The road to Rio, Curtis Beach hopes, goes through Phoenix.
That goes for Beijing, too.
Beach, the former Albuquerque Academy track-and-field phenom and junior decathlon national record holder, has left Durham, N.C. – where he competed for Duke University the past several years – and will train at the World Athletics Center in Phoenix.
The move, he said in a phone interview, will afford him more individual attention from more coaches in his attempt to reach the loftiest goals any athlete could harbor.
“Ultimately,” he said, “I just want to have the best coaches I could possibly have while I pursue my dream of competing in the Olympics and making the World Championships, and hopefully getting a medal at those events.”
The 2016 Olympic games are scheduled for Rio de Janeiro. The next World Championships are next summer in Beijing.
The move is not, Beach said, meant as a swipe at coaches who have helped him along the way during an outstanding career as a decathlete – Jim Ciccarello (Albuquerque Track Club), Adam Kedge (Academy), Shawn Wilbourn (Duke) and others.
“I’ve had some amazing coaches … who have helped me be extremely successful so far and helped me be at the place where I am now,” he said.
The coaching staff at WAC, he said, is simply world-class.
Beach’s primary coach in Phoenix is Dan Pfaff, who according to his WAC bio has coached 49 Olympians, nine Olympic medalists, nine World Championships medalists and nine world record-holders.
“(Pfaff) is really cutting edge with his methods of training, as the other coaches there are, too,” Beach said. “They value rehab a lot, and their team environment’s pretty amazing.”
Pfaff, in a phone interview, said Beach – who has family in Phoenix – approached him about the move.
“I thought Curtis was obviously a guy very much enamored with (the decathlon), a student of the event,” Pfaff said. “He’s had success at an early age, so he’s been on the radar for some time.
“I also knew that he has battled some unfortunate injuries. … Very strong in a few events, with some gaps in some others.”
John Godina, a two-time Olympic medalist in the shot put and a four-time world champion in that event, is the founder and CEO of the eight-year old training center.
It’s in the decathlon throwing events – shot put, discus, javelin – that Beach – 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds – needs to make the most improvement if he’s to reach his goals.
“John Godina, I think, is going to write a lot of my strength workouts,” Beach said. “Then he’ll work alongside (Pfaff), making sure that integrates with all the running events.”
Beach a two-time NCAA indoor heptathlon champion, ended his collegiate career on a somber note. He finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference decathlon championships with a total of 6,997 points, more than 1,000 below his personal best.
In the process of barely exceeding 100 feet in the javelin – historically his worst event – he injured his elbow.
He underwent Tommy John surgery, performed by the renowned Dr. James Andrews, in June.
In preparation for the surgery, a remarkable discovery was made.
“It turned out after the MRI came up that the tendon they ended up replacing wasn’t attached or anchored to the place it should have been because of a prior injury,” Beach said. “So, I was pretty much throwing without a ligament there.
“They grafted (a tendon) from my leg and they harvested adult stem cells from my hip, soaked (the tendon) in that and put down a really good, thick tendon where nothing has been before. I’m really hoping that’s going to help improve what’s now my weakest event.”
Beach’s decathlon career best is 8,084, good enough to make him the Duke record-holder but almost 1,000 points below the world record of fellow American Ashton Eaton. More than half of that deficit comes from the throwing events.
Improving his marks in the shot put, discus and javelin will be a priority in Phoenix. But can he make major improvements – get better and stronger – without losing points in the running and jumping events?
“Ultimately, you want to make each event as good as it can be, but sometimes there are going to be tradeoffs,” Beach said. “As I get better in the shot put, I might not be as good in the high jump or the 1,500. That’s just a reality I’d have to accept.”
Pfaff, however, isn’t sure such a tradeoff will be necessary – or advisable. He wants to closely gauge the Albuquerquean’s potential in each of the 10 events, then devise a plan.
Simply because he excels at some events, like the 1,500 and 400 meters, doesn’t mean he can’t improve there as well.
“You’ve got to figure out what is his innate potential, his abilities in some of those throwing events, and is it ergonomically sound to spend a lot of time going there,” Pfaff said.
“You’ve got to look at all 10 events, see where you’re going to get performance bumps that are cost-effective (and) don’t increase injury risks or compromise already existing strengths. I think it’s real easy to identify weaknesses and go work on them, but sometimes that’s a dead end.”
At 24, Beach is entering a new world: professional track and field. In order to make money, he’ll have to spend money.
“It’s pretty expensive,” he said. “It’s kind of hard, because you’re training full time and then you have to support yourself on a part-time work schedule, which is kind of making it seem like I need to get some sponsors on board.
“It’s going to take a lot of work that I’m not used to in order to sustain a professional lifestyle, but it’s something I’ve prepared for.
“I think everything’s going to work out so that I do have a chance to reach those Olympic aspirations.”