What's better than consecutive Big Ten titles?
How about a three-peat, a national championship, and a berth in the U.S. Olympic Trials? University of Iowa junior Matt Byers, the two-time defending conference champion in the javelin, has his sights set on the trifecta.
Byers won his second straight Big Ten title on May 15, 2011. It was a beautiful finish that helped Iowa rally for its first conference championship in 44 years. But two weeks later on the national stage, Byers walked off Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., short of his personal expectations. He failed to advance to the NCAA finals, and immediately went to work on molding his body and, thus, increasing his goals.
"Last year, not making it to nationals was a really big driving point for me," Byers says. "I knew what I needed to work on—getting stronger and getting faster and not slowing down at the end of my throw. This summer, when I wasn't at nationals, I was at home working out. It's the only thing I could think about: what can I do to get better?
"Having that little failure definitely pointed out some things I really needed to work on. I now feel a lot faster on the runway and a lot more under control. I think if I throw to my potential I can finish top three, but beyond that the only thing I think about is winning a national title."
Byers returned to the field last week with a first-place finish at the Arkansas Invitational. His mark of 223 feet, 3 inches (68.06m) was far below his ultimate 2012 goal, but it was more than three meters farther than his 2011 NCAA performance, and it was symbolic of his newfound approach.
"I felt good that I won. I have a goal this year to compete just to win and not worry so much about the distances like I had in the past. I feel like once you get wrapped up in the numbers, it starts to mess with your main purpose, which is competing and trying to win. The distances will come with time."
Last year Byers wasted no time hitting his peak. He broke the school record at the LSU Invitational with a throw of 245 feet, 8 inches (74.89 meters). He spent the rest of the year chasing that mark.
"Last year I hit my personal record a little early,” Byers says. “That's why it's good to have the mark I did last week. I won, but I'm not satisfied with it, so I can keep working every meet to get better and better."
Byers' school record met the Olympic "B" standard last year, which qualified him for an at-large Trials berth that never came. This season he wants to hit 77 meters, the Olympic "A" standard that guarantees a berth at the 2012 Olympic Team Trials. The mark would be enough for another school record and a return trip to Eugene, Ore.
He thinks he can do it, and his coach agrees.
"We've got some distance marks we're shooting for and then we've got some accomplishments throughout the competition we're shooting for," says Scott Cappos, Iowa director of field events.
"Last week he hit consistent throws, but it wasn't the big throw. I think he was happy to get the win, but I think he's a little disappointed in his technique—not necessarily the throw, but he didn't execute the technique that he wanted to. Once he does that we'll all be very happy with how far the javelin flies."