NORMAN -- In the highly individualized sport of track and field, opportunities for team camaraderie may be limited. One of the longest races in indoor track, the distance medley relay (DMR) uniquely combines specialists from a variety of distances into a cohesive unit. Getting a four-person DMR to gel into a single successful unit is no quick task in part because the relay brings together student-athletes who do not typically train together. However, the University of Oklahoma’s competitiveness in the men’s DMR may indicate that the Sooners have found the formula.
“It’s something we make a priority because we have the type of personnel we feel should be able to compete,” said Jason Dunn, OU’s assistant coach for distance events. “It’s about figuring out how to plug those guys in. Once you get the personnel together and figure out who’s running, it’s a matter of getting in the right race and executing well.”
The race requires one sprinter and a combination of middle to long distance runners. Selecting a runner from an event area to run the DMR can be a challenge. When filling the four legs, individual performances, closeouts, chemistry and exchanges all play a part.
“One of the neat things about the event is that it brings together a couple of the different event groups,” Dunn said. “I think the importance of chemistry is probably equal to the 400-meter relay. For the distance medley relay, it’s even more incumbent on each person to do his thing individually.”
Each leg has its role, but the first leg (1200 meter) and anchor (1600 meter) are critical, in Dunn’s opinion.
“Everybody on the men’s relay is important but, if you don’t have an anchor who can run four minutes or better at the end of the relay, you’re not going to run fast enough to qualify,” Dunn explained. “The 1200 runner needs to get established early on and ideally needs to be in the front or leading.”
Compared to sprint relays, baton exchanges may not be as critical. According to Dunn, though, the handoffs are not to be overlooked.
“The exchange isn’t quite as important as say the 4 by 1 where there is much less margin for error,” Dunn said. “Still, you want to exchange it well in the distance medley because every fraction of a second can count, even in a race that lasts nine and a half minutes.”
We believe that each runner will have a good performance if he feels his performance is going to benefit the team. They each know that it has an impact on all four of them collectively and the final outcome.
It becomes vital for the 1200-meter runner and the 400-meter sprinter (the second leg), the two most dissimilar positions, to be cohesive.
“You wouldn’t think that the shortest leg could have such a big influence, but at the highest level, it can have a significant impact,” said Dunn, in his second year with OU. “For the 1200, you want a guy who can be pretty fast, can close well, and ideally get us out in the front early on so that our 400 leg can run pretty free as opposed to being in traffic.”
The middle distance runner is the third leg and comes in for the 800 meters.
“As an 800, you stay close and stay connected or get connected to the front so, when the anchor leg gets the baton, he’s in the race and ready to go,” Dunn added.
The Sooners have a strong pool of middle and distance runners as they keep their national hopes alive. Last season, the Sooners posted their best time of the year at the Alex Wilson Invitational. The quartet of Jacob Burcham, Ethan Baker, Allen Eke and Brandon Doughty recorded a 9:32.92. That time is the fourth best in school history but it wasn’t fast enough to advance to the NCAA. A week later, the quartet of Alex Deir, Baker, Eke and Doughty repeated as Big 12 Champions in the DMR with a time of 9:45.32. The 12th relay that advanced to the NCAA had a season-best time of 9:31.64.
“You could run a 9:36 10 years ago and make it to nationals as a team. Now it takes 9:31 or better,” said Dunn, who also ran the DMR at the College of William and Mary. “That’s a significant difference. It’s way more competitive.”
While the runners on the DMR are never set in stone and parts are interchangeable, each person in the pool of candidates has a spot in the school’s all-time history for his individual events.
“Our main intention is to try to qualify for nationals,” Dunn said. “If you don’t have the guys who can run the legs individually, then you’re not going to have a good relay. You really need all four in this day and age with how competitive it is.”
Dunn also believes individual performances peak in relays.
“We believe that each runner will have a good performance if he feels his performance is going to benefit the team. They each know that it has an impact on all four of them collectively and the final outcome,” Dunn said.
Among the pool of runners, Doughty, now a senior, has managed to become a stable, successful anchor. Doughty is an All-American in the 3000-meter steeplechase (an outdoor event) and holds the school record in the steeplechase.
“He’s definitely a guy we want to have the baton at the end when it really matters,” Dunn said. “He’s our most solid leg in terms of me deciding who’s going to be on it.”
Despite his individual success, Doughty enjoys the DMR most.
“I definitely enjoy the team atmosphere of the DMR more,” Doughty said. “I like having that baton in my hands and knowing the other guys are hoping that I do as well as I’m hoping I’m going to do for the team.”
The DMR is the event that bridges the gap between individuality and team unity for indoor track.
“When you’re trying to establish the culture of a program, relays are often a good way to do that because you can build,” Dunn said. “Whether it is the 400 outdoors, the DMR indoors and the indoor and outdoor 1600-meter relay, it’s a good way to bring people together.”
By Akilah Laster, Athletics Communications Graduate Assistant