Five events in one

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Cougars track and field athletes tackle the difficult pentathlon event

For many students, the prospect of competing in a university track and field event is daunting.

Competing in one event that’s made up of five events? Impossible. However, there are some athletes who take on this difficult event. It is called pentathlon, and tests a competitor’s speed (60-metre hurdles), strength (shot put), endurance (800m for women, 1,000m for men), and jumping ability (high jump and long jump).

University of Regina Cougars track and field athletes Chelsea Valois and Jeremy Eckert are two such individuals who compete in pentathlon. It is an event they will each be taking part in at the CIS championships, which begin March 10 in Sherbrooke, Que.

“[Pentathlon’s] a really grueling event,” said a chuckling Valois, a fifth-year science student. “I always feel like I’ve accomplished something after completing it. I believe it shows a lot of character. Not everybody can do it, or would do it if they could.”

Pentathlon is certainly not a sport for the faint of heart. The five events are usually spaced out in a competition over several hours. For some athletes, they also have to compete in other individual events while battling it out in the pentathlon. While pentathloners do not have to be perfect in each event, they still need to do the best they can in each if they are to finish strong. It is pretty easy to see how trying to clear hurdles at a fast speed, jumping as high then as long as possible, tossing a heavy weight, and running a long distance can get tiring.    

“I’ve always been a high jumper mostly, so going from one event to five events is a pretty big difference,” said Eckert, a third-year Campion science student. “By the end of that 1,000 m [the last event in men’s pentathlon] you’re pretty dead for sure. It’s a lot of fun though, because you get to compete against the same people all day long and if you have one bad event it’s not the end of the world."

With more events come greater training responsibilities for those in pentathlon. Instead of training for just one or two events, athletes need to hone their skills in multiple areas.

“It keeps things interesting,” said Valois on the training required. “We'll have one day a week for hurdles, the 800m, some speed workouts, and some more technical training for high jump and long jump. Sometimes, we don't train for shot put every week. But, most of the time, we do each event every week.”

Valois and Eckert have each approached pentathlon differently.

For Eckert, he took it up to help out the Cougars. The Regina product started last year, aiming to help the Cougars men’s team win their first Canada West title ever. Pentathlon and relays are conducted under a 10-8-6-4-2-1 point basis, giving athletes a shot at earning more points for their team than in other individual events (7-5-4-3-2-1 point system). Before joining the pentathlon, Eckert had primarily competed in high jump and long jump. The 2009 CIS and conference rookie of the year won a gold medal at the conference meet in 2009.

While Eckert admits he is still “not really a fan of the pent”, it would be hard to argue that his decision hasn’t paid dividends for both him and his team.

At the 2010 conference meet, Eckert won a silver medal in pentathlon. He also won another gold in high jump and proceeded to pick up his first CIS medal ever, taking home the bronze in high jump. That year, Eckert helped the Cougars capture their first conference title ever. They finished with 101.5 points, 12.5 ahead of the second-place Saskatchewan Huskies.

This year, despite the fact that he had not planned to compete in pentathlon at first and had not trained a lot for it, Eckert upped the ante by finishing first in high jump and pentathlon, guiding the Cougars to their second consecutive and second ever championship last month. It was by an even more impressive mark this time around, as Regina (106) finished well ahead of the Calgary Dinos (79).

“It’s pretty exciting,” Eckert notes on the team’s two consecutive titles. “This year, we were expected to lose by ten points or something like that and we ended up beating Calgary by 27. It’s pretty ridiculous”

When asked what the reason has been for the men’s success, Eckert didn’t take too long to respond.

“Bruce [McCannel],” he said with a laugh, referring to the Cougars track and field head coach. “What more needs to be said. He’s done a ton of recruiting. We’ve always been solid in the jumps, but we’ve never really had a lot of depth in other events like throws, distance running, and sprinting. It all kind of came together this year.”

As for Eckert, the only thing that seems to be missing from his distinguished university track career is a CIS gold medal. He’ll get that chance at nationals, where he is also competing in long jump. Eckert is joined by fellow Cougar men Tait Nystuen (300m, 600m, 4X200m relay), Connor MacDonald (high jump, long jump, 4X200m relay alternate), Mason Foote (60m, 4X200m relay), David Walford (triple jump, 4X200m relay), Mike Barber (pentathlon), Ethan Gardner (4X200m relay), and Chris Pickering (shot put).

“I really want to win the pent,” said Eckert. “I think I should have a good chance at that. I would love to get second or first in high jump to move up from last year and long jump is literally 20 minutes after high jump, so it’s just going to be harder. A gold would be very nice, but it won’t be the end of the world if it doesn’t happen. If I can get two medals, I’ll be ecstatic. There’s also the field athlete of the year award, which I’m hoping for. That would be a huge accomplishment.”

For Valois, on the other hand, pentathlon has been an event she has focused on throughout her track career. She obviously enjoys helping out the Cougars with the event, but Valois started competing in pentathlon before even coming to the U of R. The Zenon Park product started in the summer of her Grade 11 year, competing in a similar outdoor event called the heptathlon.

This past experience has helped her flourish in pentathlon, and other events, at the university level. At the 2007 conference meet, she won a bronze in the pentathlon. The next year, she improved her bronze to a silver and added a bronze in long jump at the conference meet. In 2009, she had an impressive medal haul at the conference meet (gold, pentathlon; silver, long jump; bronze, 60m hurdles; bronze, high jump; bronze, 4X200m relay). She won a silver medal in pentathlon at the CIS meet that year.

Last year, Valois could have taken home even more medals if not for an injury. Valois suffered a bruised right heel after falling in a hurdles race, which sidelined her for a large chunk of the season.

“It motivates me even more,” said Valois of the injury. “I don’t want that to happen again.”

This year, Valois was all too close to picking up another gold medal in pentathlon at the conference championship.

“I was leading up to the 800, the last event, by about 100 points,” she said. “That’s one of my weaker events. The girl that got first place ran 15 seconds faster than me and ended up beating me.

“I was happy with my performance at Canada West. I improved my score by 140 points from two years ago. The competition was really strong this year in the pentathlon.”

Like Eckert, Valois is chasing that elusive CIS gold medal. She will also be competing in long jump, the 4X200m relay and the 4X400m relay. Valois will be joined on the women’s side by fellow Cougars Merissa Margetts (60m, 300m, 4x200m relay, 4x400m), Amanda Ruller (60m, 4x200m relay), Adrea Propp (4x400m relay, 4x200m relay alternate), Shalane Haselhan (high jump), Nicole Breker (triple jump), Kelsey Bohachewski (4x200m relay), Chantelle Labrecque (shot put), and Julia Hart (4x400m).

“It’s possible that I can get the gold [in pentathlon,” said Valois. “It’s going to be a really close competition. I’m kind of nervous, but I now it’s possible. My only concern is that 800. In the 4X200m relay team we have a chance at medaling. I’m also in the long jump, an event I’m ranked seventh in, but if I get a good jump in then who knows. If I improve my score, I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t get a medal..”

While Valois is looking to breeze by the competition at nationals, she is wishing the same wouldn’t have happened with her university track career. This is Valois’ last year with the Cougars.

“It’s gone by too fast,” she said with a laugh. “My experience has been great. I wouldn’t change it if I had a choice.”

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