By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Enduring the first injuries in a decade of decathlon competition, Jake Arnold has perspective on pain and perseverance nearly a year after dropping out of the national championships.
Back on the same track for the Olympic Trials, the Maria Carrillo High graduate aims for a better result than 2008, when he missed the U.S. team by one spot.
“Right now I feel great and everything seems to be going well,” Arnold said. “Now I’ve got to go put up a big score and make the Olympic team.”
A very talented decathlon field competes Friday and Saturday at the University of Oregon, with the top three gaining trips to the London Summer Games. Among the athletes is defending Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay, two-time world champion Trey Hardee, and Ashton Eaton, who has the meet’s top qualifying score.
A personal best for Arnold might be needed to finish on the podium.
“It’s always a deep field in the U.S., but this is one of the toughest ever,” Arnold said.
That the former U.S. and NCAA champion is competing again could surprise his competition, particularly if Arnold piles up points.
At the national championships a year ago, also at storied Hayward Field on the Oregon campus, Arnold couldn’t complete the first day.
Arnold was struggling that season with the long and high jumps. Hip and back pains on his left side made it difficult to complete all 10 events.
“My left side would shut down. It was just very painful,” he said.
Treatments to reduce swelling and help with healing had allowed Arnold to compete that season. But the injuries returned.
Taking a more aggressive approach, Arnold elected to have back surgery in July and a hip operation in August.
“It was a tough decision. But at the same time I had never been injured,” he said.
“In the scheme of things, I wanted to be ready for the Olympics.”
The timeline was tight.
Missing three months of training last fall, Arnold only began weight lifting and running in December. More intense training followed in February, when Arnold returned to the track. To challenge himself, Arnold joined with Clay to train at Azusa Pacific University, outside Los Angeles. Arnold was based in Tuscon for nine years, having competed for the University of Arizona.
“I’m training with the best guy in the world. It’s been great,” Arnold said. “Having a partner that can push you each day at a high level is more beneficial.”
Relocated and rejuvenated, Arnold is feeling stronger every day.
He put up his trials qualifying score at a Dallas meet the first weekend of this month. The long and high jumps are no longer a struggle.
“I’m all healthy now and ready for this week,” he said.
Confident he can compete with the best in the world, Arnold aims for a score above 8,200 at the trials. Arnold has surpassed that mark twice.
Both came in 2010, when Arnold won the U.S. outdoor title and then set his personal best in Gotzis, Austria.
“Things are coming along pretty well,” he said. “That was the whole idea, to peak for the Olympics.”
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike [dot]coit [at] pressdemocrat [dot] com.