London Olympics call for Sharon Day

Sharon Day has qualified to compete in the heptathlon at the Summer Olympic Games.
Sharon Day has qualified to compete in the heptathlon at the Summer Olympic Games. The Tribune

It was an ordinary summer afternoon at the Cal Poly track. Not much was going on except for a couple of women stretching on the grass and a man sprinting on the other side of the field.

Unbeknownst to them, an Olympian was nearby.

Sharon Day was throwing a small metal ball against the net surrounding the throwing pit inside the track to help strengthen her javelin techniques. Her personal coach, Jack Hoyt, was watching. Occasionally, he recorded a throw on his cellphone and reviewed the video once or twice before offering suggestions. Day would make the correct adjustments and launch the ball again.

Though her solo practices can be routine and lonely, the former Cal Poly women’s soccer and track and field standout is about to perform on the world’s biggest stage. Day will compete in her second Olympics — this time in the women’s heptathlon Aug. 3 and 4 at the London Summer Games.

In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Day competed in the women’s high jump but did not qualify for the final. She later trained to become a heptathlete, which Hoyt said he believes was a natural transition for an athlete who competed in different sports at Cal Poly and who has continued living in San Luis Obispo.

“She comes from an athletic family,” said Hoyt, a Mustangs track and field assistant who met Day in 2005. “You can come from an athletic family, but to have all the pieces come together — both the mental, the physical — that’s what she does. There’s a lot of people with more talent than her, but they don’t have the whole package.”

At the recent practice with Hoyt, Day showed glimpses of what it takes to be a heptathlete who has to endure seven events — 100-meter hurdles, 200-meter dash, 800-meter run, shot put, javelin, high jump and long jump — in a span of two days.

She can only depend on herself.

“Sometimes, it can be a little lonely on the track, especially right now,” Day said. “But during the year, I usually have a group of people that we’re training with. So it’s not always just me and my coach. There’s no teammates there to help me along. It’s training mentally as well as physically to know that I’m the one who has to do it all.”

Bigger goals ahead

At the U.S. Olympic Trials in June in Eugene, Ore., Day wasn’t going all out. She didn’t need to. Despite that, she still gained an Olympic berth after finishing as the runner-up in the heptathlon with a personal record of 6,343 points, topping her previous best — set earlier this season at a meet at Westmont College in Santa Barbara — by six points.

Day had a personal record in the long jump (20 feet, one-half inch), while coming close to her best marks in the 100 hurdles (13.71 seconds), 200 meters (24.26) and javelin (147-9).

“Knowing that I wasn’t trying to peak and not trying to be at my perfect best and I still did really well in a lot of the events,” she said, “I think that shows that I’m right on track to have a big score in London, have a lot more PRs in various events and score a lot higher.”

Her goal now is 6,600 points. Day said she believes that number should be enough for a medal.

The favorite entering the heptathlon is Jessica Ennis, considered the golden girl of Great Britain’s Olympic team. After missing the 2008 Beijing Games because of a stress fracture in her right foot, Ennis won world heptathlon titles in 2009 and 2011.

“Heptathlon has become more and more competitive,” Day said. “I feel a lot more women are scoring higher and getting bigger scores. And it is the Olympics, so lots of crazy stuff happens. You never know. People can be really competitive. There could be five women over 6,600 this year.”

Day hopes to be one of them.

Staying focused

After she finished throwing the metal ball against the net, Day grabbed a javelin and began stretching with it. She doesn’t require a lot of motivation. She knows what is expected of her: a top-three finish for an Olympic medal. Day said she is just scratching the surface as a heptathlete.

“In almost every event, I don’t feel like I have maxed my full potential at all,” she said. “I feel like there’s a lot more points for me out there in all the different events. Even with all my PRs that I have right now, if I did that all in a meet, that would come out to be a really big score. So it’s a matter of being able to put that together in one heptathlon, which hopefully happens next month.”

The 27-year-old is staying focused despite some distractions, including thoughts that she could reach her peak at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She also has a 2013 summer wedding to plan; she’s engaged to Dan Monroe, the San Luis Obispo High School girls basketball coach.

But she’s not distracted.

“I try not to think about the magnitude of it too much and just try to remember that on a 400-meter track all the runways are the same, the high-jump pit is the same,” she said. “Just focus on what I need to do and what I need to do to compete well.”