What do you get when you combine a heptathlete/decathlete, a long jumper, a 400-meter runner and a hurdler?
An outstanding 400 relay team, of course. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
Chris Dickman, Todd McKown, Justin Smith and Tyler Simmons — Wichita State's winning 400 team in the Missouri Valley Conference meet last weekend — are superb track and field athletes. They're just not sprinters.
Or at least they didn't think they were before this season.
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Dickman, in fact, barely became a track athlete at all. Coming out of tiny Grinnell in northwest Kansas, he practically had to beg Wichita State track and field coach Steve Rainbolt to give him a chance to make the team.
Simmons, from Beloit, has blossomed into a legitimate sprinter during his junior season, the fastest runner on the Shockers' roster. But it wasn't always that way; Simmons was always so much more focused on long jumping and triple jumping.
McKown, a sophomore from Valley Center, didn't even start running track until his senior year in high school. At 6-foot-4, he was zoned into basketball.
Smith, meanwhile, was a 400 runner at Richardson (Texas) High, just outside of Dallas.
Now they're the A-Team.
"There's not a sprinter in the bunch,'' Rainbolt said. "We would never have expected this.''
WSU's 400 relay team won the Valley title with a time of 40.61 seconds. The gold standard in the event, Rainbolt said, is around 40 seconds, so the Shockers have only an outside chance of being invited to the NCAA regional this week in Austin.
But an outside chance, especially for a group of guys who are running this race basically for fun, is vastly exceeding expectations.
Simmons is going to Austin to participate in the long jump, in which he's a conference championship at 24 feet, 5 inches. He also was the second-place finisher at the Valley meet in the 100 at 10.69.
McKown won the conference 110 hurdles in 14.14.
Dickman was runner-up in the decathlon outdoors after winning the heptathlon at the Valley indoor meet.
And Smith, a part of the Shockers' 1600 relay team, too, finished third in the 400.
"It's definitely a shock to all of us to do as well as we did in the 4x100,'' McKown said. "We have just slowly put things together in that event. At the start of the season, things were pretty rocky.''
The guys all had fun, though, and put a lot of work into learning the techniques of handing off, so integral to success in relays.
There haven't been many problems, although Simmons, who runs the anchor leg, said he almost dropped the baton in the Valley meet after grabbing it from McKown.
"We felt like we should have had a faster time,'' Simmons said.
He has been the real find of the group this season. Through weight training and sprint technique training, Simmons has been noticeably faster.
"Only in the last year did I see this coming with Tyler,'' Rainbolt said. "When he got back to school last fall, his running began to raise our eyebrows. Now he's become a legitimately fast guy.''
Dickman reached All-America status in the heptathlon during the NCAA Indoors at Fayetteville, Ark., this season. In high school, without much coaching, he dabbled in the sprint events and as a high jumper, but wasn't anything special.
Certainly not someone anybody could envision as a difference-maker in Division I track and field.
"I ran the 200 my senior year in high school and 22.8 was my best time,'' Dickman said. "Not very good.''
But Dickman was a late-comer to track and field and enjoyed the competition. When he approached Rainbolt about his interest in Wichita State, though, he didn't hear what he wanted to hear.
"I asked him about his background and he told me he had high jumped 6-3,'' Rainbolt said. "Pretty unremarkable. He was a skinny guy without much of a track and field background.''
Versatility proved to be Dickman's strength. He has trained to become a force in running and jumping events, although his lack of strength hurts him in decathlon field events.
Smith, a senior, is the only guy on the Shockers' 400 relay team with any kind of a sprinting background.
"We just had some guys step up to be on this team because we really didn't have many sprinters,'' Smith said. "And we're having a blast with this. Three years ago, I would never have thought I'd be on a team that won the 4x100 at the Valley meet. Don't get me wrong, we have some fast guys. But most of the teams we go up against are constructed from proven 100- and 200-meter runners.''
That's not how the Shockers roll. It's almost as if they drew numbers out of a hat to run on this relay team.
"We have kind of a joke going amongst the guys,'' Simmons said. "Dickman is a multi-athlete, Smitty is in the 400, Todd is a hurdler and I'm a jumper. This is a pretty rag-tag 4x100 team.''
But it works.