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Beach changes course, plans to give heptathlon another shot once healthy

A decade ago, Curtis Beach was busy rewriting the New Mexico prep track-and-field record books.

As for his professional career, the final chapter is yet to be written.

Beach, the former Albuquerque Academy and Duke University star, had planned to enter the heptathlon in his hometown at this weekend’s USATF Indoor Championships. The track at the Albuquerque Convention Center has been good to him in the past.

A nagging Achilles injury, though, forced him to pull out.

That he was planning to compete in the heptathlon signaled a departure from a decision he’d made in 2016 — to abandon the multi-events (decathlon outdoors, heptathlon indoors) for an individual event.

After finishing ninth in the 2016 U.S. Olympic decathlon trials, he’d decided to change course.

“Right now I have no plans to come back to the multis,” he said at the time. “When I was at the trials, I said, ‘Done.’

“Who knows what could happen, but right now I’m done with that.”

Two things, he said on Thursday in a phone interview, caused another rewriting of the script.

No. 1: His performances in the single event he’d chosen to focus on, the 400 intermediate hurdles, were good but not quite good enough. His best outdoor clocking in that event last year, 49.83 seconds, ranked 19th in the U.S.

No. 2: After finishing fourth in the heptathlon at the 2016 IAAF Indoor Championships in Portland, Ore., just nine points out of third place and a bronze medal, he felt he owed himself another chance.

“I was so close to the podium,” he said. “I thought I should give it another shot.”

The Achilles injury, though, shot that plan down.

But then, since Beach was willing to resume competition in the heptathlon, does that mean he’s coming back to the decathlon as well?

Not likely.

“(The decathlon) might still be my best chance to get to a world (outdoor) championships or the Olympics,” he said. “But I’m just not sure the passion for it is there anymore.”

As well, there’s the time investment that the decathlon requires.

Beach won’t turn 28 until July, but at some point he needs to start preparing for life after track and field.

“That’s hard to do when you’re training for the decathlon,” he said.

Instead, he’s training with his sights on the 800 meters for the 2018 outdoor campaign. Without having focused on the event, he ran a 1:47.36 in the 800 meters last summer.

THE MEET: Nationals begin today with the pentathlon and the first four events of the heptathlon. Former Mississippi State star Erica Bougard returns to defend her 2017 pentathlon title.

A total of 20 champions return from the 2017 meet, though some are entered in different events.

Beach, who is in Albuquerque, said he’s looking forward to the men’s 60-yard dash. Defending champion Ronald Baker will be challenged by a field that includes the newly minted indoor world record holder. Christian Coleman ran a time of 6.37 seconds — two hundredths of a second faster than Maurice Greene’s old record — on Jan. 19 at the Clemson (S.C.) Invitational.

“We could see another (world record),” Beach said.

The 60-meter prelims are scheduled for Saturday, followed by the semifinals and final on Sunday.

The women’s pole vault, scheduled for Sunday, pits defending champion and 2016 Olympic silver medalist Sandi Morris against 2012 Olympic champion and indoor world record holder Jenn Suhr.

Last year, Suhr withdrew from nationals, expressing dissatisfaction with how the event was being run.

Suhr set her world indoor record (5.02 meters, or 16 feet, 5½ inches) in Albuquerque in 2013.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS: With Beach’s withdrawal, there don’t appear to be any.

Former UNM long jumper Kendall Spencer, who won a bronze medal at nationals last year, is in law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Weight thrower Amber Campbell, a six-time indoor national champion who grew up in Tucumcari, is not entered this year.

TICKETS: Single-day tickets, two-day passes and three-day passes can be purchased online at unmtickets.com.

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