Decathlete’s heart transcends body’s limits

MU senior Hans Uldal has overcome injuries to find success in his grueling sport
Sunday, March 11, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:31 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

He collapsed in the 1,500 meters.

Missouri’s Hans Uldal was on pace to score 7,800 points in the decathlon at the 2004 Big 12 Championships. Then he ran the 1,500, and his body shut down in the 105-degree heat. With 30 meters left, Uldal collapsed, then tried to pick himself back up and collapsed again. Uldal could barely move, but was somehow able to force himself across the finish line.

“Everyone who saw that race got chills and anyone who talks about it later still gets chills,” coach Rick McGuire said.

Uldal has competed in the decathlon for four years at Missouri, becoming a four-time All-American, 2005 Big 12 champion, 2005 NCAA bronze medalist and 2005 Norwegian national champion. He was an Olympian in 2004. Uldal also holds the school record in the decathlon with a score of 8,018 points at last year’s Audrey Walton Combined Events.

However, Uldal’s legacy as a Tiger has been built on his ability to overcome injuries.

“I can’t remember the last time I went to a competition and didn’t have anything (injured),” Uldal said.

Uldal’s effort last year at the Big 12 championships at Baylor was just as impressive as his campaign in 2004. Uldal suffered lower leg and back injuries while he was warming up for the high jump. The injuries were severe enough that Uldal had trouble walking, but he was able to compete in the high jump and clear a mark of 5 feet, 10 3/4 inches. After he finished the jump, Uldal was carried off the field by his teammates and was taken to the team’s training staff. After Uldal was attended to by the staff, he finished the day by running the 400.

“Hans couldn’t walk, and five minutes later they carried him off the field,” McGuire said. “After the 400, his body was broken, things that are so bad that you hobble to the bathroom or crawl. The next day he did the rest of the decathlon.”

The decathlon is a grueling two-day event that deals out its fair share of punishment, but Uldal wanted to perform in the event since he began his training at a young age in Norway.

“It’s not something everyone can do,” assistant coach Dan Lefever said. “In the Olympics they call the winner of the decathlon ‘the greatest athlete in the world,’ and there’s a personality with that. The guy (Uldal) is dead set on becoming the best decathlete he can be.”

Uldal said that his hardest challenge at Missouri was to overcome the kidney surgery he had before the beginning of his sophomore year. He had surgery to repair an artery that had wrapped around one of his kidneys and was forced to redshirt his sophomore indoor season.

“Even though it was hard physically, there were still people there to motivate you,” Uldal said.

With Uldal’s strain on his body, he has racked up many hours in the training room. He commended the job that trainers Jen Artioli and Esteban Ruvalcaba do to keep his body in one piece.

“To me it’s been alpha and omega, life and death in the decathlon, having those people to keep me in shape,” he said.

Uldal said that his success in overcoming injuries involved mental focus and said that one of the hardest aspects of performing injured is the mental strain of not trying to think about the injury.

“It’s more mentally taxing, and you’re in pain, and you don’t try to think about it,” he said. “Anything that interrupts your optimal performance is hard.”

Uldal’s coaches praise his ability to lead and motivate others. McGuire said that Uldal was able to help the team make up 20 team points last year at Baylor because his teammates had no other choice but to perform at their best after his heroics. McGuire also said that Uldal has helped everyone who competed in the decathlon or heptathlon while he has been at Missouri.

“Hans is one of the most inspirational, lead-by-example people I’ve ever known,” McGuire said.

Lefever also cited Uldal’s ability to inspire with his heart.

“He has one of the biggest hearts that I’ve ever seen,” Lefever said. “On top of that, the passion carries over to his teammates.”

Uldal also has competed in the heptathlon during indoor season and is the school record holder with 5,693 points. Uldal competed in the heptathlon for three seasons and is finishing his redshirt senior campaign. Uldal is headed to the NCAA Indoor Championships this weekend, which will be his last competition as a collegiate athlete.

Although Uldal has been very successful, he stays humble about his achievements. Uldal doesn’t even seem impressed with his experience as an Olympian.

“It’s fun to say that you competed at the highest level,” he said. “But looking at everyday life, you’re still the same person.”

Uldal is going to finish school after this semester and is majoring in communications and minoring in German. Uldal is also going to stay in Columbia and train with the team during the outdoor season. He is planning on competing in the Audrey Walton Combined Events. However, Uldal is planning to go home for the summer but said, “No matter what I end up doing, I’ll probably end up in Columbia.”

McGuire praised Uldal.

“You have to figure that God knew what he was doing when he made Adam ... but it doesn’t get any better than Hans Uldal.”

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