Failure to reach finals sours Byers' fantastic throw

BY IAN MARTIN | JUNE 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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Matt Byers' groin reined him in early this season. In his last meet of the year, it was a foot.

The junior failed to qualify for the javelin finals at Thursday's NCAA outdoor meet in Des Moines by 30 centimeters — or just under a foot (11.8 inches precisely). The junior's top toss of 72.39 meters fell shy of South Carolina's Joshua Suttmeier's 72.69 meters, giving Suttmeier the ninth and final spot in the final flight.

Byers' unspecified groin injury, which occurred during a warm-up at the team's first meet of the 2012 outdoor season at the Arkansas Invitational, disrupted the usually consistent javelin thrower's rhythm.

"My technique's not what it's been since I was injured," Byers said.

This isn't an excuse, simply a statement. But if he and his Iowa teammates wanted an excuse, there's one available.

With three Hawkeyes failing to qualify for their finals on Thursday, one could point to the incredible competition. The sentiment among most athletes at this year's NCAA Finals is that 2012 is tougher, as a whole, than 2011.

Hawkeye junior Ethan Holmes earned 19th place in the 110-meter hurdles, racing against world-class competition for the second-straight year, including potential Olympians.

"It's cool to compete against those guys, but I want to be out there beating guys like that," he said. "I want to see a guy on TV and say, 'Hey, I beat him.' "

Byers' attitude is the same, in that he welcomes tougher competition instead of yearning for an easy victory.

He has performed at the top of the event in the Big Ten since his freshman year, earning the conference title each year. The Wichita, Kan., native has never qualified for the final nine at the NCAA meet, however, let alone finished at the top.

That's why, despite earning his first-ever second-team All-American honors this year by finishing in the top 16, he wasn't satisfied.

"I feel like, to me, I'm hard on myself, so I should've been [second-team All American honors] earlier," he said. "I felt like I was going to be able to compete for a title this year."

One of his coaches had a much more positive perspective. Iowa throws coach Scott Cappos said he believed Byers' best Thursday throw would make the finals at "49 out of 50" NCAA meets.

"Coming off that injury, he still was able to win a Big Ten championship and finish in the top 10 in the country," Cappos said. "It's pretty impressive."

The top-10 finish is made more impressive when considering past results. 2011's NCAA javelin championship had only four throws longer than 72.39 meters. And a throw in the first round of a javelin event can still be used as an athlete's longest in the final round, which means Byers would've had three more chances to improve upon an already top-five finish.

But relativity to 2011 is irrelevant.

2012 was a disappointment in Byers' mind. Even after an injury, an increasingly excellent competition, and his final throw of the season being his second longest ever, there's only one way to express his 10th-place finish — a finish that fell short, literally, by centimeters.

"Those guys showed up and threw far," he said. "I just didn't throw far enough to make it to the finals."

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