May 5, 2013
LOS ANGELES - Despite posting the sixth-best score in the 40-year history of the Pac-12 decathlon championships, Husky senior Jeremy Taiwo had to settle for second-place today by a miniscule three points. Oregon's Dakotah Keys won his second straight Pac-12 title with 8,001 points, with Taiwo scoring 7,998 points, a career-best by a large margin.
Hosted by USC at Loker Stadium, Taiwo held the lead all through the second day until the penultimate event, the javelin, where Keys threw a huge PR of 219-2, making up what had been a sizeable gap and taking a lead of 54 points into the final 1,500-meter run. Taiwo had a history of much faster times in the final race, but Keys had the advantage of knowing how close he needed to stay on Taiwo's heels.
Taiwo, the 2011 Pac-12 decathlon champ, would give his all and win the final race in 4:18.23, less than a second off his PR. But Keys ran a five-second PR and finished in 4:25.76, barely making it under the eight-second gap he needed to maintain to get the win. A split second difference from either runner and Taiwo would have won, not to mention all the tiny inches and tenths over the prior nine events that could have turned things.
"I just wanted to get done with the race and was trying to give it everything I had. If he was pushing harder than me, then props to him," Taiwo said. "The way he competed today I wanted him to win. I have a lot of work to do. I'm really happy for Dakotah, he's awesome, he's a great guy and I was pulling for him too. I really love the camaraderie of this competition. I know there's just way more points in me but I was happy to get through everything today."
Nevertheless, despite the agonizing final tally, Taiwo did post a career-best score by 256 points, in his first fully completed decathlon since the 2011 NCAA Championships. He will also now all-but-guarantee himself a trip to the 2013 NCAA meet in Eugene. His score ranks as the No. 4 mark in the NCAA this season, Keys just happened to post the No. 3 mark. Taiwo's score is also well past the `A' standard needed to compete at the 2013 USA Championships.
Taiwo's 7,998 points is a higher tally than 34 of the 39 winning scores in conference history, and the best second-place score ever recorded. He also moves to No. 3 in school history, trailing NCAA Champion Mike Ramos (8,322; former NCAA record) and Steve Erickson (8,063).
He started the day with a solid run in the 110-meter hurdles, clocking 14.74 seconds for third place overall. Taiwo then had the second-best discus effort, throwing 133-8. Moving on to the pole vault, Taiwo tied for second again with a clearance of 15-9 to maintain a big lead. But Keys hit his huge javelin throw to gain the edge, while Taiwo was fifth in that event with a toss of 158-7.
That set the stage for the final run, and a quote from Keys afterwards captured the drama well.
"When (Taiwo) pulled away with 800 to go I was nervous. In my head there was a second where I just thought, `He won and there's nothing I can do.' I had people yelling all around the track and with 300 to go coach was like `You've got to go with these other guys and try to catch him.' I caught the guy that was two people ahead of me with about 200 to go and then with that left I just thought, `this is all I can do, I'm going to go as hard as I can', and I just started pumping my arms. Coach said lean and so I leaned at the finish."
Taiwo said afterwards that a knee issue plagued him this weekend and at times he didn't think he'd be able to push through it. He did not have any individual event PRs this weekend, aside for an outdoor shot put personal best, but it was his most consistent performance from start to finish.
"It feels good to give my team some points, I wish I'd given them two more but they're going to have to show up and do their job," Taiwo said. "Hopefully that gives them a little encouragement and a little boost for next weekend."
Freshman Josh Gordon also wrapped up his first Pac-12 decathlon today, he was 12th overall with a score of 6,331. A PR in the javelin of 137-4 was his only season-best on the day. He was 10th in the final 1,500-meter run in 4:42.05.
Junior Shelby Williams made it through six of the seven events in the heptathlon, but then did not participate in the final 800-meter run. She long jumped 16-4 ½ to start the day and then threw 81-3 in the javelin, putting her in 10th place heading into the final event.
Washington will take Taiwo's 8 points and look to build on that in a big way as the Pac-12 Championships resume next Saturday and Sunday, May 11-12, back at USC.