Dec. 3, 2010
By Jon Cooper
– The idea of running a race where winning is not top priority might sound odd to a competitor.
For the Georgia Tech Track Team, which is entered in this weekend’s Orange and Purple Winter Classic at the Clemson Indoor Track & Field Complex, that idea makes perfect sense.
Don’t get the wrong idea. The 16 men and 16 women all want to win and are encouraged to give their best. It’s just that in this case, winning isn’t everything — nor is it the only thing. Call it a nice by-product of working and competing hard.
“There’s a lot of different levels of accomplishment that we’re looking for,” said men’s head track and field coach Grover Hinsdale. “We go into a first meet, a meet such as this, obviously, we want our guys to compete at a very high level. But we go into the meet with expectations of what we think they can accomplish and are ready to accomplish and it just gives us a good measure as to where they are at this point and where they need to go from here. If they don’t win the event, that doesn’t mean they’ve had a disappointing meet.”
That will change in about a month, at the Jan. 7 Clemson Invitational, when the goal will be to win. This weekend is about making the transition from outdoor season to indoors.
For sprinter Hunter Clasen, this weekend, he’s running for his health. Of course, when you’ve endured the frustrating string of injuries he’s had, health is a cause for celebration.
“I’m pretty excited. This is the first year that I’ve ended a season feeling pretty well,” said the senior, who is scheduled to run the 500 meters. “I’m ready to get back into the season, but I’m playing it safe. Too many times I’ve gotten healthy and taken it for granted and re-injured the same injury. So, I’ll make sure everything is feeling good on Saturday before I go all out. If it’s feeling good, though, I’ll try to win.”
Hinsdale is excited to see how the Clasen performs. He’ll take a repeat of last Dec. 12, when Clasen won the 500 at the Middle Tennessee State Christmas Invitational.
“He ran a great race at Middle Tennessee last year,” Hinsdale said. “Hunter has had probably as good a fall training as he’s had since he’s been in the program. He has gone through some hip flexor issues over the years that have reared their ugly head throughout fall training. This year, he has pretty much been issue-free. That has allowed him to get in the consistent day-to-day training that the fall requires. I think it’s made a huge difference for him. I think he’s matured physically and emotionally, and I’m looking for a really big season from him and from his running mate Antonio McKay, who also runs the 400.”
McKay will not be participating this weekend, but Jay Oatts and Subbu Sivanesan will join Clasen in the 500 and there are still plenty of athletes to get excited about, some in roles that they’ll find challenging.
“Some of our short sprinters are going to be running a 300 this weekend, Perron Jones and Mike Simms, I think Joe DiDia (they’ll also be competing in the 60). They’re telling me that it’s a little long but I think they can run a pretty good 300,” he said. “I’m pretty excited to see some of the guys running the 800 (Ryan Gomba, Cameron Reid and Joe Stowe), what they can do coming off this cross-country season. I’m definitely excited, about [jumper] Omar Morrison, he should have a big season this year.”
Also competing are high jumper Mykhail Chambers, Duncan Thompson, who will do the weight events, Jonathan Gardner joins Morrison in the long jump. The only distance event will be the mile, where Joe Fulton, Matt Hickey and Nick McNutt represent Tech.
While Hinsdale admits that knowledge of the track is an obvious advantage to the home team, he doesn’t find it an overwhelming factor.
“It’s not a huge thing because most schools in this part of the country do not have an indoor facility of their own,” he said. “They’re training outside. So it equals out pretty quickly when you get into an indoor meet. It all boils down to competing.”
The Orange and Purple Classic will be the final meet for the team for the better part of a month, when the indoor season begins, with a return to Clemson for the Clemson Invitational. That makes this weekend an important learning experience.
“There’s a comfort level that they reach having done it one time in December,” said Hinsdale. “The newness, the running the curves, there is a difference that you know from being in the open-air, outdoor stadiums or track facilities that we compete on to going in a smaller venue with a roof. It does erase a lot of the newness from it. So there is an advantage to returning to that facility.”
“It’s definitely good to get some practice on that track,” agreed Clasen. “That will probably be the best thing about this weekend, getting back into indoor mode. The flat 200-meter tracks have really tight curves. The last time I ran at Clemson I ran a 500 and I ended up stepping on the rail. That time didn’t go too well. I hope I can do better than that one.
“I would love to P.R. this weekend,” he added. “I would love to win, but I know that a win here and a great time here isn’t going to get me a good scoring point in ACC Indoors. That’s what I’m really worried about this year.”
Home field might actually hold greater prominence after the meet, when the team takes a break for the holidays, leaving individual team members on their own to follow off-season programs.
“Obviously, there are going to be days, depending on where their home is located, where weather issues will come into play,” said Hinsdale. “I remember years ago, when Derek Mills was in the program, I called him over the Christmas holiday and they were in the midst of a major blizzard in Washington, D.C. He was in the middle of his workout and what he was doing was running up and down the stairs in his house because he couldn’t get outside and there was no indoor facility available. So there’s some innovation that takes place, depending on where they return home and what facilities they have available to them. There’s something they can do to retain a high level of conditioning and that’s certainly what we expect them to do.”