The Gilliam Indoor Stadium of Texas A&M University will host the 2017 NCAA Indoor Championships this weekend, with Deakin athlete Sam Reiser racing the 4x400m relay for Penn State University.
The contrast in training venues over the years is not lost on Reiser, a 2014 graduate of Geelong Grammar School, windy afternoon’s spent tearing around a grass track under the watchful eye of Bruce Scriven, representing Australia at the 2014 World Junior Championships, will all seem like a lifetime ago when Reiser steps into the $35 million dollar Gilliam Indoor Stadium in College Station, Texas.
The venue seats 4,000 and features a six-lane hydraulically banked 200 metre track, with Reiser and his teammates set to complete 2 laps each whilst battling against some of the best teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Reiser’s Penn State University team qualified 4th fastest for the Indoor NCAA Championships with a time of 3:04.80sec, a time which would’ve warranted a bronze medal at the most recent IAAF World Indoor Championships, an indicator of the immense depth in the collegiate athletic system.
Athletics Victoria had the chance to ask Reiser a few questions after he had attended the championship banquet, held in one of the many function rooms the 102,000 seat Texas A&M football stadium.
AV – Sam, tell us a bit about Penn State and the athletics program there?
Sam – Penn State University is located in central Pennsylvania, it has around 46,000 students at my campus and 83,000 undergraduates enrolled at the moment across several other campuses. Our track program has been undergoing changes recently, with the hiring of a new sprints and throws and distance coaches which was a result of a new head coach that took over the program my first year. Since then I think we have made huge strides towards success as our women’s team captured the indoor Big 10 conference title, while the Men took 2nd which was the highest combined finish in program history while setting several school records along the way. We are hosting the outdoor conference championships this year, and are excited to use this momentum gained indoors to our advantage.
AV – Qualifying for the NCAA Indoor National Championships – how does a team achieve that, what kind of competition are you up against?
Sam – To qualify for indoor nationals you have to place top 16 individually and top 12 if you’re a relay nationally. This is all based on times and not on places or finishes at conference level. By many it is regarded the hardest meet to make in the world seeing that the calibre of student-athletes is so high in the United States. For our 4x400m relay the top seed time belongs to Texas A&M (3:02.39), which would have won the World Indoor Championships while narrowly failing to break the World Record (3:02.13).
AV – Did your team expect to qualify at the start of the indoor season?
Sam – We were running pretty average times at the beginning of the season compared to the rest of the country as we were around the 3:11 mark, but then we went to the Spire Invitational which is held at the same venue as our conference championships and dropped a 4 second season best, and 2 weeks later at the same venue we dropped a further 3 seconds to take us to our national qualifier of 3:04:80. This ranks us 4th in the nation and set a school, conference and facility record that day. We knew we could make nationals but to drop our time that fast caught us a little off guard.
AV – How did the day of the qualifying race pan out?
Sam -The 4×4 is always the last event of the day at the conference championships, or any meet for that matter. We had all run heats the day before for our individual events, and many of us had raced finals the day of the 4×400 so we were all a little tired, but that’s just how it is.
It’s accepted that you will be tired so we just all put that to the side and ran. It was a close race going back and forth between ourselves and Iowa, who had run one of the fastest times in the country and had a 44 second FAT (Fully Automatic Timing) anchor leg runner. In the final 30 metres of the race, Isaiah Harris powered past the Iowa anchor runner to take the victory. I have never experienced that much hype about a race before. The best thing about collegiate sports is that there is a team aspect, when we won the place erupted as our team lost it and flooded onto the track. Whilst it was very exciting, we all immediately jumped on the team bus and drove 5 hours back home.
Sam – How do you think your team will fare against the competition?
Sam – At NCAA’s there are no heats for the relay, it is 3 heats of 4 all being timed finals. Being 4th we are in the fast heat which is great for us, but it also puts us up against 3 other teams who have run 3:02.
We have stepped up to the competition every time this year and I think we will do the same come Saturday. Our team is young as well, we have 3 sophomores (second years) and one Junior (third year) meaning that we will be together for another year. Because we are all similar in age as well we have been together for a year. The team is really close and I often think it’s funny that none of us made the conference 400m final let alone nationals, and now we are in the fast heat of the 4x400m relay and setting records.
AV – How have you coped with the banked track? Could you describe to the readers the difficulties both physically and tactically of running on a banked 200m track?
Sam – Running on a banked track is a lot harder than outdoors. You have so much less room to make a move, as the straights are short, and to do so on the bank is pointless seeing the difference in distance from lane to lane. This makes timing your move critical. I think that the difficulties are indicated when you look at world records, as the outdoor world record is 2:54 and the indoor world record is 3:02.
AV – What is the Texas A&M venue like to compete and stay at?
Sam – Texas A&M have a great sprint background holding the collegiate record in the 4x400m relay, and are producing phenomenal athletes such as Deon Lendore (44.36sec 400m runner). It is a college town meaning that the university makes up the infrastructure of the place rather than being attached to a city. The campus is huge, and the facilities are insane.
We had access to one of the gyms today, I don’t know how many weight rooms they have, but I was impressed coming from a school that has 5 athletic weight training rooms. It was a full Olympic weight lifting gym, with the platforms sunk into the ground so that it could be used for alternative training activities too.
AV – Thanks for taking the time to talk with Athletics Victoria Sam, and best of luck this weekend!
Sam – My pleasure, thank you very much.
Reiser and his Penn State teammates will race at 11:45am on Sunday morning (AEST), televised on ESPN, live results are also available here:http://www.ncaa.com/di-mens-and-womens-track-field-championship-results-2017