UPDATED 11 p.m. with quotations.
Tom FitzSimons Jr. is at it again. Less than a month after capturing a gold watch in the decathlon at the prestigious Penn Relay championships, the Mount redshirt sophomore has taken home the same title at the IC4A's today. Seeded third coming into the meet he had two goals for the weekend:
“All intentions going in there were to win the meet … [and] score enough points to get to nationals," FitzSimons said by telephone in his hotel room near Princeton, N.J., on Saturday night. "I only got one. So it’s obviously not bad but it’s definitely motivation next year."
After posting the fastest time of 4 minutes, 28.07 seconds in the competition's final event - the 1,500 meters - his point total of 7,195 points put him 132 of Geren Woodbridge of Liberty. FitzSimons also won the javelin with a throw of 55.42 meters - 7.52 meters farther than anyone besides Woodbridge. But it was U-Conn's Aaron King who was the only competitor ahead of FitzSimons heading into the final event.
“I got the score sheet after nine events, that’s the javelin and I was in second place to Aaron King of U-Conn. And I saw I was down 68 points and I know he’s not a good 1,500 runner at all," said FitzSimons, who noted that each second difference is worth seven points in the decathlon's final event.
"Basically I needed to beat him by 10 seconds. I knew it was possible, I knew it was going to happen. I was just getting nervous … for the race itself," said FitzSimons, who demolished King by 40.82 seconds. "Then I just couldn’t let anyone else beat me so I won the whole 1,500 and beat him by more than 10 seconds.”
Typical Tom, deciding to leave the rest of the field in the dust for good measure even though the title was already his. In fact, FitzSimons won the final two events on this day, further solidifying his reputation as a strong finisher with a big heart.
Crossing the finish line knowing the event was already won has become a familiar feeling for FitzSimons in the last month.
“I had my brother and [teammate] Tim Nickas yelling at me how far I had and they told me about 200 meters so I kind of knew I had it," he said. "And then I crossed the line, put my hands up, turned around and saw the kid [King] had like about 210 meters and obviously no one’s running 210 meters in 10 seconds.”
Known for his unparalleled work ethic (go to page 19 of this link's newspaper and read about the kid's dedication), FitzSimons has overcome a yearlong nagging foot injury this spring season that forced him to sit out last spring's outdoor season as well as this winter's indoor season. Fortunately, though he says he has never felt better after the spring season than he does now.
“I’m a little sore right now from these two days but other than that I’m good, I’m fine. Going into the summer healthy for first time in college. I’m healthy, I’m excited. I’m going to take my little maybe two-and-a-half, three-week break, come back for the summer and work to get to nationals next year,” FitzSimons stated.
Unfortunately the dream of nationals will not be realized this year as he estimates himself to have posted around the 35th best decathlon score in the nation thus far in the spring, while only the top 24 qualify. As he put it: “Unless 10 people scratch I’m not in."
The injury that granted him an extra year of eligibility may have been a blessing in disguise, though, as FitzSimons has already made his mark this spring and still has two years of eligibility remaining. His dream of being an All-American suddenly looks within reach by the time his college career ends. But this humble decathlete knows that it takes more than his own efforts to maximize his potential.
"I thought I had a shot this year [to make nationals] and still never been," he said. "I’ll be thinking about that for awhile … I had teammates showing up, teammates cheering from the side, teammates calling out numbers and times and marks and it was a team effort."
To know Tom, though, is to realize that all he really wants to do is perform his best. Props to the young man from Hamden, Conn., for doing just that yet again.