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Interval Session #97 - Curtis Beach

By SteveU - February 12, 2009

Albuquerque Academy NM senior Curtis Beach intrigues track fans in a way few other prep athletes have ever done.  If you’ve watched the decathlon during the Olympics, the majority of competitors – all-time U.S. greats like Dan O’Brien and Brian Clay come to mind – are national or world-class in several events, but struggle to complete the 1500 meters in a decent time for a middle-schooler.  Not Beach, who can jump, sprint, hurdle and throw – AND run 1500 meters in 4:15 or less, a time superior to almost every Olympian and good enough to be part of most top prep distance crews.

Of course, Beach is outstanding on the short end of the distance spectrum (1:53.88 800) and good enough at the long end to compete this past fall as a 7th/8th man on his school’s national powerhouse cross-country team.  It turns out cross-country was indeed his first love, but exposure to and the embracing of many other T&F events has led him to the multis.  As a result, he has competed internationally – 4th in the 2007 IAAF World Youth Games octathlon – and ranked #1 last year for preps on the HS decathlon, Junior decathlon, and HS indoor pentathlon lists.  He’s competed twice indoors so far and plans to defend his NSIC pentathlon titleDyeStat senior editor SteveU tracked down the Duke signee in the ABQ this week as he continues to work his way into another big year.

Long jumping at USATF Jrs . Photo John Nepolitan
1)  Curtis, first, congrats on becoming a Duke Blue Devil.  Can you talk about all of the schools you considered and what were the reasons you finally went with Duke, in terms of track, academics and other factors you considered?

Thanks!  There were three main things I considered when making my college decision: solid academics with a major that fit me well, a coach that could take me to the highest level I can go, and an environment that I was very comfortable with.  Secondary considerations I had included how good the team was, facilities, scholarship, etc.

Many colleges had all of the three main things, plus more (Oregon, Cal Berkeley, and Rice to just name a few).  What sold me on Duke was that, 1) I would be in a very good place if athletics just happened to not work out and, 2) I felt that their multis coach, Shawn Wilbourn, shared the same passion as I do about track and field and that we would work extremely well together to accomplish some very high goals in the sport.
2)  Last weekend, you competed in a meet at University of New Mexico in the pole vault (14-06), 200 (22.46), and shot put (42-09).  Was it your first competition of the year and what was your assessment of how each event went?

This was my second competition.  My first was on Jan. 31st, when I threw the shot right before my school’s Winter Ball dance (the meet started at 6 p.m.).  Right after, I changed into a suit in the restroom at the track before I left to someone's house for pictures- so that was a pretty cool experience, ha-ha!  This last meet though, I had no idea what to expect.  Coming off cross-country season, I had no clue where my speed would be for the 200, but I was very pleased to see that it was just fine.  I was happy with a PR in the vault and I feel that there is lots of room for improvement in the shot.

3)  Can you give us some basic background of how you evolved into a multi-eventer?  What sports were you first interested in as a kid, then how did track become part of the picture, then finally how did you come to embrace the decathlon?

  Running the 1500 at GSW. Photo Gary Murray
Well, I first played soccer as a 7-year old kid.  Our coach would make us run laps around the field as punishment for screwing around – so I just happened to really want to screw around with that punishment being more of an incentive for me.  It didn't take long for my parents to enroll me in track after that.  In my first few years of track and XC, cross country was my best sport.  In middle-school, though, my coach challenged me to run every event from the 100 meters to the 3000 meters, and I loved all of it. 

Soon after, I tried out some jumping events, and then throwing events, before I eventually did my first decathlon the summer after my 8th-grade year.  To this day, I have never been able to pick one event or even group of events to specialize in, so I guess the decathlon is a perfect fit.

4)  I think what fascinates people most about you is that so few multi-eventers are good distance runners (this seems even more true with Olympic-level athletes), yet that seems to be your greatest strength.  Do you feel more like a distance runner who became a decathlete, or the other way around?  What is your perspective on the type of decathlete you are and what kind of reactions do you get from your competition?

I am definitely a distance runner who became a decathlete.  I believe that every single decathlete is different in their own way; some are vaulters who are fast, others are incredibly strong sprinters that can throw, and there are a few like me who are distance runners at heart.  Most decathletes cannot comprehend why I enjoy the 1500, but I don't think anybody can really comprehend a distance runner’s mentality.  Every event in the decathlon I enjoy, but it is that 1500 that always gives me a little bit more motivation and confidence.

5)  Adding to the fascination for followers of the sport is the fact that not only are you a good middle distance runner, both in and beyond the mulits, but that you are a borderline varsity performer on one of the best cross-country teams in the nation.  Are you a full-fledged member of the program, training all fall the same distances, etc., that everyone else does?  How far have you run in training?  How do you feel running XC benefits you as a decathlete?

This past year I was a full-fledged member of the Charger XC program and the entire season was uninterrupted by any track and field workouts.  When I made the decision to do cross-country (which I did not decide to do my junior year), I felt that it was my last chance to do something besides track for a very long time.  It was amazing being part of a program that fought for not only a state title, but for a possible NXN championship.  Even though we did not achieve the NXN win this year, it was still incredible just going there, traveling with the team to several other meets, and being part of a team that strove for major championships. 

As far as how it helps me as a decathlete, I feel that it will definitely contribute to my 1500 and help my endurance for just the whole 10-event series.  There are probably better ways than XC to work on the decathlon for me, but it was just really fun being apart of the Academy XC team.

   Beach (right) edged fellow NM standout Dan Gooris (left) in the 2008 NSIC Pentathlon.  Photo John Nepolitan
6)  Running XC keeps you part of the Albuquerque Academy athletics program on a year-round basis.  Can you tell us what Coach Kedge and his family have meant to you and the athletics programs at your school, including some of the things that the average person might not know about?  Also, who are the coaches who assist you in the different disciplines of the decathlon?  Is there more than one coach you work with?

I'm not sure how I can possibly share how much Coach Kedge has meant to me and the many other athletes that run for him, but what I appreciate about him the very most is the fact that he genuinely cares for each individual person.  Some coaches seem to have egos where they would like to see an athlete of theirs succeed only to make them look like a good coach.  That is the furthest thing from Coach Kedge's attitude.  He cares about us, motivates us, sets us straight, and everything in between. 

His wife Lisa is extremely supportive as well; she attends our track meets regularly and probably gets more nervous for us than every Charger does for themselves.  She also an excellent cook, too :)   I work with four other coaches, besides Coach Kedge.  One is a firefighter that helps me while he is on his shift, another is a coach at another school that is willing to coach anybody and everybody, but all of them are very knowledgeable and have kindly put in several hours of working with me.

7)  In 2007, you had a chance to travel overseas for the World Youth Championships.  More than a year later, what are some of your most cherished memories of that trip and what are some of the lessons learned that are still helping you today?

My most cherished memory from that trip was the entire experience of being a part of a team, instead of just being one of several athletes that was there for nothing more than individual success.  Coach Clif McKenzie was an incredible head coach and an excellent motivator for the team.  He was the reason why the group of individual athletes, with very different personalities and backgrounds, merged into Team USA. 

Beach was Mr. Intensity before an event at USATF Jrs. last year, but he may be less likely to be seen like this in the future as he's decided to lower the pressure gauge and have more fun on the track.  Photo John Nepolitan
I also learned many lessons while I was there, but the one that sticks with me the most is when I realized that a track meet, whether it is big or small, is still just a track meet.  I got very worked up and very nervous over there (I mean, it was a world championship and all) and I feel that this attitude hindered my performance.  Next time I compete at that level, I'll know that there is nothing I have to change from how I normally compete to be at my best.

8)  Then 2008 was a challenging year for you, with your having missed making the World Junior Team.  Yet you told us last summer that you really learned some things about putting too much pressure on yourself – and then learned even more when you had prepared yourself with a different mental outlook before the Junior Olympics, then had to make a huge adjustment after you hurt your ankle.  Can you tell us about those competitions and how they made you a better athlete today?

Competing in the Junior Nationals was very hard; it was that meet where all the accumulated stress from practicing and competing caught up to me.  During the competition, I felt that competing and practicing at a high level was just a bunch of work that did nothing but wear people out.  After that meet, I discovered that if I was going to relieve this pressure, I had to change my attitude completely.  It took some soul searching about why I did track, why I wanted to compete with the best, and why I put in all of the work to get there. 

In the end, I found out that it wasn't the pressure of winning that drives one forward to compete at a high level, but simply enjoying each individual experience.  If I just enjoy practice, enjoy competing, and have confidence that I will go where I want to in my track career, then I know I will always compete at my best and be tough to beat.  That's the attitude that helped me finish well in the JO Decathlon in spite of the sprained ankle.

9)  In a year like 2009, with no World Junior Meet to shoot for and your college plans having been made, what are some of your goals and aspirations?  Are you planning to go for a pentathlon at NSIC or NIN?  Any particular plans for outdoors?  And most importantly, what are the events where you’re focusing most on improving?

I will compete in the pentathlon at the NSIC.  They always put on an outstanding meet, and from competing there since my sophomore year, I have grown loyal to that indoor national meet.  I hope to score more than 4000 points, but I'll just do my best in each event and see what happens. 

Outdoors, I'd like to help Academy retake the state title we lost last year and maybe win five golds.  For the decathlon in the summer, I feel that the national record is definitely within reach and that I have a good shot at it.  Also, it'd be nice to go back to the Junior Nationals and hopefully qualify for the Pan Am Juniors, which are in Trinidad. 

The events I need to improve the most to get there are the throws (especially the jav) and the vault.  I feel that my progress in those events is coming along just fine and I'll be able to make some huge leaps in those events this year.

10)  Every great decathlete needs a support team.  Can you tell us about how your family and friends have contributed to your success?  What’s the latest with your athletic younger brother?  Is he following in your footsteps or finding his own path in different events or different sports?

My family has definitely contributed to my success in track and field, but has also helped me in many more important ways.  They have taught me how to win and how to lose, what it means to be a good person, and many more life lessons that have affected me in positive ways.  As for my brother, his heart is in the guitar. We tried to make him an athlete, but the guitar is just his passion and what he uses to stand out as an individual, instead of following in my footsteps.  There is a chance, however, that he'll do the javelin.  He's got the body for it, the arm strength, and is willing to take it up.  So maybe you'll see another Beach on the DyeStat scene!

11)  Finally, through the national and international competitions you’ve been privileged to compete in, have you started to develop a consciousness of the sport on a level beyond high school competition?  After Team USA’s up and down performance in Beijing, do you find yourself feeling like you want to be part of the future of success for this country in track and field?

Since my high school career is beginning to come to a close, I am really wanting to finish it well, but at the same time I’m anxious about the brand new collegiate and possibly post-collegiate career that is right around the corner.  It is the multis coach at Duke who I plan on working with for at least four years, and quite possibly much longer than that, and from my freshman year on we will be working towards goals much larger than the high school goals I have today. 

Perhaps we will work towards an NCAA title in the decathlon, maybe towards being an Olympian, maybe an Olympic medal, or maybe even beyond that.  I might just end up using a business degree from Duke to help advance the sport of track and field - who knows?  There's no guarantee that I'll ever reach those goals, but I tell you, it'll be really fun trying!!

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