In 1968, a little-known Native American runner named Billy Mills came out to join the Olympic track team. No one really expected much of his abilities, including Mills himself, yet he went on to win gold just because he believed he could.
Almost 30 years later, Mills' story hangs on the walls of the Yeotrackers' locker room. It's the story that Oberlin's track and field coaches use to inspire themselves and their runners, in the hopes of duplicating such a performance at the NCAC championships to be held at Denison University this weekend.
"You could say that we can't do well because we don't have enough numbers," said head coach Tom Mulligan. In the next breath, however, he added emphatically that that kind of attitude is directly contrary to the track mentality. "You have to have the attitude that you can win, or you won't. Our major goal is to go down there to win, not shoot for sixth," he said.
All this week, the Yeotrackers have been rejuvenating themselves by running easier workouts, trying to let their injuries heal in preparation for this weekend's meet. Meanwhile, the runners are keeping their championship goals in the forefront of their thoughts, while conditioning, brushing their teeth and sitting in class.
"You have to be fresh to have a good chance at the championship," said assistant coach Tina Chase, "especially because this is a two-day meet. The two days take their toll." The real competition begins on Saturday. Today, trials will be held to select 10runners from a pack of about 25 people vying for spots in various events.
All three of the track coaches seemed to have put on blinders that centered their focus on the championship meet ahead; last week's meet paled by comparison. "Some people had a good meet last weekend," said Mulligan, "while for others it was not as productive as it could have been."
The Yeotrackers are hoping to go to Denison with optimum productivity capacity and return with one of the greatest upsets in NCAC history. "We're hoping our humans will be better than their humans," said Mulligan.
The final element of preparation for the Yeotrackers as they go to Denison, aside from getting rest, staying physically conditioned and sharpening mental focus is the role of the coaches. The coaches are responsible for deciding who will run at each event, based on who they think the other teams will run. "Track is like a chess game," said Chase. "Depending on what coaches decide, teams may get points in different events than before."
Assistant coach Thomas Smith added that too much planning would not be beneficial. "We've got to be careful not to overthink it," he said. A shame-faced chuckle shared by all the coaches at this point in the interview implicated their culpability at having done this at other points in the season.
The tendency to overplan is indicative of the importance of this meet to everyone involved. And, after a hard season of preparation, the importance of the championships should not be belittled. Mulligan agreed; "This is like the Super Bowl, the NBA, the Stanley Cup, the World Cup, the Olympics," he rattled off. "The week of champions - this is what it's all about."
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 16; March 1, 1996
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