Kansas University has a strong track and field tradition, but it mostly was about the men who ran the mile, threw the discus or challenged the high jump.
That is, until last weekend.
At last weekend’s NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., it was all about the Kansas women. They went into the meet as the favorites and came out as the champions, leading the field at the end of all three days and winning by a decisive 16-point margin. They laughed when they heard university officials were organizing a welcome-home rally, saying they hoped more than five people showed up. They said it wasn’t until they were walking into Allen Fieldhouse to the cheers of about 500 fans that they really started to get nervous.
Track and field is an interesting combination of individual effort and team achievement. Training for track and field events is a pretty solitary endeavor that demands individual discipline and commitment. The competition of teammates may drive athletes to strive harder, but the top athletes more often are competing against themselves, trying to add an inch of height or length to a jump or shave a hundredth of a second off a time.
Yet, after this weekend’s competition, many of the KU women said they were measuring their efforts by how many points they could garner for their team. Winning an individual event was important, but racking up points toward a team championship was the ultimate goal.
Track and field athletes also labor mostly out of the limelight. Few Kansas fans probably traveled to Oregon last weekend. The Kansas women came home to a rousing group of fans, but, through the season, they were driven mostly by their coaches, their teammates and their own desire to do a little better.
Forty years after Title IX opened many doors for collegiate women athletes, the KU women on Sunday won the university’s first women’s NCAA championship in any sport. Their accomplishment should be satisfying to KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger who has emphasized the importance of KU being competitive in all sports, not just basketball and, hopefully, football.
The Jayhawk women’s track and field team certainly set the standard for others to follow. Congratulations to the team. We hope this is the beginning of a major resurgence in KU track and field — for both men and women.