Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Lazas all smiles heading into decathlon
Kevin Lazas launches the shot put as he competes in the decathlon during the Arkansas Team Invitational on April 27, 2013 at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The hardest-working man in Arkansas Razorbacks track and field competes only eight days a year.
During the indoor track season, five-time senior All-American Kevin Lazas spent two days in an early-season meet qualifying for the two-day heptathlon at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
During the outdoor season, he spent two days in April at the Texas Relays qualifying for the decathlon at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, which get underway today and conclude Saturday in Eugene, Ore.
"I should be refreshed and ready to go" said Lazas, who opens competition today in the decathlon.
At least, he is as refreshed as anyone can feel while simultaneously training for the decathlon's 10 events: the 100-meter dash, 400-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, shot put, discus, javelin, long jump, high jump, pole vault and closing 1,500-meter run.
Indoors, the men's heptathlon encompasses the 60-meter hurdles, 60-meter dash, long jump, high jump, shot put, pole vault and closing 1,000-meter run.
Much like cliff-divers, the first question asked of decathletes is: Why?
The senior from Brentwood, Tenn., looked back on his boyhood.
"In middle school I hurdled, but I also played football, travel soccer and travel baseball," Lazas said. "After ninth grade I stopped all that and just did track."
Not just track, but the decathlon.
"My high school coach, Gary Kinder, won the Olympic Trials in 1988," Lazas said. "He scored about 8,300 points and went to the Olympics in Seoul but couldn't finish because of a stress fracture. I blew my knee out in football, and he thought I could really be successful in track. I dropped my other sports and started focusing on that."
Lazas became a nationally renowned Tennessee state champion and represented the United States at the World Junior Games before he was signed by Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam and field events coach Travis Geopfert.
Geopfert said Lazas has everything required for the decathlon: athleticism, versatility, endurance, perseverance, discipline and a big smile. The smile, Geopfert said, can be the decathlete's most important asset spanning two days that total 10 events, some of which seem to take an eternity.
"Championship meets you are out there so long," Geopfert said. "Everything is over-officiated and overdone. I just tell Kevin, 'Never bitch. Everybody else can be pissing and moaning. It's got to be your competitive edge.' "
Lazas has kept that edge through pain, collapsing while crossing the 1,000-meter finish line and winning the NCAA Indoor heptathlon in 2013.
He kept it through tragedy. Lazas missed the 2014 SEC Indoor meet because of the death of his brother and came back to finish third in the NCAA Indoor heptathlon.
He's also kept it through injury, missing the 2014 SEC Outdoor while healing a back problem for this final college meet.
Today and Thursday mark Lazas' Razorbacks farewell, but not his farewell to Fayetteville.
"I graduate in December and then I will at least train through 2016 here and see if I can make the Olympic team," Lazas said. "That's been my dream my whole life, and this is the place to do it.
"I know of no better place to train than here."
Sports on 06/11/2014