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Band of Brothers

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For a sport that often toils before empty stands, with only each other to acknowledge the sum total of their efforts in 10 events over two days, the competitors in the 2010 NCAA Decathlon had already experienced a lifetime of memories thanks to the track-mad faithful at Hayward Field.

And then Oregon's Marshall Ackley refused the advice of trainers, and stepped onto the track for the final event, the 1,500 meters. 

Philip Adam of Rice never had the pleasure of fans offering support when he prepared for his first attempt in the long jump, the second event of the two-day competition. Yet there were over 1,000 in the stands, thanks to an appeal from Oregon officials, having survived downpours in during the 10 am start of competition.

"You never see that for the decathlon, except maybe in Europe," Adam said. "But here were all these people out there in the morning on the first day of competition.  All of the guys were really jazzed up by the support for our event."

The hidden secret of the decathlon is that despite NCAA titles and All American rankings on the line, the competition is never between athletes, but between each athlete and the demands of each event.

"Jon Warren (Rice head men's coach) says it best," Adam said. "We are the worst of enemies and the best of friends.  We all want to do our best, the score in each event comes from how you perform. It's never about a head-to-head thing  between guys."

As he prepared for the final event of the two-day grind, Adam knew that his first potential All American ranking hung in the balance.  But as he limbered up and went through his final preparations, he could be seen smiling and sharing a word with Wesley Bray of Houston, who has traded conference multi-event titles with Adam throughout his career.

"That wasn't unusual at all.  Most of the talk is always about what someone is trying to do.  Everyone is asking around, wanting to know what guys are going for."

While Adam and Bray were looking for a way to improve their placing,  Ackley was about to take a painful trip around the track for nothing more than the pride of knowing he would complete his last competition on his home track.

He had injured his hamstring during the pole vault, the eighth event of the day, and ignored his own trainers' instructions to pull out of the competition.  He bravely ground out his throws in the javelin and then took his place on the starting line to complete the final 1,500 meters of his career on one good hamstring. 

While Adam and the others raced ahead, chasing for the best time possible, Ackley bravely covered the distance with nothing in mind but finishing what he had started.  As he came around the far turn and headed home for the last time, the record crowd of over 11,000 thundered its appreciation of his effort.

Adam hit the finish in 4:36.06, good enough for fifth in the event and the 705 points that time generated placed him 9th in the final standings.   But rather than stop to contemplate if his performance was good enough to post a career- best or earn him All American status, he joined with his other competitors at the finish line to wait for Ackley.

Some two minutes later, with the crowd cheering madly, Ackley completed his run in 7:04.56, adding  63 points to his total, but  presenting the meet and the decathletes with a moment of far greater impact.

"There was no doubt in any of our minds that he would finish," Adam said.  "The principal of finishing what you start is something we all understand.  We are all a bunch of buddies who happen to be competing together.  We're always there for each other

 

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