LAST YEAR Kyle Garland took 2nd in the NCAA heptathlon, losing by just 11 points. This time around, he won with the No. 2 performance in history, shattering the Collegiate Record and missing Ashton Eaton’s WR by a mere 6 points.
Not surprisingly, the days since he got home are a little different this time around. “Oh my gosh, the past 48 hours, I’ve gained almost 1500 new followers on Instagram,” he says. “I finally got verified on Instagram as well, and my phone has not stopped blowing up.”
Now the multi-event CR holder indoors and out, the Georgia senior is riding a nice wave. “I feel absolutely incredible about the work that I put in last weekend,” he says. “It’s been a super-, super-long process, but just a super trusting process and super-super encouraging as well.
“Coach [Bulldog assistant James Thomas] and I kind of had a big plan, big goals after last season. We just went to work in the offseason, starting in August, assessed where we could get better, assessed where we thought we tapped out and we realized there was no area after last season that we had tapped out. We just were super excited about the potential that this season could hold and it’s really started to pay off.
“Just to be in a position to break Ashton Eaton’s Collegiate Record, you know, was a very huge feat. And then to see the number pop up 6 points from tying the World Record. I was just kind of like, ‘Man, this is next level, you know?’ All along I knew I was capable of doing something like that, but to see it up on that board, it’s like, ‘This is real, man, this is real.’”
Going in, Garland knew he was ready, but had been thinking of a score in the mid-6500s. “I definitely saw that 6499 record going down. I was confident I could break that number after seeing what I put up in my first competition at Texas Tech (6415). But you know, it’s always good to kind of shock yourself when it comes down to it.”
Avenging ’22’s loss was a big motivator, he says. “Last year I knew it came down to the 1K and I knew it was going to be the same case this year. Last year I lost by 11 points because I needed to run 1 second faster and I just pulled up short. I used that to never get complacent throughout the season, knowing that I had to stay diligent on my longer distance running to be prepared for a 1K. I knew it was going to come down to that to see who was going to be on top.”
Garland, who will turn 23 at the end of May, says it’s fair to call his battles with Ayden Owens-Delerme a rivalry. “A friendly rivalry,” he clarifies. “We’ve competed against each other since we were about 13–14 years old, having the same birthday, being from the same state [Pennsylvania]. We definitely push each other to extreme limits. To be the first in collegiate multi history to score over 6500 points and to be Nos. 2 and 3 in world history is completely crazy.”
Even with his triumph, he can’t help but do the post-mortem math on his weekend and wonder if he made a mistake in the high jump, one that cost him the World Record. “If I had cleared 2.15 [7-½] instead of passing that and trying to make 2.18 [7-1¾], I’d have gotten an extra 35 points, which would have put me above the record.” At Texas Tech he had cleared 2.19 (7-2¼).
So be it. Fuel for next year: “From now until next indoor season, there’s a lot of room and a lot of changes that I’ll be able to make to get better marks across the board.”
Working with Thomas, Garland says that they aren’t focusing on any specific event these days: “It’s the same plan that we took through indoors; just maintaining, working on consistency and gaining confidence across the board. That was the biggest thing for me, just gaining confidence in every event. I think that’s the same focus that we’re going to pursue outdoors and if we do that with the confidence that we gained through indoor, and having broken the Collegiate Record outdoors last year, I think it’s very much going to run into this outdoor season and produce something absolutely special.”
The biggest target this season will be Budapest, but this time around the USATF qualifier will be in early July, perhaps a tougher order than last year when it came a month before the NCAA.
Garland is not worried. “I think it will give it a little bit more spacing towards the latter half of the season, after U.S. Championships going into Worlds [7 weeks apart], my body will have a little more rest. I think it’ll work out pretty well.
“We just gotta trust the plan that coach Thomas has put together for me, and we’re going to have a conversation this weekend about what the season’s going to look like, where we’re going to put a lot of our energy into and where we’re going to step back so that we can excel at the NCAA level but also excel at the world level.”
Last year, Garland finished 11th at the WC, scoring 8133, a tally far shy of his 8720 Collegiate Record: “The Worlds experience for me was definitely an eye-opener, you know? That meet gave me the confidence to know like, ‘This is where I’m meant to be, competing against the world’s best. I have to embrace this moment.’
“After putting up a season like I did indoor, being on top of these ranks, it just gives me a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy, and a lot of confidence and excitement going into this outdoor season, knowing that I’ll be able to make an impact on the world level rather than just be there. That’s the biggest thing for me. This year I know I definitely want to make an impact, [so we’re] making a few changes, looking back to the pros and cons of last season and just trying to tweak a few things here and there so that my body can be a little healthier when we come to the World Championships in August. It will be a month later [than last year], so we’ve got to be mentally and physically prepared for that.”
For his 10-event opener Garland plans to be in the decathlon at Mt. SAC in mid-April: “They always have great weather and a lot of good guys.” For now, it’s time to head back into training. “My mind is literally focused on this season and this season alone.”