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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Mardal’s journey to glory

Thomas Mardal capped off his collegiate career June 9, earning his first NCAA Outdoor title

Florida's Thomas Mardal competes during the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships on Thursday, February 25, 2021 at Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark. / UAA Communications photo by Alex de la Osa
Florida's Thomas Mardal competes during the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships on Thursday, February 25, 2021 at Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark. / UAA Communications photo by Alex de la Osa

In just one day, Florida track and field star Thomas Mardal hoisted both a 16-pound hammer and an NCAA National Championship trophy.

Mardal hurled the hammer 76.74 meters (251-9) away to win him his first national outdoor title, one final accolade in a decorated career and senior season.

On June 9, the senior thrower ended his collegiate career as a two-time track and field national champion and four-time SEC title holder. He is nothing short of a beast on the field. 

Yet the most impressive aspect about Mardal’s career isn’t the impeccable resume or shelf of titles — those close to him say it’s his focus. 

He doesn’t boast about his success or brag about titles or honors. The Norwegian said he doesn’t even stop to bask in the glory after a win. Instead, he looks ahead.  

“As soon as I'm done with one meet, my focus is sort of on the next one,” Mardal said. “I'm like, ‘Okay, that was good. I did my job. But now, focus on the next thing.’”

Florida’s associate head track and field coach Steve Lemke said Mardal is a hard worker with a willingness to get better. His focus complements his consistent determination. 

“He’s very focused, he’s very determined, he’s very intense,” Lemke said. “That doesn’t change from day-to-day.” 

Lemke first saw Mardal compete in-person at the World Junior Championships in Poland, but Thomas wasn’t the first of the Mardals he met. Lemke met his father, Ole Morten Mardal — a former long jumper —  about 25 years earlier when he was the national senior and junior throws coach in Norway. 

“I knew the family, so I knew what we were getting,” Lemke said.  

Mardal’s father had him playing sports as soon as he could walk. His initial focus centered around running and jumping events, mirroring Ole’s career. 

But Mardal developed knee pain from his training when he was about 14 years old. Instead of an early retirement, he began to work with coach Jørund Årdal, who helped him with all things throwing, and took up discus throwing.

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When Mardal met Lemke in Poland, he knew if he wanted to continue, he’d have to move away from his small, west-coast Norwegian village. Lemke and the Gators offered a path.

“When I was on my visit [at UF], I really liked it,” he said. “I basically made the decision that I wanted to come over here and experience a few years in the heat.” 

Mardal threw discus competitively for five years from the age of 14 to 19. He competed for UF in the discus throw in 2018, where he placed 13th at SEC Outdoors. 

Mardal then transitioned to the hammer throw at 19 years old, soon realizing that type of training  clicked for him. 

“When I train for indoors, it's a lot of specific strength,” Mardal said. “Once we got outdoors with the hammer, it's more about still keeping as much of the strength as possible but also getting a little faster.”

For a thrower, Lemke said Mardal is very fast.

“He’s got a lot of fast twitch in him, and that’s something you either have or you don’t have, and he has it,” Lemke said.

Thomas Mardal track national championship.JPG
Florida’s Thomas Mardal poses with his NCAA Indoor national champion trophy during the first day at the NCAA Indoor Championships on Thursday, March 11, 2021 at Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark. Mardal won the NCAA indoor weight throw. / UAA Communications photo by Rick Hurtado

Despite living in the Swamp for four years, Mardal said he hasn’t explored much of Gainesville. He spends most of his time on campus either studying for his Business Administration degree or training for his next competition, occasionally venturing outside for a stroll. 

“I like to go on walks around campus,” Mardal said, “especially in the evenings when it's not super hot.” 

Once the pandemic struck, Mardal’s routine was dismantled. He went from studying at Library West and practicing at James G. Pressly Stadium to secluding himself in his dorm and training alone.  

“It seemed like everyone was just kind of jumping on the first plane and really stressing about getting home to their home countries,” he said. “I figured I would rather wait for things to calm down a little bit.”

From March to early May 2020, he stuck it out in Gainesville. It wasn’t easy. With facilities closed, Mardal struggled to train like he used to, but he didn’t stop. 

“It was hard because it wasn't necessarily set up easy for us to train in that time because everything was closed,” he said. “It's more about just doing what I could with what I had available.”

Mardal returned home to Gloppen, Norway in May where he was able to train with fewer COVID-19 restrictions. His dad helped set up a makeshift weight room in their garage back home. Once Mardal finished his throws for the day, he had the space to lift. 

“That was a bit of a lifesaver,” Mardal said. 

With his training schedule intact, the pandemic didn’t set back the thrower. Rather, Mardal had his most successful year coming out of COVID-19. 

He entered his senior season with two SEC titles already under his belt. He ended it with two more SEC titles and two NCAA titles. Yet, he still only considers himself a slightly better hammer thrower than when he started. 

“Coach Lemke here at UF kind of took me from a rough thrower, technically, to at least a slightly better hammer thrower now,” he said. “We've made quite a bit of development through the last four years.”

On Feb. 25, he clinched his second indoor regional title in the weight throw, his third championship overall. Mardal won his first national championship in the same event less than a month later on March 11 when he broke the school’s weight throw record with a 24.46 meter (80-3 ¾) heave.  

Mardal launched the weight more than 80 feet twice at the national event, becoming the first person in NCAA Indoor Championship history and the second in collegiate history to do so.  

Then came the gold in the outdoor regional for the hammer throw on May 13, which led to his second national title at NCAA Outdoors June 9. Mardal broke a second school record, this time in the hammer throw, with a 76.74 meter (251-9) hurl. He shattered that record three separate times in 2021 alone. 

While the national titles and records draw the most eyes to his resume, Mardal said his most surprising gold-medal moment was his first regional title. He won the title on his final throw of the day, unlocking his then-personal record of 73 meters (239-6) and out-throwing Georgia’s defending champion Denzel Comenentia. 

“That was probably the most fun thing that I've had to win here,” Mardal said. 

Even after he heard his name announced for the first time as a national champion in March, Mardal’s deferential nature shone through. He thought of the win more as something he had to do. 

“I kind of came in as the favorite so it wasn't sort of like an overachievement,” he said. “I did what I was supposed to do.”

With his collegiate career coming to a close, Mardal is excited for the time off to immerse himself into nature further than his evening campus strolls. He said he likes to go on hikes and wants to try hunting as well. 

“Back where I'm from, [hunting is] kind of a big thing, he said. “But it's all things that I haven't really had the time to do.”

After the time off, Mardal will chase his next goal: success on the global stage. He wants to make the Olympics or World Championships. His 76.74m hammer throw record would have finished fourth in the 2016 Olympics.

In his 16 years at UF, Lemke said he hasn’t had an athlete in throwing events who’s been as focused and intense with his training as Mardal is. Those types of athletes, he said, come very few and far in between. 

“Every day has been a pleasure because you got a guy coming out that’s trying to get better every day even though he’s got the farthest throw in the NCAA,” Lemke said. “That’s a credit to Thomas.”

Contact Kaitlyn Wadulack at Follow her on Twitter at @kwadulack.

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