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(Johnson City, Tenn.) The second day of the NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships resulted in two more All-Americans for the Golden Eagles.
In the first event of the afternoon, Kris Shear got out quickly in the opening lap of the 3,000 meter race walk. After the first 800 meter he and two others were well clear of the field and Shear settled into third place, building up a ten second gap on a pack of four behind him. In the final 600 meters, Kyle Hively of Rio Grande chipped away at the gap, catching Shear in the final 80 meters. The junior from Rockford held the inside position through the last turn forcing Hively to go wide. The two walked shoulder to shoulder up the homestretch and a determined effort by Shear brought him to the finish line one second ahead in 13:50.51 to 13:51.99. Kris' third place finish is the best nationals finish by a CU race walker and his time broke his school record set earlier this season.
Joel Leong entered the 35 pound weight throw as the top seed by over two feet, having been number one on the NAIA performance list since the third week in January. The senior from Warren, MI had set his sights on winning the 2010 title since finishing fourth in the event one year earlier.
Throwing in the second of four flights in the preliminary round, Leong led the competition from his first throw of 61' 4". He improved to 62' 10.75" on his second and came within six inches of his best on his third attempt which measured 62' 10.75". The closest anyone else came in the qualifying round was Chris Dilley of Eastern Oregon, who threw 61' 8.5" on his third attempt.
The top eight advanced to the finals and threw their next three attempts in ascending order which gave Joel the last throw in each round. Leong told coach Rod Wortley that his legs were pretty tired after his two long throws. The plan was to get good throws in early to put pressure on the rest of the field to catch up. The question now became, did Joel have enough left to counter a late challenge. No one improved on their fourth throw and Leong launched another toss beyond the 60 foot mark, but was called for a foot foul.
On the fifth attempts, James Refenes of Concordia, NE got off a huge effort which measured 63' 7.5". Suddenly Joel found himself in second place. He responded with another good effort, but allowed the ball to fall too deeply in its orbit during his second of three turns in the circle. As a result, the release was too high and pulled Leong out of the circle for another foul.
With only one throw remaining, Refenes fouled and Dilley could only get the ball to go 60' 5.75". Joel entered the throwing cage for the final time, took his usual position with the ends of his shoes touching the metal rim at the back of the seven foot circle and stood there for several seconds, the weight swinging slightly in his left hand. Finally, he slung it around the right side of his body then began his first of three spins. This time he kept the ball in the proper orbit, acceleration through each turn then pushing through the release. The weight flew down the right sector line as Leong encouraged it with a spontaneous yell. The implement slammed into the ground well beyond the 60' arc. Joel excited the circle and stood nearby waiting for the measurement. His teammates and coaches in the stands waited for his reaction to tell them what the outcome would be. "It didn't look long enough and I told James [Refenes], ‘Congratulations, I think you got it,'" said Leong. Moments later the clerk read the tape at 63' 7.75". Joel raised both hands in the air and turned to face his teammates with a huge smile. The celebration intensified when the mark went up on the performance board revealing that the winning margin was just ¼", the smallest measurable increment as well as a personal best and school record.
After thanking all the clerks and judges, Joel made his way up to where his mother and sister were, clearly enjoying the moment.
"Coming into the meet, I thought nationals would either be an easy, boring win or he'd have to earn it," said Wortley. "For Joel to come back and earn it at the end makes the win more satisfying and a test of character as much as test of skill. He had to demonstrate the will of a national champion to find that last quarter inch after two fouls in the finals."
In other action on the track, Jacob Erickson ran 49.35 to place third in his heat and tenth overall in the 400 meters. Zach Yeo ran 1:29.87 in the 600 meters finishing 21st.