Salander Leads Harvard Track and Field Competitors at NCAA Indoor Championships
Going into the third event of the women’s pentathlon at this weekend’s NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, freshman Martina Salander found herself sitting in 12th place in the 16-person competition.
The rookie needed to put together a stellar finish in the last three events to even be in contention for the national title in the event.
Then, with a single, personal-best heave of the shot put, Salander catapulted herself into third place.
On the first of her three attempts, Salander tossed the shot 14.23 meters, 1.68 meters further than her closest competitor would manage.
The mark earned her 809 points, while no other athlete netted greater than 700 in the event.
“[Last Monday in practice,] she had a series of eight or nine throws that were above her PR,” Harvard multi-events coach Kebba Tolbert said. “I couldn’t say that she was definitely going to throw 14.20…but I knew that she was going to PR and give herself a shot to score a lot of points in that event.”
The freshman went on to set a new Ivy League record in the pentathlon, tallying 4209 points in the event en route to a fifth place finish and recognition as a first-team All-American. Salander, whose previous best point total in the event was 4138 points, became the first multi-event All-American in Crimson history.
In addition to her impressive outing in the shot put, Salander jumped 5.85 meters in the long jump, which ties for the fifth best in school history. She went on to record a personal-best time in the 800 meter run, clocking in at 2:19.36.
“The best multi-event athletes have balanced performances,” Tolbert said. “If you have one really bad performance, it can really hurt you in the overall scores…so we were just trying to keep doing what we’d been doing all year.”
In total, three Crimson athletes—all from the Ivy-champion women’s squad—earned qualifying bids to nationals by placing in the top 16 in the nation in their respective events. Salander was joined by junior co-captain Adabelle Ekechukwu, who earned her bid by breaking the Ancient Eight record in the weight throw, and sophomore middle distance runner Erika Veidis, whose qualifying time of 2:05.70 is the second fastest mark in the 800-meter in school history.
Veidis punched her ticket to Fayetteville at last weekend’s Last Chance Meet, which was hosted by Columbia at the Armory Track and Field Center. The sophomore’s qualifying time was 15th out of the 16 competitors, which likely meant that she would have to set a new personal record if she hoped to be one of the eight women in the event finals.
“The goal was to basically recreate the race from last weekend, where I just sat on a pretty hot pace and then was able to close,” Veidis said. “But I guess that’s trickier when the whole field is trying to do the same thing.”
Assigned to the second heat of the preliminaries, Veidis toed the line against runners from perennial track and field powerhouses LSU and Oregon.
The sophomore finished in sixth place in her heat, crossing the finish line in 2:06.69, almost exactly a second slower than her personal-best time. When the results from both heats were compiled, Veidis’ time earned her 10th place, just 0.54 seconds short of a spot in the finals.
“It was a really aggressive race, which you would expect in the national championship 800,” Veidis said. “There was lots of elbowing and cutting off…. Usually I can run confidently and aggressively, but for some reason I just got jostled around and I wasn’t able to make it up after I got stuck in a bad position.”
Away from the track, Ekechuwku was the first Harvard competitor to face off against the nation’s best, as the women’s weight throw was the meet’s first field event. In one of her first three throws, the junior needed to be in the top nine to advance to the event finals.
Though Ekechukwu, who is also a Crimson arts and multimedia editor, opened up the competition with a solid 19.64-meter heave, she would not improve on the mark in either of her next two attempts and finished in 12th place. Her performance earned her second-team All-American status, making the co-captain the first thrower on the women’s team to garner the distinction.
“It’s a very, very high quality field and it’s a very intense competition,” Tolbert said. “To be able to come in and place higher than you were ranked coming in, that means you handled the pressure fairly well…. To get through to the national championship was a huge step for our program.”
—Staff writer Dominic A. Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dominicmTHC.