BY ANDY BAGGOT
MADISON, Wis. — Georgia Ellenwood finds both humor and motivation in her recent shortcomings and that's part of her charm.
In the last three months, Ellenwood has enhanced her status as one of the premier multi-event performers in Wisconsin women's track and field history.
A junior from Langley, British Columbia, Ellenwood established school records in both the indoor pentathlon and the outdoor heptathlon, making her one of the few competitors in program history to set both marks in the same season.
But some odd things have happened along the way, developments that made Ellenwood laugh when they were recounted earlier this week.
One came during the Big Ten Conference indoor meet in Geneva, Ohio, in February. Ellenwood totaled 4,392 points in five-event discipline – surpassing the school record of 4,299 by Dorcas Akinniyi in 2012 – but lost the individual title by one point to Jess Lehman of Minnesota.
One point? This after a day of competition in the 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800 meters?
"I need to start training like I'm going to be losing by a point," Ellenwood said, smiling.
Another close call for Ellenwood came last month. Competing in the Bulldog Heptathlon in Athens, Georgia, she turned in personal bests in three of the seven disciplines to equal the school record of 5,914 points set by Deanna Latham in May of 2015.
A tie? This after a weekend of competition in the 100 high hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200, long jump, javelin and 800?
"I have a new perspective on it, so let's hope I can get that one point the next time," Ellenwood said.
Point of reference: Had Ellenwood jumped or thrown a quarter-inch farther, or lowered one of her times by a tenth of a second, both outcomes would have changed for the better.
"I think it's really good for me because it pushes me harder," she said.
UW has had a rich history of churning out elite multi-event performers and Ellenwood is the latest example of that.
Nine Big Ten titles championships have been won and 11 first-team All-America citations have been claimed by Badgers student-athletes since 2010.
Latham and Akinniyi were part of the surge of dominance. So was Jessica Flax. They were preceded by Melissa Talbot, who was the last person to set school standards in the pentathlon and heptathlon in the same school year (2006-07).
All won at least one Big Ten individual crown and earned first-team All-American honors from 2005 to '15.
UW assistant coach Nate Davis helped develop Akinniyi, Flax, Latham and now Ellenwood. He bristled a bit when asked if he's been spoiled.
"This is a lot of hard work," he said. "Spoiled would mean that it just happens."
Davis, who also tutors the reigning men's NCAA indoor heptathlon champion Zach Ziemek, took the conversation in a different direction.
"I'm fortunate to be at a school that appreciates what it means to put a ton of work into something," he said.
"I've been fortunate to be at a school that attracts kids that are willing to work and do the things that we need them to do to be successful."
Ellenwood fits that description.
"The thing that sets her apart from most is she's just so focused, dialed in every day," Davis said. "Every day she knows what she's trying to do. My job has become to help her manage that."
For the moment, Ellenwood feels good about her world heading into the Big Ten outdoor championships May 13 to 15 and the NCAA outdoor meet June 8 to 11.
"I'm happy," she said, "but at the same time I know I have so much further to go just because I know what I'm capable of this year."
Ellenwood is on the verge of scoring 6,000 points, a number that puts her in contention for major prizes.
"You can never control what the other person does," Davis said. "All you can do is say you're going to bring your 'A' game, that you're going to get there happy and healthy and you're going to compete.
"You can't control who else is going to be there, but she's on the verge of scoring what wins."
Davis said 6,000 points used to be rarified air.
"Now it's commonplace," he said of the international scene. "You might have to score that to go to the Olympic trials. It's crazy."
According to Track and Field News, Akela Jones of Kansas State and USC's Amalie Iuel are the two collegians over 6,000 points this year. Jones scored 6,307 points at the Mt. Sac Relays, while Iuel recorded 6,011 points at last weekend's Pac-12 Combined Events Championships.
Joining Ellenwood in the 5,900-point neighborhood are Taliyah Brooks of Arkansas (5,991), Peyton Stumbaugh of Arkansas (5,985), Kendell Williams of Georgia (5,957), Lehman (5,917) and Annie Kunz of Texas A&M (5,904).
Davis said it might require 6,200 points for Ellenwood to make Team Canada for the Summer Olympics in Rio.
"What she's capable of doing has put her in a position to contend," he said.
Ellenwood's strengths are clear. She ranks among the school's best in the long jump, high jump and hurdles.
Ellenwood's weaknesses used to be in the throws, especially the shot put where she used to think she could get by on athleticism.
"It's so technical and I've really worked on that," she said.
"I wouldn't say I have a weak event anymore. I just need to keep building on all of them."
That said, Ellenwood is paying particular attention to training for the 800 these days.
"I've always felt like I've been pretty good at the 800, but I feel like all the other athletes are getting up there, too," she said. "I need to drop that time because it's getting so competitive and that's the kind of edge that I need."
Ellenwood recounted how she went into the final event of the Big Ten indoor meet with a four-second cushion in Lehman.
"She beat me by five seconds and that was that one point," Ellenwood said. "I have a new outlook on the 800 because I never want to get beat like that again."
Davis said close finishes like the ones Ellenwood has experienced tend to happen among the elite.
"The biggest thing you have to avoid is that it's so easy to get caught up in it was one-tenth (of a second) in the 800," he said. "It's not."
It's a combination of developments.
"Stuff like that happens when someone else steps up and takes advantage of missed opportunities," Davis said. "The higher the level, the more chances those things are going to happen."
Ellenwood is acutely aware that the tiniest malfunction can be costly.
"That's what keeps me hungry to break those records and to get that one point," she said. "What's it going to take to get to that next level?"
Davis said Ellenwood has the mental toughness and athletic wherewithal to get to that next level. It could be 6,000 points. It could be a Big Ten or NCAA title. It could an Olympic berth.
Why not shoot for that goal, for sure," he said.