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Curtis Beach
of Albuquerque Academy, New Mexico, has been one of the most exciting track and field athletes in the nation this year. After setting the #2 all-time mark in the indoor pentathlon at NSIC, Beach has torn through an outdoor season that includes a national decathlon record with high school implements at Arcadia, five individual victories at the New Mexico state championships to lead his team to the 5A state title, and a tour de force performance at the Great Southwest Classic, where he contested two decathlons simultaneously, set a national record with international implements, split 1:50 on his state's winning 4x800, and ran a 46.45 on the victorious USA All-Stars 4x400 relay.

Looking back at a Classic
Three crazy days at the Great Southwest Classic

by Curtis Beach, Albuquerque Academy NM senior
Photos by John Dye
Hello. It is my pleasure to share with you my perspective of what went down at the Great Southwest Track and Field Classic.  There might be one or two meets I have competed in that would match how exhilarating this competition was for me—and that would be two or three meets of hundreds of track and cross country competitions over the 11 years I have been in the sport.  This will be the first of a few articles I have agreed to write over the course of a month or so; other articles I will share with you include my college search and why I chose Duke of all places, what I feel needs to be done in order to make track popular in this country, and the surreal experience of being on Team USA.  I hope that you will be able to learn something from reading these articles, and may be I'll learn something from writing them too.

The Decathlon - Doing 'em both

I woke up the morning of the Decathlon with a strange feeling.  This was going to be my very last prep competition in my home state of New Mexico, the one that would mark the very ending of my high school career.  But it also marked the very beginning of something that might be very special.  I would be competing with high school implements for the final time and with collegiate implements for the first time in the same Decathlon.  I wanted to put the stamp on the end of my high school career by finishing it well, but at the same time jump-start my collegiate implement career with a bang.  What was thoroughly instilled in my mind, though, was this question: how would I end this amazing high school journey?

Immediately after the high school Decathlon at Arcadia, I first considered doing the Great Southwest Decathlon with collegiate implements (16 lb. Shot, 2k Discus, 42” Hurdles).  I spoke with [track historian] Jack Shepard after Arcadia and he told me that Craig Brigham has held the high school record for the collegiate-implement Decathlon for nearly 40 years, with a score of 7359, and that it would be amazing if I broke it—I knew breaking this record would mean a lot to him, since he is the statistician that he his.  Another incentive for competing with the collegiate implements was the possibility of achieving the qualifying standard for the USA Championships and competing with the pros; however, I ruled that reason out after I figured that I wanted to enjoy my last year as a junior athlete and not compete in the USA Senior Championships, even if I happened to get the standard.  At this point I did not really have a preference of which implements to use, until Track & Field News wrote this: “Expert consensus is that Brigham's mark remains marginally superior [to my high school implement mark].”   

I really wanted to achieve the elusive 8000, and I knew I would have the best chance with the high school implements, but at the same time I wanted to prove Track & Field News wrong and show that I was the best high school Decathlete.  I was torn between which ones to use at this meet until I thought, “Why not both?”  With the gracious help of the Great Southwest meet directors, it was organized so the collegiate-implement Shot Put competition would go off right after we did the high school shot—and the same would be done with the hurdles and the discus.  The collegiate competition was optional, but open to whoever wanted to compete in it.  Against the advice of a few of my coaches, I did 'em both.

I began the 13-event Decathlon (or Treiskaidecathlon, as it was determined on the Dyestat message boards) with the same mindset as I used in Arcadia.  I was not going to ponder on numbers, marks, or scores, but instead just do the best I could in each event and see what happened.  I've found that if I just have fun with each individual event rather than going for a particular score, I allow myself to compete with ease and bypass the pressure that comes with going for a record. 

The first day was solid, scoring only 2 points behind my Arcadia Decathlon score with the HS implements and over 4000 points with the collegiate implements.  The second day was more challenging, though.  I was asked several times by friends, spectators, and reporters exactly what it would take to achieve 8000 points. Instead of simply telling them that it will take a day of just competing like my normal self, I expanded on what marks I needed to achieve in order to obtain particular score: what I could and could not afford during the second day.  All I did was put pressure on myself.  When I competed, I was more focused on getting a particular mark instead of being focused on execution and letting the numbers fall where they may.  I feel that this mental strain got me more physically fatigued than all of the thirteen events did combined.  By the penultimate event, the Javelin, I didn't feel the intense motivation as I did in Arcadia; I tried to self-impose the motivation, but it just wasn't there.  I could also say that it was the 30 mph. gusts during the 1500 that made me run a 4:25 (16 seconds behind my Arcadia 1500 time), but I was just mentally and physically tired.  I was tired and my performance suffered as a result.  Luckily, however, the ups of the first day and the beginning of the second day gave me a very solid score: 7719 with HS implements and 7466 with collegiate implements.  No 8000, but a new National Record with the heavier implements... That's right Track & Field News ;)

Saturday Afternoon - Running for New Mexico pride

I really wanted to be done and just enjoy being a spectator for the Saturday portion of the meet, but we have had an outstanding group of 800 meter runners in New Mexico this year, and I felt that I owed it to them to put our best team together and go for a record.  We all had to average below 1:55 in order to achieve the 7:40 record and all four of us have run under 1:55 at one point during the year. I slightly doubted my ability to run sub 1:55 after the Treiskaidecathlon, but I just figured I'd do my best and hope for a solid time.  As it turned out, all our first three legs all ran over 1:55 so we were definitely behind the pace, but we still held a commanding lead.  With no idea how I would be able to run, I received the baton for the anchor leg and I just hoped for the best—the best in my mind was maybe 1:53 if I executed the race extremely well.  After I ran my heart out and finished the race in a total time of 7:43, I looked over to my coach in the stands and he called out, “1:50.9!”  I just laughed and said, “What the heck?!”  I mean for running by myself in the wind after 13 events, I have no explanation of how I could have run the fastest split I’ve ever run in my life…. It just blew my mind.

Saturday Night - 'Put on your spikes, you’re third leg.'

Now if you read nothing else, please read this story about the 4x4…it’s crazy.  The New Mexico team coordinator originally wanted me to compete in the Decathlon, 4x800 and 4x400, but I just felt that competing in the 4x800 in addition to the Decathlon was stretching it far enough.  After my would-be 4x4 teammates tried to persuade me to jump in the relay, I decided to just take my coach’s word for it and conclude that there would be no 4x4 for me.  Then my New Mexico replacement got injured and I was put back in the relay; and I would have done it, but I recruited one of my New Mexico friends who just came to watch the meet to be my second replacement.  He has split 48-point before, and had been training, so I gave him my jersey to run with and he was good to go.   Now I could say for sure that I was definitely not doing the 4x400… 

Then an Arizona coach named Steve Carson approached me.  It was about an hour before the 4x4 relay was to go off when he asked if I would be willing to run on the USA Team since they only had three guys.  Nothing in my live has ever challenged my decisiveness like this: in just a few minutes I had to decide whether I take the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run with an All-Star 4x4 and pace New Bern to a possible HS record, or just say no and not risk any possible burn out from doing so much.  If I jumped in the All-Star relay, it would probably seem like I thought I was too good for the New Mexico team since I had already rejected their offer for a spot multiple times.  But then again, I did feel good and it would be sooo much fun running on that team.  In the end, I spoke with the New Mexico coordinator and my teammates about it, and they told me that they would not be offended if I ran on the USA team; in fact, they thought it would be an awesome opportunity and I should take it.  So I accepted the spot on the All-Star relay team and I got ready to warm up… 

Then I got word that the USA Team actually had four guys ready, with one questionable athlete; I was now warming up as an alternate for that one questionable athlete.  I located the guys on the 4x4 team by asking random people who they were, and I eventually found all four.  I asked them if they felt good and if they were ready to go.  They all said yes.  One of the relay members left and talked with the All-Star relay coordinator (Tavaris Tate’s dad), and I later got word from him that I would not be running on the relay.  I went to talk with him myself and he confirmed that I would not be running on the relay.  I once again felt sure that nothing would change.  About 7 or 8 minutes later, Steve Carson came to me once again and said, “Put on your spikes, you’re third leg.”

All I had were my distance spikes since I thought I would be just doing the 4x8 that day.  I laced ‘em up tight, borrowed Wayne Davis’s USA jersey, and jogged over to the infield where I would meet up with my new incredibly fast teammates that all lived in separate states. All I hoped for was to not be the obvious slow-leg.  Moments before the race we all did our own warm-up routines and then gathered together for a pre-race prayer.  I don’t know why I was feeling so good right then—may be it was because I was running with the best 400 guys in the country, may be it was because the sun went down and the lights came on, but I was ready to run fast and kick the crap out of the New Bern third-leg.

I took it out fast and relaxed while keeping solid form, stayed fast down the backstretch before surging through the second turn.  And by the homestretch I could hear the crowed roaring; I lifted my knees and actually accelerated to the finish line.  It felt so good!!  I pressed the baton to Andre Carter’s hand and cheered as he finished in the best time ever run by a high school-only 4x4 team.  

There are many thrilling moments in track and field that go with the inevitable heartbreaking moments, and the four of us made sure that we were going to really enjoy this one.  We cheered together, signed each other’s bib numbers, and posed for pictures on and off the podium.  In the span of 3:06.35, we evolved from an assorted bunch to a tightly-linked team. 

It was the perfect way to end my high school career.