Between times, finishing positions, records and qualifying standards, determining what’s important in track and field can be a convoluted and, sometimes, downright confusing process.
When it comes down to it, however, success in track ultimately is viewed in terms of gold, silver and bronze, and that makes the scope of recent accomplishments of three former University of Wisconsin athletes easy to see.
And it truly was an amazing accomplishment for Matt Tegenkamp, Chris Solinsky and Evan Jager last Friday at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships (Videos below).
The trio pulled off an unlikely sweep for their new team, Oregon Track Club Elite, in their new backyard, Eugene, Ore, by finishing 1-2-3 in the 5,000 meters. Suddenly, there were three athletes who had made careers out of putting the Cardinal and White up front while in college covering the medal stand at Hayward Field with a singular shade of green … as well as the red, white and blue.
As the top three finishers, Tegenkamp, Solinsky and Jager are eligible to carry the flag again at the IAAF World Championships in Athletics, provided they all meet the IAAF’s ‘B’ qualifying standard and at least two have achieved the ‘A’ standard. So far, only Solinsky has run a time under the ‘A’ standard of 13:20.00.
In all likelihood, however, either Tegenkamp or Jager will chase down the ‘A’ standard before the month ends and all three will head to Berlin as part of the first U.S. national team to enter Olympic Stadium since Jesse Owens’ domination of the 1936 Games.
That would mean three of the four athletes representing the U.S. in the 5,000 -- defending world champion Bernard Lagat has an automatic entry -- are products of the same collegiate program.
Add in former Badger Tim Nelson, who will be part of the American contingent in the 10,000 meters after finishing third in Eugene as part of a breakout season, and four of the seven distance runners who will represent the U.S. on the world stage are Badgers.
Now that’s saying something.
Tegenkamp is all but assured of making his third-consecutive U.S. national team, as he narrowly missed a medal with a fourth-place finish at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, and also competed at last year’s Olympics in Beijing.
For Solinsky, Berlin will be his second national team berth -- he ran the 3,000 meters at the 2008 IAAF World Indoor Championships -- but his first at one of track and field’s showcase events.
Jager? Well it’s been a year of firsts for the 20-year-old since he elected to forgo his final three years of eligibility at UW and embark on a professional career. A trip to Berlin would be another.
All three followed their coach to Portland when Jerry Schumacher elected to leave his post as UW’s cross country and distance coach after an ultra-successful 10-year run and take on the challenge of working with professionals for Nike.
Add in Nelson and UW alum and NCAA cross country champion Simon Bairu -- who won the Canadian national 5,000 meters title last week -- and the Oregon Track Club now has a certain Wisconsin feel to it.
Of course, all the changes those former Badgers underwent in their transition to the Pacific Northwest were mirrored by changes back in Madison, too.
Mick Byrne left Iona College after 25 years at the helm of that program to take the reins of the Badgers’ distance dynasty and immediately began to fill the big shoes he stepped into.
In the fall, he guided UW to its 10th-consecutive Big Ten cross country title and another podium finish at the NCAA championship.
Then, on the track, Byrne coached junior Craig Miller to a runner-up finish in the NCAA indoor mile, as well as a Big Ten championship, All-America honors and a spot in the finals of the USA championships in the 1,500 during the outdoor season.
Next, he will welcome one of the nation’s top recruiting classes to campus this fall.
What was the Madison training group has become the Portland training group but, if Byrne’s first season at UW and last week’s “Schumacher Sweep” -- as they’re calling it up there -- are any indication, the move is working out well for Badgers past, present and future.
It also shows that, among all the change, at least one thing has remained constant: You can still expect to find Badgers at the front.
Men's 5000 meters final (Tegenkamp, Solinsky, Jager)
Men's 1500 meters final (Miller)
Men's 10,000 meters final (Nelson)