Down -- but certainly never out -- Akinniyi rallied to win the heptathlon Saturday at the 2013 Big Ten Outdoor Championships while making history and further cementing her place among UW's all-time greats in the process.
The Wisconsin senior amassed a score of 5,411 points to hold off Nebraska's Anne Martin (5,389 points) and Illinois' Marissa Golliday (5,305), but it took a second-day surge for Akinniyi to secure the fifth Big Ten title of her storied career.
The title was Akinniyi's second in the event, going along with her 2010 championship, and put the Badgers on top of the Big Ten heptathlon for a fourth-consecutive season (teammate Jessica Flax won in 2011 and 2012). After Flax wrapped her career by winning the pentathlon indoors this season, Akinniyi's title also completed a sweep of the Big Ten women's combined events crowns for UW for an unprecedented fourth-consecutive year.
Prior to Flax's win indoors in February, Akinniyi won three straight Big Ten pentathlons over her final three seasons of indoor eligibility.
"Watching Jessica win the indoors was just so motivational," Akinniyi said. "She's amazing. She did what she had to do. She PR'd and she's just an inspiration to me. I can't believe she's been pushing so hard.
"I knew I had to take a little bit of her and bring it with me."
Along with Zach Ziemek's win in the men's decathlon Saturday, Akinniyi's triumph also helped make UW the first school in Big Ten history to sweep both the heptathlon and decathlon at the same outdoor conference meet. Better yet, the Badgers are the first program to sweep all four combined events titles in the same year. Remarkably, they did it with four different athletes -- Flax (indoor women's pentathlon), Japheth Cato (indoor men's heptathlon), Akinniyi (outdoor women's heptathlon) and Ziemek (outdoor men's decathlon).
“It’s something we’ve put a lot of focus on," UW head coach Jim Stintzi of the combined events. "We have one of the best coaches in the nation in Nate Davis and we’ve been fortunate enough to put some very talented athletes in the Wisconsin uniform.
"The way they -- especially Dorcas and Jess (Jessica Flax) -- have shown up in every big meet for basically five years is pretty remarkable. They’re true competitors.”
For all her familiarity with finishing on top, there was no denying the differences this time around for Akinniyi.
Hampered by her hamstring for weeks, Akinniyi had yet to complete a heptathlon this year, leaving her without the usual early-season dry run in the event and with no mark to fall back on for NCAA championships qualifying.
"The others I had prepared for," Akinniyi said of her previous Big Ten meets. "This one has been a struggle. I've just been trying to get my (hamstring) back in shape and it's been a struggle up until now, so this is my first heptathlon all year."
Beyond the uncertainty of her health, Akinniyi also competed at a Big Ten meet without a teammate alongside for the first time in her Badgers career. Flax's eligibility expired after the indoor season, while Deanna Latham was entered in several open events, as opposed to the heptathlon, to maximize her point-scoring capability for the team.
In certain ways, both perceived challenges worked out to be advantages for Akinniyi.
"I haven't had a multi all by myself in a long time, so it was very different, even the whole morale," she said. "Usually I'm joking with my teammates and other people, because I'm comfortable, because my teammates are there, but this year I had to really focus, which I think is a good thing.
"It helped me stay on track to win."
Second in the standings to Golliday after the first four events of the seven-discipline competition were contested Friday, Akinniyi remained in a 33-point hole after the athletes opened Saturday's slate with the 200 meters.
A strong effort of 18 feet, 2 1/2 inches -- into a slight headwind --in the long jump turned the tables on Golliday, whose best mark of 17-0 3/4 left her staring up at Akinniyi from 68 points back. The long jump also brought Martin into the fold thanks to a leap of 18-8 1/2 that led the field.
The advantage over Golliday swelled when Akinniyi hit a mark of 110-3 in the javelin, though a big throw of 126-8 brought Martin ever closer to contention.
That left the 800 meters to decide the title, and Akinniyi responded with -- while not her fastest -- perhaps her most well-executed run in the event. While Golliday set the pace for the field at 2:14.84, only Martin had a legitimate shot at catching Akinniyi, who responded by keeping Martin close enough to minimize the difference in the points they picked up.
It was enough to give Akinniyi yet another gold medal at a Big Ten meet and give the Badgers an eighth-consecutive conference title in the combined events.
"I was a little nervous about how I was going to get to her in time," Akinniyi said of Martin, "but I just tried to run smart. I tried to run good splits and, at the end, when I saw she was coming back, I took my chance and tried to pull forward."
“It’s hard to say that anything Dorcas does surprises me anymore," Stintzi said. "The way she was able to battle back today and win a very difficult competition was impressive, but honestly, it’s what we’ve come to expect from her.
"She’s a tremendous competitor and a very, very special athlete.”
Looking forward, Akinniyi's final appearance in a Wisconsin uniform will likely come at next month's NCAA outdoor championships.
"I'm going to rehab the (hamstring) some more and then get some speed training, because that was what I was lacking this meet," she said. "I'm going to do as much as I can get in shape so I am prepared for nationals."
Before that, Akinniyi will look to help the Badgers in the team race by competing in the high jump Sunday. Her heptathlon win helped stake the Badgers to the lead in the team standings after two days at 51 points, with Penn State and Nebraska just behind in a tie for second (47 points), Illinois (31) in fourth and Michigan (25) in fifth.
Latham will look to add to her haul when she races in the final of the 100 hurdles Sunday after running a time of 13.46 seconds -- second-best in UW history -- in the prelims. Beutler and Friday's 10,000 meters champion, Caitlin Comfort, will both double back in the 5000 meters, while Card and Smith will both be back throwing in the discus.
“Like just about everybody else can say, we’ve left some points out there, but for the most part, we’ve done a good job of capitalizing on our opportunities," Stintzi said. "The key for us will be to keep that going (Sunday).”