NEW BRITAIN, June 14 – A year ago, the CIAC decathlon ended with Canton’s Dustin Van Kirk sitting with his teammates watching the decathlon competitors struggle through the tenth and final event – the 1,500 meters. Van Kirk had turned his ankle in the pole vault and couldn’t run the 1,500.
But Van Kirk knew he would have another opportunity this spring. Van Kirk had top 10 finishes in seven of 10 events and exceeded his personal best in the javelin by 50 feet to become the first Canton athlete to win the CIAC decathlon Wednesday.
He was second in the javelin with a personal-best throw of 150 feet and three inches, fifth in the discus and fourth in the 110 hurdles with a time of 15.97 seconds. He had a personal-best leap of nine feet in the pole vault – and most importantly, he came out healthy.
Van Kirk beat Lyman Memorial’s Dan Brown by nearly 200 points with 5,598 points compared to 5,411 for Brown. Ellington’s Joshua Prouty was third with 5,328 points. It was Van Kirk’s first state championship.
“He’s good in everything,” said former teammate Cam Daley, who was back from Rowan University where he competes in the decathlon. He offered Van Kirk some suggestions throughout the meet. “He has no weak events, no Achilles heel. He is consistent across the board. He had a few great performances and that is all it takes.”
Two years ago, Daley was third in this same event for the Warriors – the highest finish to date.
“I just wanted to be in the top 10,” Van Kirk said. “I would have been happy with any medal. To do well as I did, I’m happy.”
Van Kirk becomes the third Canton track athlete to win a State Open title. Mike LeDuc (3,000 steeplechase) and Matt Graziano (discus) previously won Open titles for the Warriors. Van Kirk spent most of his senior year as a hurdler and long jumping. He has won a few NCCC titles but had not claimed a state championship yet.
“The decathlon plays to my strengths because I’m good at hurdles and I’m good at jumping,” Van Kirk said. “But I’m really just an all-around athlete. That one of my favorite things about the decathlon is that it plays to my strengths, which to be decent at everything.”
Van Kirk began the meet with an outstanding performance in the 100 meters with a time of 11.64 – the third fastest time in school history to finish sixth. He followed that with a career-high leap of 5-9 ¾ in the high jump to finish third and a leap of 19 feet in the long jump to take ninth. He closed out day one in second place behind Brown after an eighth place throw in the shot of 36-8½ feet.
“I knew he had a chance as long as he could stay healthy,” Canton coach Tim O’Donnell said.
Van Kirk began day two by taking fourth in the 110 hurdles in 15.97 seconds. He followed that up with a throw of 100 feet, 7 inches to take fifth in the discus and move into first place. He cleared nine feet in the pole vault and ripped a career-long throw in the javelin of 150 feet and 3 inches to finish second and take a 200-point lead with one event remaining.
Van Kirk was aiming for 130 feet but Daley noticed a small flaw in Van Kirk’s delivery. Van Kirk made a slight adjustment in competition and had two tremendous throws of 142 feet and then 150 feet. “I don’t know where those came from. They just happened,” he said with a chuckle.
Van Kirk remained composed in the 1,500 meters to maintain his lead and secure the state championship. He listened to O’Donnell and ignored an opportunity to beat Daley’s school record of 5,725 points if he had pushed and finished in 4:47. But Van Kirk ran a smart race, finishing in 5:08.85, to win the championship.
“The school record would have been great but to come in first, I’m proud,” Van Kirk said. “Even though I may not be the best at one thing, I’m good at everything.”
Van Kirk was a defender on the Canton High boys soccer team in the fall and ran indoor track and field in the winter.
More than 40 years ago, Canton once had a connection to the greatest athlete in the world, Olympic champion Bruce Jenner. Although Jenner went to school in Newtown, his parents lived in Canton and his younger brother was a student at Canton High when Jenner won the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon in Montreal in 1976.
Now, Canton is the home to the best high school track athlete in Connecticut – Dustin Van Kirk.
Van Kirk is the first Class S athlete to win the decathlon in nearly 20 years. Haddam-Killingworth’s Peter Fink was the last Class S athlete to win the decathlon in 1998.
At New Britain
Overall results – 1. Dustin Van Kirk, Canton 5,598 points, 2. Dan Brown, Lyman Memorial 5411, 3. Joshua Prouty, Ellington, 5328, 4. Cameron Whalen, Stonington 5281, 5. Shane Smith, Stonington 5225
Other area results – 42. Patrick Lagonigro, Canton, 2366, 50. Michael Cavanaugh, Canton 2269
100: 6. Van Kirk 11.64, 54. Cavanaugh 12.77, 59. Lagonigro 12.93, 65. Andrew Mascoli, Avon, 13.43
400: 24. Van Kirk 54.35, 47. Lagonigro 57.73, 48. Cavanaugh 57.73
High jump: 3. Van Kirk 5-9¾, 9. Lagonigro 5-7¾, 42. Cavanaugh 4-11¾, Mascoli, no height
Long jump: 9. Van Kirk 19-0, 31. Cavanaugh 17-9¾, 36. Lagonigro 17-8, 62. Mascoli 16-2½
Shot: 8. Van Kirk 36-8½, 19. Mascoli 32-10½, 46. Cavanaugh 27-11½, 50. Lagonigro 26-9
110 hurdles: 4. Van Kirk 15.97
Discus: 5. Van Kirk 100-07
Pole vault: 13. Van Kirk 9-0¼
Javelin: 2. Van Kirk 150-03
1,500: 20. Van Kirk 5:08.65