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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Excelling in every facet of the heptathlon requires a well-rounded athlete.

The Gators have just that in Gray Horn.

The heptathlon consists of seven events — the long jump, the shot put, the high jump, the pole vault, 60-meter hurdles, and sprints of 60m and 1000m — and Florida’s junior athlete had a record-breaking weekend at the Texas A&M Challenge in College Station, Texas.

With the performance Saturday, Horn qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships.

He will be joined by junior jumper Will Claye, who qualified thanks to a 16.86m/55-3.25 mark in the triple jump, which was good enough to earn him a victory Saturday.

Horn’s score (5,747 points), the second-highest mark in school history, was boosted by a UF-record 3,242 first-day points in his first four events Friday.

“He’s been training all year, and he’s very focused,” coach Mike Holloway said. “Our goal and our focus is to be ready for the conference and national meets. We’re confident Gray’s going to be able to do that.”

In addition to breaking his own first-day school heptathlon point record, Horn recorded career-best marks in the 60-meter sprint (6.98 seconds) and the shot put (13.41m/44-0).

“It just feels good to know that a long fall of work came together at the right time, and it ended up being a success for me,” Horn said. “It’s very, very evident right now that my hard work is paying off.”

Horn and Claye recorded two of the No. 2 men’s team’s four victories this weekend and will join jumper Omar Craddock at the national meet.

The Florida men’s team started the season as the nation’s top-ranked squad but fell to No. 2 after the Nittany Lion Challenge on Jan.15.

“We have a huge target on our back because of who we are,” Horn said. “So far this season, we’re still learning how to handle that.

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“I feel like sometimes we’ll show up to meets and just feel like we’re the best (team) here, which means we’re going to automatically do our best just because we’re the best.”

The Gators will be defending their 2010 NCAA men’s indoor championship at the national meet this season against many of the same teams they faced Friday and Saturday.

Ten of the 16 schools competing at the Texas A&M Challenge on both the men’s and women’s sides were ranked in the top 25 going into the competition. Additionally, three teams on the men’s side (No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Texas A&M, and No. 4 Texas Tech) were ranked in the nation’s top five.

Holloway said the Gators were focusing on themselves heading into the meet, but Horn took notice of the talent around him.

“There are a lot of great teams around the country — Texas A&M is one of them and we’re here competing against them right now,” he said. “I feel like our team needs to get a little more fire into them. …I see the talent all around us.

“Now, we’ve just got to find something to light that fire to take that next step and become unstoppable.”

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