By Meghan Moore
Duke Sports Information
DURHAM, N.C. - When Shawn Wilbourn joined the Duke track and field coaching staff four years ago he brought a wealth of talent and experience, but most of all, he had a vision of what the Duke Multi-Event program could amount to. Four years later, his vision is starting to become more of a reality.
As a coach and former athlete, Wilbourn has an impressive resume. He ran track and competed in the decathlon growing up, he was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the fifth round of the 1991 NFL draft, he spent time with the San Francisco 49ers in 1992, he competed at the World Championships for the United States in 1997 in the decathlon and he was an Olympic Trials finalist in 1996 and 2008 all before starting his collegiate coaching career. His experiences and passion have helped influence the kind of coach he has become.
"Some of that football discipline has carried over, and I've kind of instilled that in my athletes on the track side," said Wilbourn. "And competing at such a high level and being around those types of athletes and coaches and seeing how they did things and being able to ask questions of the best coaches in the world have helped me tremendously."
Prior to 2008, the multi-event program roster consisted of three athletes on the men's side and one athlete on the women's side. Led by Tyler Clarke and Karolina Haraldsdottir, the multi-events program was slowly taking shape.
"I was really the only guy when I started. It wasn't a big group, and we certainly weren't scoring a lot of points or winning national championships," said former Blue Devil Multi-Event athlete, Tyler Clarke. "When Coach Wilbourn got here, everything changed for the better."
Once Wilbourn took over, the program which consisted of just a few athletes began to expand and develop. Wilbourn's expectations of what the program could be began to surface as those athletes who hadn't experienced much success were beating personal bests and breaking school records.
"I just think his vision for what he wanted the program to become, it really changed everyone's perspective about where Duke track and field was headed. He just came in with high hopes for what the Duke program as a whole could achieve. I think that was infectious in a good way," added Clarke.
With a strong foundation in place, Coach Wilbourn continued to formulate his vision for what this program could become.
"Obviously I want Duke to be one of the best multi-event programs in the country. I think we're on the way to doing that," said Coach Wilbourn. "We're starting to build it, we're starting to get the numbers and my goal is to have a heptathlete and decathlete at NCAA's every year," he added. Wilbourn is well on his way to achieving his goal.
Curtis Beach, the 2012 NCAA Men's Indoor Heptathlon Champion, was a member of Wilbourn's first recruiting class. He decided to come to Duke because of their academic reputation and the overwhelming support of the administration, but the deciding factor for Beach was the opportunity to work under Wilbourn's guidance.
"The unique thing that Duke had to offer was the vision Coach Wilbourn has for the multis and my whole career. The number one reason I chose to come to Duke was I felt like Coach Wilbourn was a very smart guy who could develop me as a good decathlete and as a person as well," said Beach.
During the 2011-12 Indoor campaign, the Duke Multi-Events program experienced much success. Beach and freshman, Karli Johonnot both won their respective ACC titles in the multi-events. Johonnot, who set the school record with her performance at ACCs, is the first freshman in Duke history to take home an ACC individual title. Beach went on to compete at the NCAA where he scored 6,138 points in the heptathlon, setting a new school record. With the recent success the program has been catapulted into the national limelight.
"It's huge in terms of the national recognition that our program is getting in the track and field community," added Wilbourn. It's brought a lot of publicity and prestige to our program. High school kids are very impressed with us, so it's getting easier to recruit and we're going to get better talent. And we have everything in place to develop that talent once it gets here."
Adding to his vision of have one of the best multi-event programs in the country, Wilbourn also aims to create a family atmosphere between him and his athletes.
"I try to be playful with them, joke with them. I want to have a close relationship with them. I want to understand their personalities. The more I know about them as people, the more I can understand how to motivate them. I want to build a bond with all my athletes and a relationship on and off the track and get to know them as a people, not just athletes," said Wilbourn. "I think the thing to stress is what I am trying to build with the multi group is a family where I know them and their families, but they know my family and my kids. I think that allows my athletes to see me as more than just a coach."
"It really is like a family. We have the same practices, the same hours, the same training, and the same struggles, freshman Johonnot commented. "It really forces us to become a family. Having Coach Wilbourn, who is always there for us and having each other just adds to the family we are.
Most of the current multi athletes came into Duke accustomed to training on their own or one-on-one with their coach because they were the only athletes competing in such events. Now, as the Duke program expands to include more athletes it's apparent just how strong their bond is.
"I personally like training with more than just myself, especially because the other girls I train with are very good in competition. They beat me, I beat them. We're all friends, but we're also very competitive so we all push each other to do the best we can. We're like a really close family," said Johonnot.
"It's nice to have other people who are just as serious about their goals as I am with mine and willing to push themselves. Year to year as the coaches have developed the team and brought in better recruits the entire team has gotten more motivated and a lot more serious in achieving their high goals. So it's really awesome to have a team of multi's and we're going to just keep getting better," added Beach.
With the combination of Duke's great academics, Coach Wilbourn at the helm of the program, and athlete's like Curtis Beach and Karli Johonnot leading the way, the Duke Multi-Event Program is definitely on its way to becoming one the best programs in the country.