Posts tagged ‘Penn State Track and Field’

Joe Kovacs’ Silver Leads the Way for Penn Staters in London

The first weekend of competition at the IAAF Track & Field World Championships in London was kind to a trio of Penn Staters. Joe Kovacs ’11, Darrell Hill ’15, and current Nittany Lion Isaiah Harris all made it to at least the semifinals of their events, with Kovacs taking home a silver medal for his performance in the shot put.

Kovacs, who won gold at 2015 world championships, was the top American in the event with a 21.66-meter throw en route to the silver. While his final throw would have narrowly won him the gold, Kovacs was flagged for a foul. The infraction was reviewed, the call was upheld, and Kovacs took to social media to address the decision.

Kovacs was joined in the shot put final by Hill, who came in 11th during his debut at the world championships with a throw of 20.79 meters.

Harris, our July/August 2017 featured athlete, made it to the semifinals of the 800 meters. The rising junior registered a time of 1:46.66, good for fourth in his heat and 17th overall. Also competing on the track was volunteer assistant Eddie Lovett, who participated in the 110-meter hurdles and registered a time of 13.67 seconds.

There’s still one more Penn Stater who is slated to compete at the world championships: rising junior Keianna Albury will run in the 4×100 meter relay for the Bahamas on Aug. 12.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 9, 2017 at 4:46 pm Leave a comment

Isaiah Harris Is Still Learning How Fast He Might Be

Photo via Cardoni

Isaiah Harris is really, really fast. This is kind of obvious: You’d assume that runners who receive Division I track scholarships can run much faster than the average person.

But in Harris’ case, his speed is almost unrivaled. On Jan. 28, 2017, the sophomore star lined up for the 600 meters at the Penn State National Open. Competing next to his friend, professional runner Casimir Loxsom ’13, Harris threw down the second-fastest time in the event ever.

The previous world record for the race, which was set eight days prior, was 1:14:97. Loxsom finished the race in 1:14:91, while Harris ran a 1:14.96. This was all in the plan for the pair, as Loxsom had mentioned to Harris prior to the event that he planned on breaking the record.

Harris had beaten Loxsom a few times in the past, so he had a strategy. He wanted to get on Loxsom’s shoulder, hang there, and try to beat him down the race’s home stretch. That didn’t quite happen, but he came about as close as humanly possible.

This was the latest big moment for Harris during his wildly successful collegiate career so far. The Gatorade Player of the Year for track in his home state of Maine as a high school senior, Harris is a middle-distance runner whose specialty is the 800 meters.

Since joining the Nittany Lions, he is 4-for-4 on Big Ten champions in the 800—he won the indoor and outdoor titles as a freshman and successfully defended his titles as a sophomore. Harris has also made it to the NCAA Championships in the 800 meters twice, coming in fourth in 2016 and second in 2017.

In addition to all of that, Harris nearly topped his freshman year off with a trip to Rio for the 2016 Olympics in the race. The top three made the team, and competing at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Ore., Harris came in sixth place. Afterward, Penn State track coach John Gondak told Harris that he never had an athlete make it that far.

“Going into it I didn’t have too high of expectations for myself,” Harris says. “Not saying that I was just happy to be there, but I didn’t really know what I was capable of. I kind of just went in and felt I had nothing to lose and just went through the rounds. By the time I made it to the finals, I wasn’t super nervous because I was like ‘No matter how I finish, it’s a pretty big accomplishment making this far, there’s nothing to lose.'”

It’s been a relatively fast ascent for Harris, whose track career began when he was a high school sophomore. He ran when he was in elementary school for fun but decided to give that up to play baseball in middle school.

Photo via Cardoni

During his sophomore year, his godfather bribed him to give up football—the sport he played in the fall—for cross country and track. While he mainly did the former because he enjoyed the success the team had, and because it got him in shape for basketball, the sport he liked the most, Harris’ success on the track happened almost right away.

He made it to the state championship meet in his first year on the team, where he took home first place in the 800 with a time of 1:54:17. For reference, that time would have been good for 18th in the Big Ten this year. Harris did that as a high school sophomore.

Still, while he won a state championship, he didn’t quite know just how impressive that time was. He got a good idea after the meet, though, when he learned he informally got his first scholarship offer.

“The University of Maine coach talked to my high school coach and was like ‘I’ll offer this kid a full scholarship if he wants to come here,'” Harris says. “It was too early for the coaches to talk directly to me and he told my coach that. From that point I was like ‘Oh, I actually might be pretty good.'”

Fast forward a few years and Harris is among the fastest people on the planet. While he plans on getting his degree—an important goal for him, as he’d be the first college graduate in his immediate family—Harris has his sights set on winning an NCAA title in the 800, going pro, and seeing how far running can take him.

Next up is the U.S. Championships in Sacramento, which began on June 22. He made it through the preliminary rounds, coming in 15th with a qualifying time of 1:48:09. Harris will participate in the semifinals on Friday night, and if he makes it through to the finals, will compete on Sunday afternoon for a spot at the World Championships in London.

(Update: Harris officially came in second in the 800 meters with a time of 1:44:53. He will represent the United States in London this August.)

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 23, 2017 at 10:44 am 1 comment

Darrell Hill’s Biggest Fan Will Join Him In Rio

Photo via @B1GHomie

Photo via @B1GHomie

Darrell Hill ’15 clinched a spot on the U.S. Track and Field team for the Rio Olympics last month. He is one of two Penn State alumni who will compete in the shot put, alongside reigning world champion Joe Kovacs ’11.

Hill’s father, Ellis, will join him in Brazil. However, it didn’t look like Ellis would get that opportunity until this weekend, when a GoFundMe set up by a woman named Liz Pampel Willock raised $8,200 to send Ellis to Rio.

According to Willock, Ellis was her Uber driver one afternoon in Philadelphia. He mentioned that his son qualified for the Olympics and that he wanted to go watch him compete. Willock set up a GoFundMe with the hopes of raising the money that Ellis needed to make it to Brazil. Four days later, the trip surpassed its original goal of $7,500, thanks in part to one huge donation that really touched Darrell.

As of Sunday, all Ellis needed was to secure his passport. He plans on being in Rio from August 15-19. Darrell, meanwhile, got his dad tickets to the U.S. Track and Field events. Men’s shot put qualifications will take place at 9:55 a.m. EST on August 18, and the final will take place at 8:30 that night.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 1, 2016 at 2:18 pm Leave a comment

Joe Kovacs and Darrell Hill are Headed to Rio

Photo via @JoeKovacsUSA

Photo via @JoeKovacsUSA

Nine Nittany Lions competed in the USA Track & Field Olympic Trials that wrapped up over the weekend, and two earned spots at next month’s Olympic Games.

Both of the Penn Staters who qualified participate in the men’s shot put. Reigning world champion Joe Kovacs ’11 (far right) took second place in the finals, registering a throw of 72′-0.25″. Coming in third was Darrell Hill ’15 (left), whose personal record throw of 70′-11.75″ helped him secure a spot.

It’ll be the first Olympics trip for both Kovacs and Hill; this was Hill’s first attempt, while Kovacs narrowly missed the 2012 Games when he came in fourth in qualifying.

A trio of Nittany Lions – Casimir Loxsom ’13, Brannon Kidder, and Isaiah Harris – made it into the field for the men’s 800 meters, with Loxsom and Harris reaching the finals. Harris, a rising sophomore, came in sixth, while Loxsom recorded a ninth-place finish. Kidder, a rising senior, made it to the semifinals, where he finished eighth in his heat. Robbie Creese ’14 made it to the semifinals of the 1,500-meter run, while Brian Leap ’16 participated in the triple jump.

Former Olympian Bridget Franek ’10, whom we wrote about in our May/June 2016 issue, tried to make it back to the Games in the 3,000-meter steeplechase but came up just short, placing sixth in the final. Rachel Fatherly ’16 and Mahagony Jones ’13 competed in the women’s shot put and 200 meter dash, respectively.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

July 11, 2016 at 2:16 pm 2 comments

Barney Ewell, Nick Vukmanic, and the 1940 Olympics

Photo via Black History at Penn State

Photo via Black History at Penn State

Our July/August 2016 issue included a big list of Penn State alums who have competed in the Olympic Games. However, it excluded a pair of Nittany Lions who earned the title of honorary Olympians in 1940.

Barney Ewell (right) and Nick Vukmanic ’40 received this honor for qualifying for the 1940 Games in Tokyo, which were canceled due to World War II. Ewell was a sprinter who eventually made it to the Olympics and did pretty well for himself – he won a gold medal in the 4×100 meter relay and silvers in the 100 and 200 meters in 1948. Vukmanic was a standout in javelin. While he never got the chance to compete at the Olympics, Vukmanic won a U.S. National Championship in the event in 1938.

Thank you to Kristy Kowalski ’92, Vukmanic’s granddaughter, for bringing the story of the two honorary Olympians to our attention.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor


June 30, 2016 at 11:50 am Leave a comment

How Gymnastics Helped Make Joe Kovacs the Best Shot Putter on Earth

via US Weekly

via US Weekly

Joe Kovacs ’11 is the best shot putter in the world. The 2015 World Champion will compete for a spot in the 2016 Olympics at the U.S. Team Trials in July, but in the meantime, he’s busy using gymnastics to help him train.

Kovacs explained the way he uses gymnastics to Us Weekly. While he didn’t say how he got into the sport, he did credit gymnastics with teaching him body awareness and giving him elasticity. He also mentioned that his favorite exercise is to swing on the high bar, which helps stretch him out and relaxes him.

Here’s a video of Kovacs training on the high bar, which we highly recommend watching. For a 300-pound football player-turned-world champion shot putter, Kovacs is awfully good at this.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 2, 2016 at 1:14 pm Leave a comment

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