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John’s Journal: Two Decades Later, A Record Stands Strong

Rochester Century’s Karl Erickson Reflects On Discus Mark

Posted: Friday, May 7, 2021 - 5:14 PM


Each spring for two decades now, every high-ranking young male discus thrower in Minnesota has looked at a big target number and dreamed of reaching it. The magical mark of 200 feet has only been achieved once in state history, on one magical throw on one cold, damp day at a meet at Park High School.

Karl Erickson was a senior at Rochester Century High School in the spring of 2001. He was the big-school state champion in the discus and shot put as a junior and senior, then went on to become a seven-time NCAA all-American at the University of Minnesota, winning Ben Ten titles and competing in NCAA national championship meets.

That day in 2001 remains special, even if some of the specifics have dimmed in Erickson’s memory. Now 38 years old, he remembers that it was cold and he wore a hooded parka and sweatpants between throws on what he called “just a crummy weather day.”

He was trying to keep his discus dry, too. But none of that mattered when he uncorked the winning throw. He knew it was special.

“I felt like a rubber band,” he said. “And then, bang!”

There was a delay in knowing the distance for a simple reason: the tape measure wasn’t long enough to measure it. Meet officials found a longer tape, and also triangulated the distance to make sure it was precise.

When the announcement of “201 feet, 7 inches” was made, so was history. The previous state record at the time was 195-6 by Mike Yonkey of Wells-Easton in 1987. That was the only time Erickson threw the discus 200 feet.

Several discus throwers have threatened Erickson’s record in the years since. The most recent was Jake Kubiatowicz of North St. Paul, who put up a 199-7 in 2017; that is the second-best in history. Rounding out the top five all-time are Mitchell Weber of St. Clair (196-10 in 2017), Yonkey and Nate Englin of Mounds View (194-4 in 2003).

The oldest record on the books is in the boys high jump. In 1973, Rod Raver of Rochester John Marshall went 7 feet, 1 inch, which was matched by Chaska’s Jon Markuson in 1993. The only other state records older than Erickson’s discus mark are in the long jump (Von Shepard of St. Paul Central, 24 feet, 9 ¼ inches, 1982) and the 4x800 relay (Stillwater, 7:41.94, 1998).

The oldest girls state record was set in 2004 by the 4x100 relay team from Minneapolis Washburn, which ran 47.21 seconds.

(The best online reference for state track and field and cross-country records and history is maintained by retired Wayzata coach Bill Miles: http://www.mnpreptrack.com/index.html . State meet results are available at Raceberry: http://www.raceberryjam.com/indexod.html )  

Erickson’s sporting interests began with basketball and baseball, then football. He was a talented athlete, competing in the high jump as well as the throws as a sophomore at Century. Track coach Dan Eickhoff convinced him to try that sport.

“I was skinny, I wanted to lift weights for football,” Erickson said. “It was kind of dumb luck that I fell into it. I had no clue what I was doing.”

He qualified for state in two events that spring, finishing 12th in the shot put and 10th in the high jump.

“That was so exciting,” he said. “It was kind of hard to get a feel for the discus, there’s so much finesse in it. I tried to muscle it out there.”

As a junior at Century he began to embrace the throwing events and his fitness. He would attend practice, work with Eickhoff and his teammates, then go home and keep practicing.

“I was just obsessed,” he said. “It was so much fun. I was going through a physical maturation, and it was addicting. I was bitten by the weight room bug and things started coming together. … I was focused on eating, I packed huge lunches. I was a true thrower, I was totally hyper-focused.”

At state as a junior, he won both throwing events (55-11 in the shot put, 185-6 in the discus). His big bomb of 201-7 came early in his senior year. Soon after, he suffered a back injury and was sidelined for much of the spring. But he rallied late in the season and won repeat state championships, throwing the shot 60-10 ¾ and the discus 180-1. That performance in the shot put was his career best and ranks 31st in state history. Eighteen of the throws ahead of him in the shot came after 2001.

“It feels like a long time ago but some of the memories are pretty fresh,” said Erickson, who works in sports medicine for Mayo Clinic and is a strength and conditioning coach at Rochester Lourdes.

He qualified for a junior national track and field meet in Virginia following his high school graduation. Getting on an airplane for the first time, he was joined by his parents and Eickhoff on the trip.

“I saw these monsters from all over the country compete,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”

His collegiate personal bests in the discus and shot put still rank second all-time at the University of Minnesota. After college he was invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado, where he trained for three years and competed at the Olympic Trials in 2004 and 2008.

He has fond memories of his high school career, and he is sure of one thing: Records are made to be broken.

“I know someone will come along and smash it,” he said.

For 20 years, they’ve been trying.

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at jmillea@mshsl.org

“I was skinny, I wanted to lift weights for football. It was kind of dumb luck that I fell into it. I had no clue what I was doing.”
Karl Erickson

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