Finishing the NCAA Championships Heptathlon: A Visual Story By Zach Dirlam

Seven events in two days. Two throws, two sprints, two jumps and, at the end of it all, a half-mile run.

That's the composition of a modern-day heptathlon, one of 21 individual competitions at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Given its structure and time frame, as well as the diverse skill set and training required to perform at an elite level, it is arguably the most demanding discipline the sport has.

Heptathletes--also referred to as multi-eventers, or multis athletes--have a variety of strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, Amanda Froeynes, the Gators' rising sophomore who finished fifth at NCAA Outdoors last year, is among the best collegiate hepathlates in the javelin and 800 meters; her long jump and high jump personal bests are also strong within that group.

"She's really comfortable with (the javelin)," said associate head coach Steve Lemke, a former All-American javelin thrower and mentor to three javelin national champions. "There are a lot of things she does as well as a regular javelin thrower."

Froeynes often cedes points to the field in the 100-meter hurdles and 200 meters, while she's in the middle of the pack when it comes to shot put.

Much like a golfer knowing there are birdie holes to capitalize on and others where par is a great score, Froeynes is well aware the majority of her points come from her strongest four events; she simply aims for her personal record and avoids significant setbacks in the other three.

"I'm not trying to think too much about every event at the same time," Froeynes said. "When I go to the first event, I'm a hurdler. When I finish, I'm a high jumper. I'm just seven different athletes for seven amounts of time. That really helps me focus on each event.

"If it goes well, it goes well. If it doesn't, you have to move on."

Froeynes' first season with the Gators was a tremendous success. The Tonsberg, Norway native set personal bests in every event, including more than a half-second improvement in the hurdles and 28-centimeter PRs in the javelin and long jump. She also became the third freshman heptathlete in the last five years to score at NCAA Outdoors. Froeynes beat one of them this year, and the other--Georgia's Kendell Williams--won three national titles and was a 2016 Olympian.

"I'm extremely excited, because there's a long way to go there," said head coach Mike Holloway, noting Froeynes nearly broke Brittany Harrell's UF record in June. "Our school record is going to be in a very special place when she's done."

Through Froeynes' own words, along with those from Florida's coaching staff--all of whom contribute to her training and competition strategy--this story takes you inside the experience of completing an NCAA Outdoors heptathlon, minus all the pain and soreness.


24-48 Hours Before First Event

AF: I usually start preparing a couple weeks ahead, imagining what's going to happen, focusing on practice and doing the right things--like eating right, sleeping well. After SEC Outdoors, I had four weeks (before NCAAs). I was determined to do all the right things.

The night before, I'm trying to relax as much as possible, trying not to talk a lot, resting my body. I try not to think too much. That's not good for me.

I'm on my phone, for sure. But I actually tried to take some time before nationals to disconnect from social media. I turned off my notifications to focus more on what I had to do. That really helped.


Event No. 1: 100-meter Hurdles (Personal Record - 14.26 seconds)

AF: My form was not really good when I got here. I was afraid of running through the hurdle. I realized there's nothing wrong with falling, you just get up and keep going. I just had to run through the hurdles.

Basically, Coach Holloway tells me the first step sets up the whole race. If I don't run to the first hurdle, I won't score a lot of points, and the rest is going to be really hard to make up. I had to get a good start to set off well and continue my progression.

Adrain Mann, assistant coach (hurdles/sprints): That's about getting her in an aggressive mindset. In the hurdles, you can't be passive. She's got to be angry and aggressive to get back down on the ground. She's at her best when she's in attack mode.

Coach Holloway: The thing Amanda does is over-processes and overthinks. She was kind of caught up in where she was.

My talk with her that day was, 'Look, just block everything out, run to the first hurdle like you're supposed to, and the rest will take care of itself. But if you don't run to the first hurdle, it doesn't matter.

AF: I looked really good until Hurdle 5 or 6. I hit the hurdle and lost all my momentum.

AF: I still almost ran a PR with a messy finish. I'm not too bummed about that. I'm excited to see how fast I can run next time.

Result: 14.27 seconds [941 points] - 23rd place


Event No. 2: High Jump (Personal Record - 1.77 meters)

AF: I had a really good start (to the season) in the high jump, PRed in my first meet, and it kind of went downhill from there. I put too much pressure on myself.

Those first two events ... they have to be good. That's partly the reason why they're, mentally, the hardest two events.

Mellanee Welty, assistant coach (sprints/relays/high jump): We'd kind of gotten away from the basics, started to think about a whole bunch of different things. We made it too big. We knew if we could minimize it, it would go easier for her, shut off all the chatter in her brain. That really helped.

We went back to the beginning and said, 'Just run and jump over the bar.' We have another saying that gets her in a little more aggressive mindset, too [laughs].

AF: I'm not going to say the phrase, but it's a really good one [laughs]. She just said it one day at practice [laughs].

Froeynes cleared her opening height of 1.60 meters--and the next five bars thereafter--on her first attempt. With the bar raised to 1.78 meters, Froeynes was one of only six competitors still jumping, making it a marquee opportunity to move up the overall leaderboard.

AF: I felt a lot more confident. I felt like I belonged out there. I was trying to tell myself to be positive and be aggressive. Those were the two words I told myself throughout the whole week.

When the bar comes up to 1.75 and 1.78 (meters), that's when the competition starts. That's when I need to focus. If I make those, then I'm on a level where I gain points. I like it when the bar is high, because there's nothing to lose.

Froeynes bowed out of the competition at 1.78 meters, a height cleared only by Wisconsin's Georgia Ellenwood, the eventual national champion.

AF: I had a great time. It was a good competition compared to the other ones where I put the bar too high mentally. I just took off the pressure, told myself the bar wasn't that high, and literally just trusted it.

Result: 1.75 meters [916 points] - Tied for 2nd place

Overall Through Two Events: 1,857 points - 11th place


Event No. 3: Shot Put (Personal Record - 11.86 meters)

Steve Lemke, associate head coach (throws): "We'd been going back and forth all year between rotating and gliding (techniques). She rotated all outdoor season, but we went back to the glide (at NCAAs).

I think the time away from it made it better for her. It was fresh again. It just clicked. She warmed up well.

AF: I felt a little nervous the first two throws. I got scared, I guess, because I could PR.

Froeynes' best throw from her first two attempts measured 11.84 meters, which put her in 14th place. But she would need all the extra points she could get to stay in contention for first-team All-America honors.

Coach Lemke: I didn't really give her any technical cues. It was really just to clear her head.

AF: When I go into the ring and I feel confident and I'm trusting myself, that's when it goes my way. The ring is free when I'm confident.

It was easier for me to do that on the last throw, because I mentally prepared throughout the week to do it. I was just trying to be me, be Amanda, and just trust it.

Coach Lemke: It was just good to see her (PR) in the meet, instead of doing it in warmups and not the meet. It was the right time to get consistent.

Result: 12.21 meters [675 points] - 12th place

Overall Through Three Events: 2,532 points - 9th place


Event No. 4: 200 meters (Personal Record - 25.23 seconds)

Temperatures dipped into the 50s and the rainfall's intensity increased following the shot put, providing less-than-ideal conditions for sprinting.

AF: The 200, that's a fun event, even though I'm definitely not the fastest. I just go out there and run. I always think I'm going to run and beat everybody. I never think I'm slow. I go out there and do my best to get a PR. It's stress free.

That was cold, though. I was freezing before the 200. I tried to tell myself it wasn't that bad, but my body was cold.

AF: I love that sleeve! I was going to wear it before the hurdles, but I forgot it. The 200 is a "sleeve event."

Result: 25.60 seconds (833 points) - 20th place

Overall Through Day One: 3,365 points - 17th place


I try to recover right away (after the 200). I drink a cherry juice, go back to the hotel and take an ice bath, get something to eat, and lay in bed with my feet high. I can't really do much. I'm exhausted by then.


Event No. 5: Long Jump (Personal Record - 6.13 meters)

AF: I know my last day is always good. I was just trying to be fearless and have fun.

Froeynes is known for her strong second day, as two of her best events--the javelin throw and 800 meters--close the competition. She's also flashed the potential to be a serious scoring threat in the long jump, as she decimated her high school PR (5.85 meters) by 28 centimeters earlier in the outdoor season.

Meet day, however, brought with it a swirling wind.

AF: The wind was really difficult, the way it would change all the time. When we started, it was a tailwind. Right before I jumped, it was suddenly a headwind. I had the headwind my first two jumps.

Nic Petersen, assistant coach (jumps): A headwind doesn't slow you down that much, but you can hear it whistling past your ears, you can feel it. She didn't talk about it ... but she didn't touch the board. It's tough. With the type of swirling wind it was ... we had to make a spur-of-the-moment decision.

She's on the runway getting ready to go, looking at me, and we're making a decision whether to back up four inches, move up four inches, or stay. It was changing situations, which was the worst.

On my last attempt, I felt really good, but I popped up too much. That was probably my weakest event.

Result: 5.77 meters [780 points] - 11th place

Overall Through Five Events: 4,145 points - 15th place [moved up two places]


Event No. 6: Javelin Throw (Personal Record - 44.35 meters)

AF: That was an interesting event. A lot happened. A lot of emotions.

Froeynes' third throw--her best of the competition--was ruled a foul, as officials declared the tip of the javelin did not land tip first. That left her with a mark of 40.54 meters, finishing 12th in what should have been a point-gaining event. Coach Holloway immediately protested the decision, winning the appeal not long after. Froeynes was awarded a fourth throw.

Coach Lemke: It was just a rollercoaster of emotions for her. She was happy with the throw, then the red flag came out. Back in the tent, she was just beside herself because she knew it wasn't a foul.

AF: When they told me I might have another throw, I was like, please let me have that throw. I'm going to show it was a mistake fouling it.

Coach Lemke: To go back and tell her she had to warm up again, she was just so happy to get another throw. Then we thought, to warm up again, to go out there with one throw, what's going to happen? It's got to be extremely difficult. I can't imagine you're done with the competition--even though you're frustrated, you move on--then you get another chance. Chances were she wasn't going to throw as far.

AF: I felt really powerful and confident. I was frustrated. I'm glad it was a throwing event, because I can get mad in throwing events.

Coach Lemke: She had a different look in her face. That look was, I'm going to rip this thing and it will go far.

Coach Lemke: To switch your mind back on and go out there and crush one on the only chance you have, it's storybook. For her to come out and throw a personal best says a lot about her.

AF: That was a great moment. I had fun out there.

Result: 44.64 meters [756 points] - 2nd place

Overall Through Six Events: 4,901 points - 9th place [moved up six places]


Event No. 7: 800 meters (Personal Record - 2 minutes, 15.69 seconds)

Chris Solinsky, assistant coach (distance): Doing the calculations, we saw she had a shot at being a first-team All-American. After the javelin, I talked to Coach Holloway, and Coach Welty and I had been doing the math and research for who she should key off. At that point, I kind of felt it was my area.

Not worrying about pace was my biggest point of emphasis. I told her to find certain people and let them do all the thinking and work and stressing the first lap, then start going to get people.

All my collegiate 800s, I've been sprinting out like it's a 200. Coach Solinsky told me not to go out too hard. I was just thinking: save energy, stay with the pack.

I felt really good. I was chilling, wondering why I hadn't done it all year.

It was raining and cold, so I couldn't really feel my legs. I didn't feel bad at all.

Coach Solinsky: It's hard to get a kick going when you're already feeling tired, so I told her, with 80 (meters) to go, just hit it. I made sure to be at 80 to go and screamed at her to hit it. She executed it perfectly, followed the race plan. It was fun to watch.

AF: When I crossed the finish ... I froze. I was so excited to see the score. I was nervous. Did I make the top eight? What happened? Then I saw myself fifth! You can't sleep on that last event. A lot can happen.

I had a great time, but I was tired.

Result: 2 minutes, 14.98 seconds [893 points] - 3rd place

Overall Finish: 5th place [5,974 points] - third freshman heptathlete to finish eighth or higher in the last five NCAA Outdoor Championships



AF: When you're a heptathlete, you're bonding (with the other heptathletes) because you're in it together. It's really fun after the 800 to see everyone, talk to them about their experiences and all the events.

After that, I did a cool down and just thought about what I did. Then I knew I could go eat some good food.

Photos by: Alex de la Osa

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