Keys digs deep for decathlon 3rd

Scott Swanson

Going into the 1500-meter run, the final event of the NCAA Division I decathlon championships, Dakotah Keys knew he had to go hard.

The senior, who placed third in last year’s championships, was coming off a 10th-place finish in his last decathlon competition after a no-height in the pole vault took him out of contention to win his fourth title in the event at the PAC-12 championships in May.

This time he didn’t want to let his team down, particularly with the Ducks aiming for a national title.

The 1500 is a grueling race even for those who are used to running it. For a decathlete who’s already completed 10 events – two sprints, one hurdles, three throws and three jumps events over the course of two days, it looms large.

Particularly when the temperature is in the 80s.

Trailing the leaders – Georgia’s Maicel Uibo and Pau Tonnesen of Arizona, by nearly 450 points after coming out earlier than he’d liked in the pole vault, Keys knew he had to hold off Harrison Williams of Stanford in the final event.

He had to beat me by six seconds and I knew his PR as right around what I ran. So the plan was to stay relaxed as long as I could,” Keys said of Williams.

About 800 meters in, Harrison made a move, surging to try to open up some space on Keys, who was running behind him.

I thought, ‘Oh no, I can’t let him gap me,’” Keys said. “I wasn’t quite ready to run yet, but I ended up going with him. That almost relaxed me a little bit more.”

With 250 meters left, coming up to the final turn into the home stretch before a screaming crowd announced at 10,015, Keys knew it was time to go.

It was just like, ‘This is the last time I’m going to be coming down the home stretch as an Oregon Duck.”

Keys finished with a score of 7,863, well below his personal best of 8068 set at last year’s NCAA championships. He scored six points for the Oregon men’s team which, the next day, won its second consecutive national team title with 85 points, ahead of Florida (56) and Arkansas (53). On Saturday, the Oregon women won their first national championship in 30 years to make it a sweep.

Keys was in fifth place after Day 1, Wednesday, following a personal best of 13.74 meters (45 feet, 1 inch) in the shot put, good for sixth place. Keys was third in the high jump (2.02 meters / 6-7½) sixth in the long jump (7.34/ 24-9¾), 13th in the 100 (11.07) and 15th in the 400 (50.46) in the first day’s events.

On Day 2, he opened with an eighth-place in the 110 hurdles (14.9) and 15th in the discus (37.80 / 124-0), before the pole vault, in which he placed eighth (4.5 meters / 14-9), making his first attempt at that height, then skipping 15-0 and missing three times at 15-5.

I didn’t think it would be a big deal,” he said of his opening vault. “I really wasn’t nervous for it. But as soon as I hit the mat and the bar stayed up, my family and friends, they all went crazy. Then I felt sense of relief. I had fun with it and threw both my hands up like it was the best thing in the world. It really wasn’t, it was just one of those things, you have to get the ball rolling. I was really excited.”

Keys was sixth going into the next-to-last event, the javelin, which is one of his favorites. He unloaded a throw of 64.12 meters (210-4) to finish first and move up to third place overall behind Uibo, last year’s winner, and Tonnesen, setting up his run for third in the 1500.

He said he was happy with his score, though he hoped for more.

I thought I’d be a little closer to 8000, but the way the decathlon works, it’s just one of those things,” he said. “It was a little rough in the vault, but it was all about the team and that’s what matters. I came in, got six points for the team, and I’m really excited about that.”

The team championship, he said, was the ultimate goal.

Ever since in high school at Sweet Home, it’s always been about the team,” he said. “I just cared about the points. Six points, that’s what I’m excited about – just excited to hopefully win another championship with the team.”

The next step for Keys is the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, also to be held at Hayward Field, on June 24-28. He is one of the 16 qualifiers, all of whom must have scored over 7800 points.

I’m really excited about the next chapter,” he said. “It’s been a great five years. I think I’ll use (the third-place finish) as something to push me, instead of hinder me. My confidence is there. I know my practice is there. I just have to put it together in a meet. I’m not disappointed with it.”

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