Big 12 Olympic hopefuls invade Manhattan

By Brady Bauman

The London Olympics are just a few months away, but this weekend Manhattan is getting a preview.

The 2012 Big 12 Track and Field Outdoor Championships will be hosted by Kansas State, and the Wildcats’ R.V. Christian track complex has been bustling getting ready for the Friday-Sunday meet.

The Big 12 has traditionally been a powerhouse league in the world of collegiate track and field, and this year is no different. This weekend’s event will display a significant amount of Olympic hopefuls, and because of that K-State head coach Cliff Rovelto sees this year’s conference championships as one of the top meets in the world.

Some estimates predict 15-20 Big 12 athletes – including a couple Wildcats – as frontrunners for representing the United States in this summer’s Olympic Games.

“Domestically, outside of the Olympic Trials and the NCAA meet, the conference championships in the SEC and the Big 12… that’s as good as it gets,” Rovelto said earlier this week. “In almost every event, you’ve got somebody who will be competing in the Olympic games. In some events multiple people.”

Many upgrades have taken place for R.V. Christian over the spring in anticipation for the event. Additional bleachers have been permanently installed along with upgrades to the track itself and new signage sporting K-State’s more recent branding, among other tune-ups.

K-State previously hosted this same meet in 2005, and went through a $1.4 million upgrade before that meet, which included a total resurfacing of the track.

Rovelto said those previous enhancements, along with the smaller additions going into this weekend’s championships, has the complex in tip-top shape.

“That’s one of the advantages of hosting a championship meet,” he said. “They are really significant things. A lot of people may not realize how significant (some of the smaller upgrades) are, but to us (they are). Aesthetically the facility is looking a lot better, and obviously you want it to look good at a competition – especially when you host an event like we are this week – but it’s also great everyday for practice. When you have a nice facility to train in, that makes a difference.”

Rovelto, who is no stranger to training Olympic talent, is in his 20th season as head coach of the Wildcats and said the Big 12 talent pool matched with it being an Olympic year easily ups the energy and excitement.

“In Olympic years, everything steps up a little bit,” he said. “There’s no question. Anytime you have something that’s going to be a good show, you can’t help but get excited about it. If you have a pulse, you’re going to get excited.

“I think that for our kids, to have the opportunity to compete at home is nice. Most kids are going to get the opportunity once in their collegiate career – and sometimes not at all. It’s neat for the kids, it’s neat for the families and neat for the local fans, who wouldn’t be inclined to travel to see this meet.”

Rovelto hopes to see a good local turnout for the championships and said the Olympic flavor of this weekend’s events shouldn’t have a problem bringing fans in.

“It’s absolutely worth it,” he said. “Hopefully the weather is good. And if the weather is good, you’d be hard-pressed to find something else more interesting to do (this) weekend, that’s for sure.”

The 2012 Big 12 Outdoor Championships begin Friday at noon and will feature the heptathlon, decathlon, javelin, hammer throw, and distance events.

Saturday’s events will get going at 10:35 a.m. and will feature more of Friday’s events, with the addition of the long jump, women’s pole vault and shot put, among others.

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