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By Randy York
Björn Barrefors (pronounced Bih-yurn BAR-eh-FORSH) is a winsome Nebraska heptathlete/decathlete from Stockholm, Sweden. He can high jump 6-9, pole vault 16-8¾ and long jump 24-2. He can sprint, hurdle, run and throw the shot put, discus and the javelin. He's been a Big 12 champion combination-event athlete and an NCAA All-American. The senior Computer Science major is also a first-team CoSIDA Academic All-American. He's a driven student-athlete, a communicative leader and a caring person. A Co-President of Nebraska's 2011-12 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Barrefors even reaches out to the community.
Barrefors is popular, well-rounded, confident, self-assured, and, for as long as he can remember, he's felt that track and field is far more an individual sport than a team sport. Over the weekend, however, his international attitude changed after he experienced his first Big Ten Conference meet with his coach, Kris Grimes. In Friday's heptathlon competition, Barrefors struggled mightily. Fortunately, he bounced back Saturday to finish second in his indoor specialty.
"I want to thank Coach Grimes for helping me come back like I did," Barefors said after finishing behind Wisconsin's Japheth Cato, but ahead of talented athletes from Minnesota, Michigan State and Ohio State. "Coach and I have had a pretty interesting relationship. I'm one who doesn't want much coaching, and I pretty much do most of the work myself. I've always related my performance to that. But yesterday, for some reason, I couldn't get out of my own head. So I asked Coach Grimes two questions: Where's the wisdom? And what kind of advice do you have for me? He laid out all of the events facing me and reminded me how I had practiced for each one of them. Then he told me: 'Do what we've practiced for. Don't think about it. Just do it.' It was great advice, exactly what I needed to hear. It forced me to go back and process every single thing I'd done in practice."
Barrefors knew things were changing when his personal best 16-8¾ vault Saturday was eight inches higher than his previous best. "We had four All-Americans from the Big 12 in combined events last year, so I was kind of thinking the Big Ten might be pretty easy. Nope. Not even close to true," he said. "The ironic thing is the Big Ten, not the Big 12, has the deepest talent and the highest level of performance in the country this year for combination-event athletes." Overconfidence was lesson #1 of the weekend for Barrefors. Lesson #2 was changing his mind about something he's never really bought into. "I grew up with the European mentality that track is an individual sport, and the team means almost nothing," he said. "But I've turned my head a little bit on that. So many of us (men) fought so hard to win this meet, and we didn't. I'm glad the women did. This is really a special place, and the team means a lot." That's why Barrefors is committing to a team-first goal - winning the Big Ten Men's Outdoor Championships May 11-13 at Wisconsin. Now that he's wiser, Barrefors sees his sport differently, sees himself differently and most important of all, he sees his team differently.
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