up on the pole looking for all-important team points in the open pole vault, as well as the open triple jump.
After that, it’s on to the NCAA championships. Ziemek’s score of 7,640 ranks ninth nationally based on scores entering the weekend and should place him comfortably in the NCAA field.
“Now, I try and get healthy and place at nationals and help the team out,” he said.
The Badgers also got help from Alex Brill’s title-winning effort in the 3000 steeplechase, as well as a fourth-place showing by Danny Block in the discus and a fourth-place tie for Collin Taylor in the high jump.
The Badgers will need all the points they can manage Sunday as they look to defend last year's outdoor title and secure the Big Ten Triple Crown.
"Nebraska and Illinois probably have a bit of an edge on paper, but we have athletes in 11 of the 14 remaining events," Nuttycombe said. "If we keep performing like we have so far, the Badgers will be in the race (Sunday).”