Forty-four years of waiting ended in fewer than two seconds at the Big Ten Outdoor Track Championships on Sunday in Iowa City.
The Iowa men needed to beat Minnesota in the final event of the three-day meet to win their first conference title since 1967. The Hawkeyes’ second-place finish in the 4×400-meter relay topped the Golden Gophers’ fourth-place finish to win 125½ points to 123 at Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track.
“I think I was shaking a little during that last one,” Iowa coach Larry Wieczorek said. “I was praying during that final 4×400. I made up my mind I wouldn’t ask the Good Lord for another thing in my life.”
Wieczorek was a member of the 1967 Iowa track team and started coaching the team as an assistant in 1985. He hosted a reunion of his former teammates Saturday night.
“It’s far better to be the coach of a successful athlete or a team than, than to be an athlete,” he said after the team drenched him in ice water and hoisted him on their shoulders. “For sure, it’s a dream come true for me. … This is the crowning glory for me, personally, right here today.”
The Hawkeyes trailed Minnesota by just a half point entering the 4×400. Ethan Holmes, Chris Barton and Erik Sowinski got the baton to Steven Willey with a slim lead before Ohio State anchor Murdaugh squeezed around for the lead.
“Murdaugh just kind of got the slip on me coming off the curve,” Willey said. “I didn’t even see him coming. There was a little room on the inside. I thought I could have taken it, but something easily could have gone wrong. I could have stepped on the rail or something. I knew we just had to stay ahead of Minnesota, and (I) just took it for the team win.”
Iowa finished in 3 minutes, 7.70 seconds, while Minnesota finished in 3:08.12
Willey, a senior, also took second in the 400 and seventh in the 200. He won the 400 title a year ago but lost to Murdaugh 46.44 seconds to 46.68. Barton was fourth for Iowa, and Patrick Richards was fifth.
“This is great,” Willey said after the 4×400. “This was our last chance to do it, we said that before the race. We knew this was our meet to lose. We just went out there and did our thing.
Iowa entered Sunday’s final day of competition in ninth place with just 15 points, while Minnesota — winner of the last five combined indoor and outdoor conference titles — led with 68½. But the Hawkeyes’ fortunes brightened along with the day as the sun finally emerged at the end of the dreary weekend.
Iowa sophomore Justin Austin took third in the 100 and won the 200, followed by teammates Richards in sixth and Willey in seventh.
Austin’s 200 time of 20.46 seconds was not only a school record, but also the third-best time in the nation this spring.
“It feels really good to break the school record, and to get a (personal record),” Austin said, even more pleased about his national ranking. “It really got me excited, to get my name out there. People will be afraid of me now.”
Sophomore Ethan Holmes was second in the 110 hurdles in 13.73 seconds, behind defending NCAA champion Andrew Riley of Illinois, who won in 13.49.
“Anytime I get to race somebody who’s got a better time posted than me, it just makes it easier to run fast,” he said.
Holmes also was second in the 400 hurdles, while teammate D’Juan Richardson was third. And Sowinski took second in the 800 while Adam Hairston was sixth.
Iowa piled up points with victories by Troy Doris in the triple jump (with a school record of 53 feet, 8½ inches), and Matt Byers, who repeated as conference champ in the javelin.
“I don’t get to do much indoors, so I know I’ve got to come out and step it up and get us 10 points every year that I want to be here,” Byers said. “I knew coming in here we had a chance.”
Former City High runner and current Iowa assistant coach Joey Woody was thrilled to be a part of a Big Ten championship.
“To win this for Wiz, he put his life here at Iowa. He grew up at Iowa, he’s a longtime Iowan,” Woody said. “I’m so proud that we were able to come and win this for him. These guys competed their hearts out.”