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Track: Relay men thrive on teamwork

Bill Brink | Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Track and field is a sport filled with individual performances. Athletes compete against time, distance and themselves. In an arcane sport such as this, relays are the exception to the rule.

Rather than pitting athlete against athletes, relays combine the athletic ability of four runners with the skill of passing a baton between them at high speed. The Irish men’s 4×400 meter relay fits the bill nicely.

The team – comprised of fifth-year senior Ryan Postel, senior Jordan Powell, junior Austin Wechter and freshman Balazs Molnar – has enjoyed great success this season. This is the team – with junior Bob Kueny running in place of Molnar – that set the school indoor record at the Alex Wilson Invitational earlier this season, posting a time of 3:08.38.

After Kueny suffered from an allergy problem that affected his running and breathing, the team picked up right where it left off when Molnar joined. The new group of four ran its relay in 3:09.38 – the second-fastest outdoor time in school history – at Arizona State’s Clif Bar Invitational.

“We run just as fast, pretty much, with Balazs,” Postel said. “As far as Bob versus Balazs, it’s not going to make a difference.”

The ability to switch runners may be due to the similarity between the legs of the relay and the 400 meter dash. The training remains the same for both events.

“You don’t train for a relay. Period,” Postel said. “A relay is just a juxtaposition of four 400s. There’s no additional training for a relay. The only thing you train for on a relay – and I wouldn’t even call it training, I would call it practice, because training is something completely different than just practice – that would be just handoffs. You run a 400 relay just like you would run a 400 open. The only difference is a short running start and you have a baton in your hand.”

Although the races themselves are similar, both Powell and Molnar mentioned mental discrepancies.

“The biggest difference is there’s a lot more pressure in a relay because you’re just running for yourself, you’re running for your teammates,” Powell said. “One bad leg can ruin the whole race.”

“I just really want to show the other guys that I can run fast,” Molnar said.

Even though the training for the race does not differ from the training for the open 400, one leg is not equal to another. The fastest athlete usually anchors the race and the second-fastest begins it. The second and third spots are interchangeable.

“You want to have a really strong leg to start off because you want to be in the race,” Powell said. “We were having problems with that last year, we didn’t have a strong lead-off and after the first leg we weren’t in the race and we couldn’t compete.”

The difference between relay races lends itself better to some runners than others.

“Relays are really fun compared to a regular race,” Postel said. “You definitely don’t feel as tired when you run, there’s a team aspect to it and your adrenaline’s pumping more. You typically run better in a relay just because it’s more fun. But sometimes I just like the idea of running by myself.”

Molnar agreed with that sentiment.

“I really prefer the individual because the success is bigger than a relay,” he said. “The success of a relay is split into four parts.”

The competition to make a relay team is fierce; Powell said six or seven members were in a tight race for four spots since late August. But rather than hurting the team, the competition can serve to improve their running, he said.

“We’re always competing in practice and always competing to be top runners,” Powell said. “I think it’s really helped probably everyone’s performance.”

Relays can also breed friendship. Powell and Postel, who have run the 4×400 relay together since Powell’s freshmen year, live together off-campus. Postel lived off-campus last year and, when looking for a roommate, felt Powell would be a good fit.

“We’d been good friends since freshmen year, and it seemed like it would work perfectly,” Postel said.

“I’ve always kind of looked up to Ryan as kind of a leader and example, especially in running,” Powell said. “I thought living with him would probably improve my running and overall lifestyle.”

Heading into the Big East Championship meet, the team hopes to add to the Irish point total. To do so, they require the support of every member.

“Sometimes we speak about the relays, especially right before the competition,” Molnar said. “We always shouted, ‘Come on, lets win’, all together, all members of the team. And it’s like touching my heart and I’m gaining a lot of energy before the race. It’s kind of helpful and the atmosphere is better if you run more relays.”