Blount County burst

Rainer, Chernikow spark ETSU to first outdoor crown

By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Just winning the 1500 meters wasn’t going to be enough.

Nic Chernikow needed a knockout.

The East Tennessee State University freshman entered the final event of the decathlon at last weekend’s Atlantic Sun Conference championships needing to make up 300 points on Gardner-Webb’s Elliot Haynie.

"I knew I was down going into that," Chernikow, a Heritage High School product, said. "I knew I had some catching up to do. My coach told me it was doable, (that) I could make it up in the 1500."

Sprinting the final lap, Chernikow turned in a winning time of 4 minutes, 43.66 seconds at Johnson City’s Liberty Bell Track, finishing more than a minute faster than Haynie, enough to win the 10-event, two-day endurance test by nine points. James Rainer took it from there.

The ETSU redshirt senior led a Buccaneer blitz of the 100 and 200 meters, with teammates Derek Carey and Johnny Tucker, second and third, respectively, following Rainer over the line in both events. With Rainer also anchoring a winning 4x100-meter relay, ETSU went on to claim its first-ever outdoor track and field title to go with an indoor championship won earlier this spring.

"That (dominating the sprints) was our plan going in," Rainer said.

Chernikow’s last-gasp win in the decathlon helped make sure it would be the finishing stroke.

"He showed up big," Rainer said.

Chernikow and Rainer are at opposite ends of their careers as Buccaneers. Rainer, the school record holder at 100 meters, graduated with a degree in education last week. It was one of his proudest moments, he said, excepting the fact his older sister wasn’t there to see it.

Sheree Bass succumbed to a long battle with cancer in January. She was 34.

"I took a week off (after her passing)," Rainer said. "It’s been pretty rough for me mentally and emotionally."

Rainer was a three-time state champion in the 100 at Alcoa, twice winning the 200. His best times for the events — 10.5 for the 100, 21.4 in the 200 — remain school records.

At last year’s NCAA Mid-East Regional Championships in Knoxville, Rainer set a new Buccaneer standard for the 100 at 10.16, in the process becoming the first ETSU track and field athlete since 2000 to qualify for the national championships.

Having already achieved a qualifying time for this year’s regional, Rainer said he’s hoping it’s all a springboard for a shot at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

"My plan is to train hard this summer and maybe go to a couple of meets overseas," he said. "I got a glimpse of (running at Olympic pace) last year. I’m ready. We’ll see."

In the interim, he said he’s considering graduate school.

With wins in the 400, high jump, long jump and shot put, to go with a second place showing in 100, Chernikow took the decathlon with 5,765 points. It was a satisfying end to what’s been a tough two years for the former Mountaineer.

"It’s amazing how it’s all worked out and fallen into place for me," he said.

Chernikow spent the 2005-06 school year at the University of Tennessee. He was done with sports, he said. He’d compiled a 3.9 grade point average his senior year at Heritage. He wanted to be an engineer.

It wasn’t long before his GPA was in a tailspin, he said. He lost his lottery scholarship. Without athletics, he found it difficult to focus.

Enter Buccaneer junior and former Heritage Mountaineer Shane Estes.

"I talked to Shane, and he said, ‘Our coach is going to be at UT (for meet),’ Chernikow said. "‘You should go meet him.’

"They didn’t have any scholarship money, so I knew I’d have to walk on."

In preparation for the move to Johnson City, Chernikow said he hit the weights. He’d weighed 155 pounds during his football and track career at Heritage. Before leaving Knoxville, he’d bumped that number as high as 190 before trimming to his current competition weight of 170.

"I began lifting at UT and put on 30 pounds in one semester," Chernikow said. "I really put on a lot of weight and added a lot of strength."

Chernikow set the stage for last weekend’s decathlon with a third place finish in the heptathlon at the conference indoors. Haynie delivered a rude shock in the 400 at the meet.

"I learned a lot competing against him," Chernikow said. "He beat me indoors. I underestimated him really bad."

Leading by 178 points after Day 1, Chernikow knew he was behind entering the final event of the decathlon. He just didn’t know by how much. Prior to the 1500, he asked his coaches not to tell him, either.

"It kind of added to the excitement not knowing," he said.

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