Wanamaker Wins Inaugural Decathlon Title

Celebrating A Century of NCAA Track & Field Championships

Wanamaker Wins Inaugural Decathlon Title

It was hard to miss Rick Wanamaker at the 1970 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

At 6-8, the Drake star looked more like a basketball player – and he was! Wanamaker was the center on the Bulldogs basketball team that nearly upset eventual national champion UCLA in the Final Four a year earlier in a surprisingly close game (85-82). While Drake lost to the Bruins, Wanamaker scored nine points, grabbed seven rebounds and famously blocked a shot attempt by 7-0 Lew Alcindor, who would soon become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Wanamaker, a native of Marengo, Iowa, also stood out as the only hometown athlete – Drake Stadium was hosting the NCAA meet for the first time – given a chance to become the third Bulldog to win an NCAA title (The other two were Linn Philson in the 1936 high jump and Jim Ford in the 1952 200-meter dash).

And, of all events, it was the decathlon – the historic first held at the NCAA Championships.

Halfway through the two-day event, Wanamaker trailed favored Jorma Vesala of Cal State Los Angeles by 36 points, but a solid second day gave Wanamaker the victory with 7406 points. It was a 207-point victory for Wanamaker and a PR by 203 points.

Wanamaker’s performance was so good that it gave him cause to reconsider a pro basketball career (He had been drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers – a franchise that would be playing its first season in the NBA the following year – and had until noon the next day to accept the offer). “I’d made up my mind to go yesterday, but I’m not sure I will now,” he told the media afterwards. “It’s a tough decision and I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it all night.”

Wanamaker ended up declining the basketball offer to pursue his Olympic dreams. In 1971, he improved his PR to 7989 points and was the top American – but was unfortunately injured the week of the 1972 Olympic Trials and didn’t make the U.S. team.

posted: August 11, 2020
1921-2021
The NCAA's First Championships

The NCAA and collegiate track & field will mark a momentous milestone in the spring of 2021 -- the 100th anniversary of the NCAA Championships and with that, the NCAA Track & Field Championships. In June 1921, the University of Chicago hosted the first track & field championships in NCAA history.

This point can’t be emphasized enough: Not only was the event the first for NCAA track & field, but the first championships for any sport under the sponsorship of the NCAA.

To celebrate, over each of the next 365 days, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) will celebrate moments, student-athletes, and coaches that have made a century’s worth of championships special. From humble beginnings to important historical milestones to the modern-day, collegiate track & field has evolved with the American society.

The 2021 edition of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships begin with preliminary round action on May 27-29 in Jacksonville, Fla., and College Station, Texas. The championships final site and culmination of the celebration is slated for June 9-12, 2021 at the newly rebuilt Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

Memorable Moments
SMU’s Ezeh Hammered Out Greatness

Florence Ezeh is the only woman in the history of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships to win three hammer throw titles in a career.

The Tie Goes To The Buckeye

Dave Albritton of Ohio State won three consecutive high jump titles at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships & remains one of just two men to do so.