Perfect 10: Strength carries Comfort to Big Ten title


May 10, 2013

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Caitlin Comfort had no problem playing favorites.

As if the smile on her face as she crossed the finish line didn't give it away, Comfort didn't shy away from the fact that this one was special.

She spent three seasons coming so close herself, but for the second time in less than three months, Comfort made sure that no one else came close. For the second time in less than three months, Comfort ran away with a Big Ten championship.

Just as she did in winning the 5000 meters indoors, the Wisconsin senior left no doubt en route to the conference title in the 10,000 meters Friday at the 2013 Big Ten Outdoor Championships.

Comfort smashed the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium record with her run of 33 minutes, 30.16 seconds and smashed her opponents' hopes in the process.

Just as it didn't take her long to complete the 25-lap race, it didn't take Comfort long to qualify the victory against the other defining moment of her career.

"This one's better," she said when asked how Friday's win compared to her triumph in the indoor 5000. "The 10K has a close spot in my heart so, yeah, this tops it."

The 10,000 meters is a special event for the Badgers, who added a 15th Big Ten title in the event since the conference meet began in 1982. Combined with senior Maverick Darling's win in the men's 10,000, Comfort propelled the Badgers to their sixth sweep of the Big Ten 10K titles and first since 1996.

The effort also contributed to the first-day lead the Badgers enjoy in the team standings with a score of 18 points. Penn State sits second after the opening round with 12 points.

Redshirt freshman Gabrielle Anzalone added to that tally by grinding her way to a fourth-place finish in 34:52.91, with Angela Boushea's sixth-place showing in the hammer throw -- behind a mark of 188 feet, 5 inches - rounding out UW's scoring.

Senior Hanna Knurr (36:03.26) and sophomore Theresa Selestow (36:07.27) were 16th and 17th, respectively, for the Badgers in the 10,000 meters.

The race looked like anything but a grind for Comfort, who broke away immediately with Minnesota's Laura Docherty and Illinois' Courtney Yaeger.  The trio quickly built a 100-meter gap on the field and maintained a fast pace.

Eventually, Yaeger fell off the pace and slipped back but remained third and finished in 34:17.37.

That left Docherty and Comfort to battle it out for the title. The tandem formation was short-lived, however, as Comfort maintained the quick tempo and soon left Docherty in the dust. She finished second, some 44 seconds behind Comfort.

"I felt amazing pretty much the entire race," Comfort said. "About halfway through I was feeling really good and I took it. With about five laps to go, I was feeling stronger and stronger with each lap, so I think at that point I knew I had it."

While strategy played a major role in Comfort's win indoors -- she laid it down early and built an insurmountable gap -- this was a product of strength.

"Coach and I had talked about it strategy a little bit before the race, but the Big Ten is different because anything can happen," she said.  "We're not shooting for time, we're shooting for place. Just going out and winning and getting 10 big points for the team was huge for me."

The training Comfort relied on Friday is what she hopes will make the difference when she doubles back to race the 5000 meters on Sunday.

"I'm excited," she said. "I doubled indoors with the 3K and the 5K. It's obviously a little different because I just ran the 10k, but my training has prepared me.

"I just keep telling myself that I'll be fine and hopefully the Badgers will get a few more points."

Dorcas Akinniyi has eyes on points, too, and will chase another Big Ten title when the heptathlon concludes Saturday.

The senior stands second after the first four events of the seven-discipline event, amassing 3,410 points. Illinois' Marissa Golliday holds the top spot with 3,443 points.

Akinniyi looks to help the Badgers secure a sweep of the Big Ten's indoor and outdoor multi-event titles for the fourth-straight season. The 2010 conference champion in the heptathlon was runner-up last year when teammate Jessica Flax claimed the win. UW has won each of the last four indoor pentathlon titles and each of the last three outdoor heptathlon crowns.

The second day of competition begins at 9:15 a.m. (CT) Saturday when the heptathlon resumes with the long jump.

ON WISCONSIN
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