Centerville standout wins decathlon gold for Puerto Rico at Canada

Yariel Soto of Centerville High School has fully embraced the role of decathlon ambassador. But winning over his Elks teammates is a stretch.

“They see how crazy I am and how much it hurts,” said the Puerto Rico native who’ll be a senior. “I’ve had a good amount of younger athletes coming into middle school and high school asking me about the decathlon. Their coaches have asked if I could talk to them. It’s great.”

»STATE TRACK: Minster girls win, Centerville, Dunbar boys second

Soto capped an incredible track and field season by winning the U20 decathlon in the recent Pan American Combined Events Cup at Ottawa, Canada. His point total and combined runner-up in the New Balance Nationals Outdoor decathlon at Greensboro, North Carolina, vaulted him to No. 1 among U.S. junior decathletes.

That sudden surge began when Soto made an unlikely sweep of the pole vault and long jump in the Division I state track and field meet at Columbus in early June.

»RELATED: State meet photo gallery, Day 1

His recruiting status also has soared. Coaches from the University of Tennessee were scheduled to make a home visit to the Soto family this weekend. He also has interest in Michigan and Arkansas. All three collegiate programs are established NCAA men’s and women powers.

“The order that everything fell, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” said Soto.

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The decathlon is not contested among U.S. high schools, but is a staple of summer Olympic Games. Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey, Bruce Jenner and most recently Ashton Eaton (Rio 2016) all have captured the nation’s attention for winning the 10-event grind at the highest level.

That’s what Soto did in his first international competition, which also served as Canada’s track and field national championships. The Pan America Combined Events Cup was an International Association of Athletics Federations-sponsored event that featured the best men (decathlon) and women (five-event heptathlon) in the Western Hemisphere.

»RELATED: State meet photo gallery, Day 1

Held at the Terry Fox Athletics Facility at Mooney’s Bay from July 3-4, Soto bested the field in the long jump (23 feet, 4 inches), 400 (50.46) and pole vault (14-9). He also had personal-bests in the 100 (11.19) and the javelin (148-3). He credited pre-meet training with former Centerville track and field great Carla Battaglia-Greene for a nearly 10-meter improvement in the javelin.

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Competitors collect points for each event, based on a sliding scale to the current world record in each event. Soto had 6,997 points to win gold at Canada. He totaled a career-best 7,025 points at the New Balance event.

For comparison, Eaton set the decathlon world record of 9,045 points in the 2015 World Championships at Beijing. Mathias swept Olympic gold in the 1948 London Games as a teen with 7,139 points and again in the 1952 Helsinki Games (7,829).

Soto, a solid 5 feet 11 and 165 pounds, competes in indoor and outdoor track and field only for the Elks. He’ll break from training until late August, then resume a progressive regimen of running and perfecting the various field events.

He estimated he runs about 10 miles weekly. Most of that is a series of 600-500-400-300 meter repeats on a track at nearly all-out pace. As the weather warms, he’ll shorten the distance and cut recovery time.

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He was spectacular at state, winning the long jump (24-2.75) and pole vault (15-6) nearly simultaneously. The events were anchored across from each other at the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium track at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Soto toggled between the events, wooing spectators with every jump. Centerville placed second as a team.

His goal as a senior is to defend those two state titles, add another in the 400 and set a record in the pole vault, which is currently 17-2.

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“It’ll be fun to try and get that state record in pole vault next year,” he said. “With some of the jumps I’ve had in practice recently, I think I’m definitely capable. It’s all a matter of getting on the right poles and connecting, but I think it’ll happen.”


Centerville High School senior

Personal track and field bests:

100: 11.19

Long jump: 24-2.75

Shot put: 38-7

400: 49.25

110-high hurdles: 15.50

Discus: 125-0

Pole vault: 15-9

Javelin: 148-3

High jump: 6-4

1,500: 4:35.00

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