Large track and field meets are a carnival of activity, flashes of color spread out around a few acres, lean and large athletes sprinting, pacing, loosening, soaring, throwing, landing, celebrating, agonizing.
Amid the madness is a cult that has taken to calling itself the “multis.” They are unique in that no athletes are asked to do so many things that require different skills in such a short period of time as the multis.
Bruce Jenner now has told us that he’s always felt as if he had the soul of a woman, and he dealt with it by earning the front of the Wheaties box as the best male athlete in the world.
Training toward excellence for 10 different events to be contested over two days — no surprise that could help keep a fellow’s emotional conflict at bay for a time. Jenner was the Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon in 1976. It would be another two Olympics, 1984 in Los Angeles, before women had a chance to compete for a gold medal in the seven-event heptathlon.
We have come a long way in three decades. The decathletes and the heptathletes are now multis, sharing respect for what it takes to excel at a variety of events.
The Gophers have the Big Ten’s best in both. Junior Jess Herauf won the Big Ten title last week with a Gophers record of 6,014 points in the heptathlon. Sophomore Luca Wieland won the Big Ten decathlon title with a career-best 7,635 points.
On a cool morning this week, Herauf was getting ready for her daily two-hour (or more) workout at the track and field complex behind the Bierman building.
“We concentrate on two events every day,” Herauf said. “And then there’s an extra event that we work into the schedule.”
Wieland was arriving about the time Herauf was getting started. He had a hamstring issue on the second day of the Big Ten meet. He had a large enough lead after Day 1 that he was able to win without pushing himself to the limit.
The decathlon and heptathlon are not contested at NCAA regional events. Wieland will rest his hamstring rather than compete in the long jump next week in Austin, Texas. Herauf is not participating in an individual event.
“I’m a spectator,’’ she said.
That won’t be the case in Eugene, Ore., American’s track capital, when the men’s and women’s Division I meets are held June 10-13. The decathlon and heptathlon are contested the first two days — multis mingling amid the carnival.
“We’re with each other for two days,” Herauf said. “We get to know each other. In the Big Ten, we see each other so often enough that we become friends. We cheer for athletes we compete against to do well, which is probably unusual.”
Wieland sees the same thing in the decathlon. “You get close to certain people,” he said “You see them all the time and learn to respect them as competitors.”
The backgrounds of Herauf and Wieland are very different. Herauf comes from Dickinson, N.D. It was a town of 15,000 a decade ago, but it’s now close to double that after the oil boom struck western North Dakota. Wieland comes from Saarbrucken, a city of 180,000 in southwestern Germany on the French border.
Herauf played volleyball and basketball to go with track and field in high school and was considering going to a Division II school to play multiple sports. Instead, she was discovered by the Gophers and convinced to come to the Twin Cities to be a “multi” in track.
“It was a mess my first year,” Herauf said. “The high jump was the hardest. I had never done it before. And there are more points for the high jump than the other events. I don’t get that.”
Wieland wound up at Minnesota after hiring a person in Germany who helps to put together track and field athletes with colleges.
“We don’t have the same connection with education and athletics in Germany,” he said. “It’s mostly sports clubs. It was expensive, I’d say, to hire someone to help me, but it was well worth it to be at a university as great as Minnesota.”
Wieland plans to spend six weeks back home in Germany this summer. Herauf will be home in Dickinson for three weeks in August. There’s a circle on her calendar for Aug. 21. That’s when she is marrying Jon Lehman, an All-America shot putter for the Gophers who graduated last year.
“He just completed four months of State Patrol training, and was ranked at the top of his class,” Herauf said. “He’s proud of that. Be sure to mention it.”