“Shoes” burns up the track

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Kevin Kaplan

Gakologelwang Masheto started his 2008-09 track season a few months early. While most of his Illinois track and field teammates’ first meet was on Dec. 5, by that time Masheto had already competed at August’s XXIX Olympiad in Beijing.

After running in the 400 meters for his home country of Botswana, Masheto learned many things in China that are proving useful during his senior year at Illinois.

“I think competing at the Olympic level gives you the confidence, so that by the time you compete at a big meet like this, at the NCAA, it doesn’t scare you because you’re used to competing at a higher level with a large crowd,” Masheto said.

Illinois head coach Wayne Angel believes that Masheto’s experience has become an added source of motivation this season.

“I think it was eye opening for him because now he sees the level at which he has to train and focus to get there,” Angel said. “He’s training for the World Championships now, so after having gone to the Olympics he has a better idea of what level he has to be at to be competitive to make a final.”

While little, if any, of Masheto’s current collegiate opposition has his experience, even a former Olympian can run into trouble in the competitive NCAA.

Heading into the Carle/Health Alliance Invitational at the UI Armory two weekends ago, Masheto was expected to give Georgia standouts Torrin Lawrence and Justin Gaymon a race for first in the 400 meters, but he placed fifth, clocking 1.62 seconds behind Lawrence.

However, the man known as “Shoes” to his teammates bounced back at Saturday’s Adidas Classic in Lincoln, Neb. In addition to running a key leg of the first-place 4×400 meter relay, he ran a season-best 47.06 seconds in the 400 meters.

“I’m happy for him because finally he’s starting to get things together and sort things out,” Angel said. “He’s a world-class athlete and he was a little rusty, but now he’s starting to come into his own.”

For Masheto, his 400-meter run is still a work in progress. He realized his disappointing performance at the UI Armory was a result of coming out too slow in the first 200 meters. After spending the week practicing the 200, he improved his time in Nebraska, so much so that he felt he actually came out too fast in the first 200. According to Masheto, he is still perfecting the balance between the first 200 meters and the second so he doesn’t tire too soon.

“I feel like I have my speed, I just need to work on pacing myself,” Masheto said.

Masheto’s progress benefits not only himself but the entire Illini team. “Actions speak louder than words, and ‘Shoes’ is a leader by action,” Angel said earlier in the season. “He’s a team player, he’s a team captain this year and we’re expecting big things out of him. I think he has a great chance to repeat indoors in the Big Ten Championship in the 400, as well as outdoors. I think he has a great chance of doing something special at the NCAA Championships.”

Honorable mentions

Jenna Smith – women’s basketball

Smith notched 19 points, 12 rebounds and one block in 45-44 victory against Northwestern. The junior forward led the Illini to back-to-back wins for the first time since Nov. 11 and Nov. 16.

Megan Fudge – women’s tennis

Fudge, at the No. 2 singles spot, spots an unblemished 4-0 record. The junior from Kaarst, Germany secured Illinois’ win against No. 36 UNLV. She also posted the Orange and Blue’s lone victory in the loss to No. 5 Stanford.