Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series profiling members of the USU track & field team that qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Not even a painful back injury was going to prevent Sindri Gudmundsson from having another shot at NCAA glory.
The Utah State redshirt junior nearly missed the entire outdoor track & field season, but still managed to capture his third straight Mountain West and NCAA West Preliminary championship in the javelin — the only two meets he has competed in this spring.
For the third time in as many years, Gudmundsson has punched his ticket to the NCAA Outdoor Championships, which will take place from June 5-8 in Austin, Texas. The native of Kopavogur, Iceland, will attempt to become USU’s first three-time first-team All-American in one event since former U.S. Olympian James Parker in 2001 (hammer).
“Honestly, it is a big accomplishment,” said USU head coach Matt Ingebritsen, who coaches the team’s throwers. “For him, it is the expectation. This is what he expects to do every year, but it really does come down to the kind of kid he is, his attitude and how he takes care of himself. He’s one of those guys that takes care of the little things, even though he was a little dinged up this year. We stayed patient, we backed off and we didn’t do the amount of throwing that we normally would, but we just kept the big picture in mind.
“... I’m really proud of him for what he’s done just in this short little season that we’ve had, and I’m excited to see how he does at nationals. I think he’s going to have a good meet.”
The big picture is another podium finish at nationals. Gudmundsson accomplished this feat as a freshman and sophomore. Two years ago, the son of Gudmundur and Srandis Gudmundsson placed sixth in the javelin, and he was the bronze medalist in 2018.
Gudmundsson is ranked 12th nationally heading into the meet, but has thrown farther than any other athlete in his career with the exception of defending champion Anderson Peters of Mississippi State. Peters, a sophomore, shattered the NCAA Championships record a year ago.
Peters has by far the top toss in the NCAA this season with an sublime mark of 282 feet, 4 inches. Two of Peters’ teammates at MSU are right behind him in the rankings. Gudmundsson, whose personal record is a 265-5, is looking forward to squaring off against the trio of Bulldogs.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “They’re very good, all three of them. I feel like they’re going to push me even farther. Even though I don’t have very many throws under my belt this year, I’ve been throwing for a very long time, so it’s kind of like riding a bike; you just know how to do it. So I feel like if I just go there with a good spirit and I’m already competitive in everything I do, so I feel like it’s going to be fun.”
In order to challenge Peters or at least put himself in a good position to capture the silver medal, Gudmundsson will likely have to threaten the 80-meter barrier, which is a little more than 262 feet. The redshirt junior has eclipsed this barrier a few times in his life and he’s confident he’s healthy enough to surpass it again next week.
“Yeah, for sure I can,” Gudmundsson said. “I threw 73.68 (meters) at (the NCAA West Preliminary meet) and it was a very bad throw. It was straight in the air and it came straight down and almost landed vertical, which is not very good. And so I feel like if I get more throws in at nationals, I will be better, for sure.”
Arguably the bigger question for Gudmundsson is will his health allow him to go the full six rounds if needs be. Those competitors in the top nine following the first three attempts will get three more throws.
“I think he can,” Ingebritsen said. “You know, nationals is a whole different animal. He’s going to be bringing in a lot more emotion and adrenaline, so whatever he may feel is going to be masked by a lot of that.”
Gudmundsson, the USU, Mountain West and Ralph Maughan Stadium record-holder in the event, concurred.
“I’m a competitor, so I feel like no matter what I’m going to take the six throws,” he said. “My injury is going to hurt, but it’s not going to make anything worse, so I’ll probably go there and at least take more throws that I’ve been doing so far.”
The good news for the world class athlete is he is well-rested. Gudmundsson only needed one throw to once again defend his conference title. Two weeks later at the West Prelims, the reigning Icelandic national champion recorded what he knew would be a national qualifying mark on his first attempt, so he elected to pass on his final two throws. Gudmundsson unleashed the javelin 241-9 on both of his throws this spring.
Gudmundsson is pretty certain he first injured his back at last year’s NCAA Championships. It still didn’t prevent him from PRing at a meet in Germany and reigning supreme at the Icelandic Championships last summer.
To combat the inflammation in his back, Gudmundsson has received several trigger point injection shots and has gone through a lot of physical therapy. Gudmundsson has been able to practice and train the entire outdoor season, but did not compete until the Mountain West Championships on May 11 in Clovis, California.
“It’s kind of an injury that comes and goes,” said Gudmundsson, who tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in May of 2015, and underwent Tommy John surgery a few months later. “It will never go away, but it shouldn’t bother me that much.”
Indeed, Gudmundsson feels he is healthy enough to once again compete at a high level at nationals. However, his primary goal is to have fun.
“I’ve only taken two throws since March, but I always have fun competing no matter where it is,” he said. “But it’s even more fun when there’s a lot of guys that can throw far. ... I love competing and I’m a competitor, so it’s going to be fun, for sure.”
Regardless of what happens next week, Gudmundsson is already an Aggie legend, and he headlines a very strong USU throwing program. Fellow throwers Brenn Flint, Josh Barclay and Kyle Morris captured Mountain West titles during the indoor and outdoor seasons. Since Gudmundsson arrived in Logan in 2016 — the year he redshirted due to his Tommy John surgery — Maci Bingham (hammer) and Flint (shot put) have secured All-America status for the Aggies. Flint capped off her career as a two-time All-American.
Gudmundsson, Flint, Morris, Barclay, Christian Sonnenberg and Michala Zilkey represented the Aggies in the throws at the West Prelims, and Flint, Morris and Zilkey qualified in a pair of events.
“I feel like it’s been like this since I got here, so it’s not only been helping me, but I feel like it’s helping the whole (track & field) program develop,” said Gudmundsson, who is majoring in accounting. “The throwers program has always been good here and we’re kind of known for that, so I take (a lot of) pride in that, for sure.”
Morris might have joined Gudmundsson at nationals in the javelin had he not been slowed down by an ankle injury he suffered at the Texas Relays earlier this spring. Gudmundsson raved about the strides made by the junior, and said Morris is “one of my better friends around here. We connect very well. ... He’s been able to push me, for sure, even more in the weight room. He’s really strong, so it definitely pushes me to try to better myself.”
Gudmundsson’s success and demeanor has also been very beneficial in the recruiting process, Ingebritsen asserted.
“His presence and his accomplishments really have actually helped with bringing in new talent,” said Ingebritsen, who first contacted Gudmundsson when he was the top-ranked javelin competitor in the world under the age of 20. “... It kind of all got kicked off in 2016 with Maci Bingham, and from there the success has started to breed success. And Sindri has definitely been a big part of that, and when we bring him on (recruiting) visits, he’s a fun athlete to have interact with the recruits.”
Gudmundsson would like to showcase his talents in some meets this summer, but will first gauge how he feels after nationals.
“I’m going to focus on recovery first, and then we’ll see,” said Gudmundsson, who is dating Mia Estes, USU’s record-holder in the women’s javelin. “My back has actually been really good since first rounds. It was a lot better at first rounds then it was at conference, so I’m pretty confident that I’ll take at least a couple of competitions this summer. If not, I’m not worried about it. I’m more thinking about next year, my senior season, and then the Olympics in Tokyo next summer.”