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This is a question of nature vs. nurture.
Are multi-event athletes - they like to call themselves 'multis” - born to compete in a variety events or are they discovered by intuitive coaches, then molded to master the seven events of the heptathlon or 10 events of the decathlon?
I would argue the latter point. Most 'multis” are 'found” because of their athleticism, their ability to run and jump and throw with the best.
But Iowa sophomore Peyton Haack might be the exception to my philosophy.
While growing up in Westfield, Ind., Haack loved track and field and soon found a club to compete with. But the coach told him, at 12 or 13 years old, he wasn't good enough to compete in the running, jumping or throwing events on the club's road to the AAU nationals.
'But there is a thing called the pentathlon,” the coach told him. 'You just have to be mediocre at all of them.”
Haack said some would have been offended or hurt by that statement.
'I was like ‘awesome,'” he said.
Although things didn't go real well that first time, Haack 'fell in love with it almost instantly.”
And he got better. A lot better.
It seems a star was born, although it did take a little nudge from a coach who figured 'mediocre” was good enough.
Haack laughs about that early introduction to the world of multi-event competition now.
'I've been blessed to have some really good coaches,” he said.
This natural-born 'multi” is the best the Hawkeyes have ever seen. He won the Big Ten indoor heptathlon title by more than 100 points, setting a personal best and school record with 5,749 points. That score ranks fifth in the nation heading into this weekend's NCAA Indoor Championships.
Haack is competing in the 60-meter dash, long jump, shot put and high jump Thursday in Fayetteville, Ark., the 60-meter hurdles, pole vault and 1,000 on Friday.
'I'm super excited,” he said. 'Going to nationals has been a dream.”
He thinks he can better that Big Ten mark by 100 to 150 points.
'The top six or eight are kind of up in the air,” he said. 'It kind of depends who shows up” as in performs.
That's the blessing and the curse of these multi-event competitions. You can have a great day in a couple of events, a poor showing in the others. Your best one day would be your worst the next - literally.
Haack was told early in his multi career to focus on a couple of events, to be great at two or three things and good at the others.
'That's probably the best advice I got,” he said.
He focused on hurdles, an event he already had success in and one his father also competed in. Then he picked the pole vault as his other 'favorite.”
'I found a coach who was willing to teach me,” he said. 'It was so much fun ... every day, I wanted to go vault.”
Vaulting is the daredevil sport of track and field, which apparently fits Haack's personality.
'I'm an adrenaline junkie, for sure,” he said. 'I'm a risk-taker.”
Every good multi also has a weakness.
'Long jump,” he said. 'I've never been able to figure that out. It's an event I really have to get better at.
'We're getting closer and closer.”
Haack is one of five Hawkeyes competing in indoor nationals - Jamal Britt, who ranks second in the 60-meter hurdles; Wayne Lawrence Jr., seventh in the 400 dash; Mallory King, 14th in the 800 meters; and Austin West, also in the heptathlon.
'I'm aiming for the top 5,” Haack said. 'There's a chance I could put everything together and be in the top 3.”
That's a little better than mediocre.
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