EUGENE, Ore. – There have been a number of tremendous multi-event athletes for the Wisconsin women's track and field program, from Kathy Borgwarth in the 1980s to Dorcas Akinniyi, Jessica Flax and Deanna Latham in the 2010s.
But no Badger had won a national championship until Saturday, when senior Georgia Ellenwood won the heptathlon with a score of 6,146 points at the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field.
"I think I'm still processing the whole thing and it doesn't really feel like I won yet. I think it hasn't really sunk in yet," Ellenwood said. "It doesn't really feel like I'm the first, because when I was recruited I knew about so many great heptathletes who have come through the program. To know that I'm one of them and I'm the best one that's come through Wisconsin hasn't really hit me yet.
"I have a lot to thank for that, coach Nate Davis, my parents. Nate training me to be mentally tough is a key for that."
The NCAA title ultimately came down to the 800 meters, the final event of the competition, and Ellenwood entered the race with a 15-point lead on Georgia's Louisa Grauvogel. That made things simple for Ellenwood: finish ahead of Grauvogel and be guaranteed the title. She started toward the front, created separation on Grauvogel heading into the bell lap and finished in 2 minutes, 15.76 seconds, more than four seconds ahead of Grauvogel.
"I had to be confident going into the 800," Ellenwood said. "I kept looking at the screen to see if Louisa was close. I just had to keep in my own head and know that I was capable of running 2:15 like I always have, and just executing the way that I have so many times before and to just not change anything when I came to the championships."
The NCAA victory capped a historic career for Ellenwood, who won three Big Ten Conference titles and qualified for the national championships every year she competed, earning six first-team All-America honors and a pair of second-team All-America accolades. She is the No. 10 performer in NCAA history in the heptathlon and holds the Big Ten Conference record in the event.
"After five years of this I've matured so much as an athlete, and I think that's what I'm the most thankful," Ellenwood said. "I know mentally that I can do it, and not once during this championship did I believe that I couldn't do it. That's where I've matured as an athlete, I can come out here and be on top and believe that I can do that."
A native of Langley, British Columbia, Ellenwood began the day in second place after a first-day score of 3,668 points but soared to the overall lead after the long jump. She jumped a wind-aided 19 feet, 9 3/4 inches on her first jump of the competition to take a 16-point lead on Grauvogel.
"I just wanted to get my foot on the board," Ellenwood said. "I knew there were big tailwinds, so it was just about getting my foot on the board and jumping. I was happy to jump smart in the competition."
Ellenwood and Grauvogel remained close in the javelin as the pair finished third and fourth, respectively, in the event. Grauvogel threw 142-8 on her second attempt and Ellenwood countered with a toss of 142-6 on her final throw, giving Ellenwood a 15-point lead heading into the 800 meters.
"Even though it wasn't a great throw for me, it definitely gave me a little bit of breathing room going into the 800," Ellenwood said.