June 5, 2013
BY JESSE CLARK
UW Athletic Communications
oth literally and figuratively, Zach Ziemek has been vaulting to new heights during his sophomore season with the Wisconsin men's track and field team.
In just his second year with the Badgers, the Itasca, Ill., native has shown tremendous and rapid growth on the track. A multi-event athlete by trade, Ziemek put together a fantastic finish to the indoor track season and, currently in the midst of the outdoor championship season, has shown no signs of slowing down.
He opens competition at the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships on Wednesday, with the first day of the decathlon getting underway at 2 p.m. (CT).
Ziemek's journey began at Lake Park High School when he was named the 2010-11 Gatorade Athlete of the Year in Illinois after helping his track team win consecutive Class 3A state championships. Ziemek, who won the pole vault state title in 2010, finished first in the long jump, triple jump and vault at the state meet in 2011.
After a decorated high school career, Ziemek chose to compete for the Badgers because of the consistent excellence of the program and coaching staff. He had planned on competing in heptathlons and decathlons and knew Wisconsin consistently had one of the best multi-event programs in the country.
|"I love the multi-events,'' Ziemek said. "I get to do a little bit of everything, so it works out perfectly for my active personality.''
"It was just an obvious choice for me," he said.
Ziemek had a solid freshman campaign for UW while the Badgers' coaching staff expanded his skill set in a wider variety of events.
"Once I got to Wisconsin, Nutty (head coach Ed Nuttycombe) really helped me out and developed me into a better athlete," he said.
By the end of his first year, he had finished eighth in the heptathlon at the Big Ten indoor championships with 5,354 points and 12th in the decathlon by totaling 7,042 points at the outdoor conference championships.
It didn't take long for Ziemek to showcase his improvements on the track during his second season. The results spoke for themselves.
At the Big Ten indoor championships, he earned a runner-up finish and All-Big Ten honors in the heptathlon, second only to teammate and three-time conference champion Japheth Cato. Ziemek totaled 5,846 points and set personal bests in the 60 meters, 1000 meters, 60 hurdles and shot put.
Ziemek had his best heptathlon performance of his young career a few weeks later at the NCAA indoor championships. The sophomore claimed All-America honors after finishing fifth in the event with a career-best 5,937 points.
In the process, he set a school record in the pole vault by clearing 17 feet, 18 1/2 inches, the best mark ever by a UW athlete -- indoors or outdoors. The mark matched the collegiate record in the event, and Ziemek became just the fifth American to clear that height in a heptathlon.
|Ziemek's emotions were on display after he matched the collegiate record in the heptathlon pole vault on the way to an All-America finish in the heptathlon at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships.
The performance caught the attention of legendary multi-events expert Frank Zarnowski, who was also serving as the public address announcer for the multi-events at the NCAA meet and began to refer to Ziemek as "Double Z."
The name stuck, and Ziemek has grown accustomed to being called "Double Z" on a daily basis by his teammates. He doesn't mind.
After the indoor season, "Double Z" shifted his focus outdoors to his preferred multi-event competition -- the 10-event decathlon.
"I like the decathlon more (than the heptathlon) because I really like to throw," he said. "It is fun being outdoors, to come back the second day after doing five events. It really shows an athlete's character and their will to compete."
At the Mt. SAC Relays and California Invitational Combined Events in Azusa, Calif., Nuttycombe wanted Ziemek to finish with a score high enough to automatically qualify for the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
The sophomore was off to a strong start before a shin injury forced him to withdraw after seven events.
Despite not having completed a full decathlon heading into the Big Ten outdoor championships, Ziemek's confidence never wavered. Because he wasn't able to hit a national qualifying mark at Mt. SAC, he came into the conference meet with two goals: to win the Big Ten decathlon and to do so with a score that would secure him a spot among the top 24 in the nation, meaning a bid to the NCAA championships.
He accomplished both goals in style, winning the conference crown with a career-best total of 7,640 points. The score ranked him No. 12 nationally and directly qualified him to the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
"It was an honor," Ziemek said. "I was just able to go out there and put it all together. I couldn't be happier with the results."
Ziemek says his success comes from his coaches and the way they were able to help him physically, as well as mentally.
|"If I had a good performance, I need to move on,'' Ziemek said of his multi-events mentality. "If I had a bad one, I need to shake it off and go on to the next one.''
"It shows how hard the coaches worked with me," he said. "They told me to take one event at a time and just to relax.
"If I had a good performance, I need to move on. If I had a bad one, I need to shake it off and go on to the next one. That really helped."
Because the decathlon is the only men's event to not be contested at the NCAA preliminary round sites, Ziemek competed in the long jump at the NCAA West Preliminary Round, an event he qualified for with his leap of 25-1 1/4 at the conference meet.
More important than the competition, traveling with the Badgers to the preliminary round in Austin, Texas, gave Ziemek a full week to train for the upcoming NCAA decathlon.
The sophomore's goal for the NCAA meet is to place in the top eight and earn All-America honors. He hopes to score between 7,800 and 7,900 points.
"It would mean a lot to get some points and help the team out," he said.
To achieve the feat, Ziemek believes he needs to have career-best performances in many events. While his decathlon routines will be the same as the Big Ten championships, his mentality going into the event will change.
"I have to be invested in each and every event," he said. "I can't coast because there will be a lot of good athletes. I will have to really, really focus. I can't be safe because I won't be a favorite.
"I really have to go out there and put up big marks."
Since Cato's Achilles injury in April sidelined him for the remainder of the year, Ziemek has taken on more of a leadership role as the most experienced multi-event athlete on the team. He enjoys leading by example for redshirt freshmen Ben Schreib and Charlie Foss.
"With Cato being out, I have taken more of a leadership role," he said. "It is a little harder mentally without him in practice because we pushed each other. But I tried to take a leadership role in high school and it worked out pretty well.
"I am happy to take this role on, and it's not too much of a transition for me."
Ziemek's motivation comes from his desire to compete and the uniqueness of combined events competition.
"I love the multi-events," he said. "I go out every day in practice and I live for competing. I give it my all every time I go out there because it is totally different from any other event.
"I get to do a little bit of everything, so it works out perfectly for my active personality."