Outside of the dominance in wrestling, winning back-to-back Big Ten titles has been mostly unreachable for University of Iowa teams.
It’s happened just once in football and men’s basketball. And in those cases, it happened a long time ago, with the Iowa football team winning back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1921 and 1922 and the men’s basketball team doing it in 1955 and 1956.
The Iowa men’s track and field team hopes to pull off the rare back-to-back at the 2012 Big Ten Outdoor Championships starting Friday in Madison, Wis.
Iowa will try to defend the Big Ten outdoor title it won last May in Iowa City. It was Iowa’s first Big Ten outdoor title in men’s track and field since 1967.
“I would say with our team, we have the best collection of track and field athletes that has ever been at the University of Iowa all at once last year and this year,” said Iowa coach Larry Wieczorek. “Seven events we hold the school record.
“I’m trying to impress on the guys the rare opportunity they have. I think they understand it.”
It’s more than just having a rare opportunity. It’s also about having a chance for redemption.
Wieczorek’s team has something to prove despite being the reigning Big Ten outdoor champion. Many of the same student-athletes that helped Iowa win the outdoor title last spring struggled to an eight-place finish in late February at the Big Ten Indoor Championships.
Iowa was hampered by injuries during the Big Ten indoor meet. Its roster also is better suited for the outdoor season because some of the outdoor-only events such as the javelin are strengths for Iowa.
But an eighth-place finish still was unacceptable.
“After that Big Ten meet, a lot of us really came together and tried to get our act together so we’d have a very successful outdoor season,” senior sprinter and hurdler D’Juan Richardson said. “And I think that’s really shown throughout our practices and our meets.”
Iowa will enter this year’s outdoor meet in almost the same position it was in a year ago as the fourth-ranked team in the conference based on paper points. Iowa has 99 points on paper, which is just one fewer point than it had at this time last year.
“I think there is probably a new respect for Iowa,” Wieczorek said. “The (other Big Ten teams) have got to be looking at those paper points as well and charting it out and saying that, hey, Iowa could be one of those teams.”
Paper points are tabulated by taking where a student-athlete is ranked in each event and matching it with the points earned for finishing in that place at the conference meet. A student-athlete has to be ranked in the top eight to earn paper points.
Indiana, which won the 2012 Big Indoor title, has the most paper points with about 120 according to Wieczorek followed by Wisconsin, Nebraska and then Iowa.
“One of our goals is to be a 100-point team because 100 points usually gets you in the top three or four,” Wieczorek said. “And if you can get in the top three, well, then you can be in the hunt. We’re right where we were (last year), and we were in fourth place then. I described us as underdog contenders. Now we’re underdog contenders again.”
Senior sprinter Justin Austin would make a huge difference for Iowa if he could match what he did at last year’s Big Ten Outdoor Championships when he won the 200-meter dash and finished third in the 100. Austin was named the 2011 Big Ten Track Athlete of the Year and Athlete of the Outdoor Championships.
However, it’s been a frustrating and injury-plagued spring for Austin as evidenced by him only being ranked ninth in the 200 and not figuring in the paper points.
“I’m injury-free right now,” Austin said. “I’m running as fast as I ever have in my life.”
Austin also will be running in front many family and friends this weekend. The Milwaukee native hinted before practice Tuesday that his cheering section could make a difference.
“I’m going back to Wisconsin; I’ve got a lot of family there,” Austin said. “So I don’t even want to try to explain that.
“But when I cross the finish line and you see a time, you guys will know the emotions I was feeling before that race. It’ll be a homecoming for me, definitely a homecoming.”
Austin was among three Hawkeyes that captured individual titles at the 2011 Big Ten Outdoor Championships. The other two — triple jumper Troy Doris and Matt Byers in the javelin — have picked up this spring where they left off a year ago.
Doris and Byers are ranked first in the conference in their event. Doris will be trying for his fourth Big Ten title in the triple jump in as many tries, with him also winning twice indoors.
Jeffery Herron and Erik Sowinski also are ranked first in the Big Ten in the high jump and 800, respectively.
“I think every year is different year, but I think we’re in a good place right now going in,” Wieczorek said. “I wouldn’t say we’re tough to beat. I’d say we’re in the hunt. Just like last year.”
Field events, running events
Friday: Noon, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday: 9:30 a.m., 2:10 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m., 12:45 p.m.