Track and field: Arizona honors ex-Puma Arnold

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

From walk-on to college champion, Jake Arnold’s journey to world class decathlete has reached another milestone.

The two-time NCAA Division I champion enters the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame on Friday. The ceremony takes Arnold back to Tucson, where his dream of competing in college became a quest to be the best.

“It’s been amazing. With hard work and all that, I was able to be very successful,” said Arnold, the former Maria Carrillo High standout.

While hall of fame status typically honors retired athletes, Arnold continues aiming for a world decathlon title. Now a coach at Azusa Pacific University, where he trains, Arnold also is helping groom a new generation of college athletes.

“They work hard and they’re doing a really good job,” Arnold said. “It’s going very well. It’s been very rewarding.”

Indeed, he has come a long way. Out of Maria Carrillo, where Arnold was one of the Empire’s all-time great hurdlers, he still was a long shot to run college track. But make the Arizona team Arnold did.

Arnold’s ascent to college champion took flight under coach Sheldon Blockburger, who joined the Arizona staff in Arnold’s third season. Arnold won his first NCAA title that year and repeated the feat in 2007.

He missed the U.S. Olympic team for the Beijing Summer Games in 2008 by one spot.

Winning a pair of championships was worthy of a spot in Arizona’s Hall of Champions. Five years later, Arnold was eligible for induction, joining a handful of athletes, coaches and teams to receive the honor at Friday’s ceremony.

“It’s amazing to be recognized. It’s a great honor,” he said.

Even as he welcomes the honor, Arnold’s competitive fire still burns.

At 29, typically the prime for decathletes, Arnold still has a window of opportunity.

“I’m getting back into shape. I feel good,” he said.

Arnold struggled with injuries that took him out of the national championships in 2011.

Back and hip surgeries were an aggressive attempt to prepare to compete for London Summer Olympics. Arnold qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials, healthy and confident, but the trials were just that. He completed all ten events, but Arnold was not a contender to make the team.

“I probably should have rested more than I did,” Arnold said. “When you’re pushing as hard as you used to, it was almost too much. I kind of wore myself down.

“I was still happy to be at the trials and still show I could make it through.”

Not ready to walk away, Arnold resumed training full time in October to prepare for the indoor season.

“It’s a mentality that most decathletes have,” Arnold said.

The goal is making the U.S. team at the outdoor national championships in June.

The Moscow world finals are in August.

“The last few years have kind of been a little rough for me. I’m just hoping to have a really good training and a successful season,” he said. “I hope to represent the U.S. again at the worlds.”

Back in Arizona where he first tasted success making Arnold an Olympic contender, the former long shot is now a Wildcats hall of fame member.

Arnold, a Tucson resident until moving to Southern California to train and coach a year ago, recalls walking through the Hall of Champions in the McKale Center at Arizona. His name is now on display.

“My name will stay there forever. For me that’s a huge deal,” Arnold said.

“No one can take that away from you.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.