Pentathletes are amongst the most eclectic athletes at Iowa


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Some of the best, most versatile athletes at the Iowa aren’t on the football field or basketball court — they’re on the track.

While most athletes in the Black and Gold specialize in one position or event, the pentathletes on the women’s track and field team are responsible for five different competitions: high jump, long jump, 60-meter hurdles, 800 meters, and the shot put. Each event tests a different aspect of athletic ability.

Khanishah Williams, Sarah Ryan, Zinnia Miller, and Kassidy Ellis compete in the pentathlon for the Hawkeyes. The female tracksters are young in the pentathlon, having only one upperclassman, Miller. Surprisingly, though, none of the women had multi-event experience before competing at the college level.

“When you’re recruiting the kid, they’ve got a couple events in high school; you have to test them out in the multi-events to see if they’re going to be capable,” assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Clive Roberts said.

Head track coach Layne Anderson said it takes a distinctive athlete to become a multi-event competitor.

“It takes somebody who’s very committed and someone who has great overall athletic ability,” Anderson said. “You start to improve their deficiencies and strengthen their strengths.”

Ryan came into Iowa with experience in long jump and hurdles in high school, which meant she had to learn three different events.

“It was frustrating, especially during the first year. It’s a lot to take in,” she said. “I’m still getting a grasp [of it]; it’s a process.”

There’s a give and take when it comes to learning brand-new events, she noted.

“The best part about it can also be the worst part about it,” Ryan said. “There’s so much variation with the events, so it never gets boring, and there’s always something to learn. But that part of it can also be really frustrating.”

With five events to work on, the pentathletes have different practice schedules from that of regular tracksters. For Roberts, it’s not about perfecting each event, but training the body for numerous tasks.

“First and foremost, we try to develop their fine motor ability,” Roberts said. “So, speed, stamina, skill, supplements, and strength. We know that if we develop that, it’s going to carry over to all individual events. It teaches them how to use their body effectively.”

Roberts thinks that when you add in the fundamental skills of each event, combined with off-the-track training, it leads to execution on the track.

“We’re just trying to teach them proper technique, getting them in shape, and teaching them about overall how to run effectively, how to throw effectively, and then that carries over into competition,” Roberts said.

In the end of their journey to become skillful in their events, Ryan said, the women can depend on each other for tips.

“We’re all in the same boat, and we all have our strengths,” she said. “We can all help each other with what we’re good at, and the others can help us. It’s a really nice thing about having such a group of different strengths.”

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