Duke Puts Up Fight In Decathlon

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Arkansas senior Jimmy Duke wouldn't stand a chance if heart was gauged with a tape measure or a scale.

Standing 5-foot-8 and weighing in at a less-than intimidating 155 pounds, Duke is easily the smallest competitor in the decathlon at the 2005 Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track Championships.

But there he was Thursday at Vanderbilt Track and Field Complex, a true David among Goliaths slugging it out trying to score valuable points to kick off the Razorbacks' quest for their third-consecutive SEC Outdoor title and the 12th in 14 years since joining the conference.

Duke, who is also tied for third in the SEC pole vault rankings heading into the weekend, scratched out Arkansas' first point of 183 last year with an eighth-place finish and he's poised to do better after the first five events.

Duke currently stands in seventh place with 3,391 points and plans to reel in a couple more bigger and stronger competitors today if he can continue to shave time in the 110-meter hurdles and prove his ranking in the pole vault, his best event.

"If I win that (pole vault), then I gain ground on everyone," Duke said.

Tennessee's Chris Helwick leads with 3,.977 points and Duke is within less than 300 points of Keith Baker of Alabama in fifth (3,665) and Kevin Yeager of Tennessee in sixth (3,677).

The average height of the six athletes ahead of Duke is 6-3.

LSU's Kwami Roberts is a full 10 inches taller at 6-6. Chris Martland of Tennessee the closest, five inches taller at 6-1.

"If it came down to if everybody had a handicap based on their height or their weight, I'd win," Duke said. "I'm not very tall, I don't weigh very much. But that's not how they measure it, so you can't dwell on it."

Duke certainly doesn't, and he looked like one of the guys when he gave Helwick, 6-4 and 195, a "Good job, buddy," slap on the back after the 400.

Duke has prepped for this decathlon with a season-opener in Austin, Texas, and he's been setting personal bests left and right for the last three weeks.

He ran a best-ever 11.22 in the 100 and in the hurdles (15.8) at the McDonnell Invitational on April 23.

"I've figured out a lot of stuff with the hurdles," Duke said. "That's a lot of points. A lot of stuff has come along this year."

Duke upped his discus record more than 16 feet to 122-4 and raised his clearance in the pole vault to a best of 16 feet, 7.25 inches to hit the NCAA Regional standard on April 30.

He set another PR on Thursday by clearing 6 feet in the high jump to move from eighth to seventh.

"The thing about Jimmy, he competes hard," said Arkansas field events coach Dick Booth. "He'll make some mistakes, but he always competes hard and there's no doubt in my mind he runs as fast as he can run. He's in a position to be sixth, I think. He can't mess anything up and he has to do well in the vault.

"We're right on track."

Booth, like head coach John McDonnell, appreciates good effort and Duke has never disappointed him there.

"He gives it all he's got," Booth said. "I've never had the feeling he's loafed on anything. He represents us well. He's a scrappy little guy."

Duke showed his fight when considering his prospects for today and how height will become a nonfactor in his specialty.

"You see these big, tall, strong fast guys on the first day, you can make it happen because there's not a lot of technical events," Duke said of the first day that has the 100, the long jump, the shot put, high jump and 400.

"Two of the tallest guys in this are going to be two of the worst pole vaulters you've ever seen."

Besides Duke wrapping up in the decathlon, Arkansas will send several entrants to the preliminaries of the 800 and 200 as well as the favorite in the 10,000.

James Hatch, Harun Iman, Brian Roe and Said Ahmed will run the 800 prelims at 7 p.m.. Roe already has an NCAA Regional qualifying time while Hatch and Iman are still trying to better the standard of 1:50.4. Hatch was the runner-up at the NCAA Indoor in 1:47.4.

Defending 200 champion Tyson Gay, world-leader and American indoor record holder Wallace Spearmon Jr., two-time All-American Omar Brown, sophomore All-American Creighton Kiper and freshman Michael Grant will toe the line in the 200 prelims at 7:35.

Grant and Kiper will try to hit the Regional standard of 21.19.

Duke will wrap up the decathlon around 8:05 and junior All-American Josphat Boit will lead a strong contingent in the 10K.

Boit, who broke the school record in the 10K the final weekend of March closely followed by teammate Peter Kosgei, will be joined by Razorbacks Shawn Forrest, Marc Rodrigues and five-time All-American senior Jason Sandfort.

Boit and Sandfort are already automatically qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships. The 10K isn't contested at Regionals.

Boit will try to become the 13th Razorback in 14 years to win the 10K and Arkansas should get a good start with 20 or more points in the event.

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