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Iowa’s ‘leprechaun’ leaps over competition

BY MATT SCHOMMER | APRIL 15, 2010 7:30 AM

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The only things that have stood in trackster Jordan Mullen’s way this season are a series of 42-inch hurdles — and even those have yet to slow him down.

The freshman has stormed out of the high-school blocks and onto the college track without missing a step.

In high school, the hurdles stand 39 inches tall, and the taller height in college usually gives freshmen problems, senior hurdle specialist Ray Varner said.

“I think he’s way above [most freshman],” Varner said. “Because the hurdles are 3 inches higher, and that bothers some people, but he hopped right in there.”

It shouldn’t come as too great a surprise, based on Mullen’s track record. He was a two-time all-state selection, set school records in the 110-meter hurdles, 400-meter hurdles, 200-meters, and was a seven-time state champion. That’s an elite list that many programs would love to see on their athletes’ résumés.

“He’s got a terrific future and could be a Big Ten champion someday,” head coach Larry Wieczorek said.

With Mullen’s level of achievement, he also could have gone elsewhere to run track. But he said after all the campus visits, Iowa just felt like the best fit.

“My mom told me that when you’re leaving college, you should feel like you’re leaving a second home,” he said. “It’s not only because of the coaches, but also the team atmosphere. We are like one big family.”

Mullen’s performances so far this year indicate his high level of comfort as a Hawkeye. He holds an Iowa top-five mark in the 110-hurdles, and he would most likely have had a second-place finish at the Big Ten championships had he cleared the final hurdle.

“I had a real good shot at second,” he said. “I won my preliminary heat, which was unexpected. But it was definitely the most exciting moment I’ve had so far.”

The Atlantic, Iowa, native has done more than provide excitement so far this season. He might be best known around his teammates as “the leprechaun.”

Mullen has started a trend around the track, quoting a viral YouTube video copy of a news report from Mobile, Ala., in which locals believe that a leprechaun has taken up residence in a tree.

Mullen said he yells out, “Does anyone want to see the leprechaun?” and his teammates will all respond with a resounding “Yeah.”

“When I’m getting into the blocks, sometimes I’ll hear that from the stands,” he said. “It lightens the mood, and I can’t help but laugh.”

It seems no place is safe from this act. Varner said the team performs the bit at the quietest times — such as during their plane rides to meets.

But everyone always gets a kick out of it. Varner said the youngster’s exuberant personality has transferred onto the track as well.

“He’s crazy,” he said of Mullen. “He’s not scared of the height, the hurdle, the competition. It’s a good crazy, though.”

Wieczorek has noticed Mullen’s undaunted nature as well.

“Usually, hurdlers are aggressive competitors,” the coach said. “I think to run the high hurdles, you have to be fearless.”


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