June 8, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Markus Leemet wants to be a champion in the decathlon. If he is able to do that at the upcoming NCAA Championships, the South Carolina sophomore from the Republic of Estonia will likely have to unseat the defending national champion, Georgia's Maicel Uibo, who also happens to be one of his best friends and a fellow countryman.
"Seeing him win last year, I was really happy for him," Leemet said. "That really motivates me that a boy from Estonia can come here and win nationals. That makes me think that I can do it too one day. I told him I'm coming after him."
Leemet and Uibo have competed against each other for nearly a decade since the two were young boys growing up in Estonia. Leemet had some success early in his life playing soccer, but he had a strong desire to compete as an individual.
"I've always been fast, in my country anyway," Leemet said. "My soccer coach told me I should try track and field, so I found a coach and started doing it. At first, my coach wanted me to try everything to see what is best for me. I couldn't find one thing that I was really good at compared to the others, so I just started doing everything."
Leemet and Uibo would both become regulars on the track and field circuit in Estonia.
"Estonia is such a small country," Leemet said. "So once you start competing against people, you become friends because they are the only faces you see every weekend. We grew up together doing track and field."
Although they attended different high schools, the two would still see each other often and they would later becoming training partners. They were teammates for some events such as the Baltic Championships, and often opposed each other in many other meets. Each wanted to win, but the friendship grew.
"We competed against each other many times, "Leemet said. "I can't even tell you a number. Maybe 40 times, and now it continues here."
Leemet would soon find success "doing everything." He was the 2011 Estonian junior national champion in the decathlon after having been crowned the 2010 Baltic Youth Champion in the heptathlon and the 2010 Estonian youth champion in the 300m hurdles. Just prior to coming to South Carolina in January, he was the Estonian junior national champion in both heptathlon and pole vault.
That really motivates me that a boy from Estonia can come here and win nationals. That makes me think that I can do it too one day.
That success fueled him even more when he realized he could compete with athletes from all over the world. The desire to further his athletics career while also earning an education brought him to South Carolina.
"It's quite popular among Estonian track athletes to continue their career in college in the USA because you can combine the sports with your studies," Leemet said. "In Estonia, it's harder to combine those two. When I started looking at schools, I really liked South Carolina."
After only one season, Leemet is a national qualifier for the decathlon event at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon, later this week. Unlike most track and field athletes, the decathlon requires the individual to be good at a lot of different disciplines, including running, jumping and throwing.
"I feel like I am stable at every event, so once I put it together, I'm a good decathlete," Leemet said. "I don't have just one event that I am really good at. Whatever event you're doing your best in, you tend to like that one a little bit more."
Upon arriving at South Carolina, Leemet said he and Uibo were eager to compare their team's schedules to find out when and where they will compete against each other. Leemet admits that he and Uibo enjoy some friendly trash-talking as well.
"It's fun because we can speak in Estonian and nobody really understands us," Leemet laughed. "So we can say whatever we want. We always look forward to competing against each other. We always talk to each other at meets. We make fun of each other. The decathlon is such a hard event to do with 10 events in two days, so we just try to make it fun while doing it. It helps me a lot when we're at the same place. I get nervous sometimes at big meets, and once I see him at the stadium, we have some fun and I forget all about it and just enjoy it. I always ask some tips from him, and he gives me advice in Estonian, which is sometimes really useful for me."
"He's one of my closest friends, so it's always great to compete with somebody that you know so well," Uibo added. "We cheer each other on, so it's pretty fun."
Uibo has two more years of NCAA experience, but Leemet said he is not intimidated by his friend's success.
"Well I'm faster than him," Leemet laughed. "I feel like I can to win all of the events where we have to run against each other. There's not a chance he's beating me. But Maicel is a really good jumper, and he beats me in all of the jumping events. In throwing events, I have a chance in the shot put and javelin, and he's really good at discus."
"He's completely right," Uibo said. "I'm not a very fast guy. The 400 meters is probably my worst event, and he's pretty decent over there. I get a little more leverage in the throws and jumps."
Although he's been at South Carolina for only one semester, Leemet said his experience working with the Gamecock coaching staff, including assistant coach Kevin Brown, has made him a better competitor.
"He's a great coach," Leemet said. "We talk about techniques and how to improve. He sometimes knows when I'm in this mental state where I'm not ready. He gives me this small speech about what I have to do, and it really pumps me up and gets me going. It has definitely helped me a lot. I already see the progress I have made in some technical events. I've developed a lot especially in the pole vault. I've improved by PR (personal record) by 25 centimeters. I've improved my PR in javelin, and I feel like I've gotten a little faster. Overall, I'm improving athletically."
In addition to success at the NCAA level, Leemet hopes he and Uibo will someday be teammates on the Estonian Olympic team.
"It would mean the world to me," Leemet said. "Maicel met the Olympic standard at the SEC meet. So he's already in there, and he's just waiting for me to meet the standard so we can be at the Olympics together. It's a pretty a high score, and I feel like I'm on the right track right now. So it's not mission-impossible for me."
In addition to seeing and competing against his good friend, Leemet is looking forward to his first experience at the NCAA championships at the famous track and field facilities in Oregon, and hoping to leave his own mark.
"I've seen pictures of the stadium and some video clips," Leemet said. "It looks amazing. I've heard the crowd is really supportive, and I like it when the crowd gets behind you. I'm prepared. I feel like we've covered everything, so it's all about staying on track mentally. I'll just do one event at a time, and if I can score a PR, then that's a success."
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