August 3, 2015 12:30:07 PM
STARKVILLE -- There were times this summer when Erica Bougard left the Mississippi State track discouraged after a long practice.
Many of the events that make up the heptathlon come easy to the Southeastern Conference champion. But there are two -- the javelin and the shot put -- that usually get the best of her.
This summer, Bougard has taken steps to improve in both. It has been taxing.
"I've put so much work into it," Bougard said. "Hours and hours. Going to practice and leaving frustrated because I didn't get it one day and I had to come back and do it again.
"I just get really frustrated and then I just really have to get back into it. I have to motivate myself because I know I need those two events to get better in my (heptathlon)."
Bougard has worked on those events for the last couple of years, but the summer provides her extra time to practice both.
"Summertime provides an opportunity and time to be able to work on a lot of technical aspects of those throws," MSU coach Steve Dudley said. "There's only so much time we get during the regular year when you've got all the other stuff going on."
In May, Bougard set the SEC Championships meet record in the heptathlon with a score of 6,250 points. She placed first in five events -- 100-meter hurdles, high jump, 200, long jump, and 800 -- but finished 10th in the javelin (103 feet, 10 inches) and eighth in the shot put (38-4).
She finished fourth in the heptathlon at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon, in June.
The next week, the Byhalia native finished third in the heptathlon at the Senior USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Eugene. Bougard placed 10th and 16th in the javelin and shot put, respectively, but she improved her distance in the javelin (127-2). She had a throw of 32-8 1/2 in the shot put.
"Before USAs, I was really working hard at the (javelin) and it showed," Bougard said. "I had a big improvement. I had a big (personal record) of 38 meters, when I usually throw around 24, 26 meters. That made me feel more confident about my (javelin).
"I'm just trying to get my strength up for shot put because I know I'm missing a lot of points in the shot."
Bougard's third-place finish earned her a spot on Team USA and a chance to compete in the International Association of Athletics Federation World Championships later this month in Beijing, China. She will continue to practice at MSU until Sunday, when she leaves for China.
"I need a huge push," Bougard said. "I'm trying to stay motivated. It's like I'm the only person here practicing every day in the hot sun. I just try to motivate myself and I think about the end results and I could be great. I just think about what happens at the end and how good it feels to accomplish something this big."
Much like her college career, Bougard relied on the running and jumping events when she was in high school or competed at Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) meets.
But her college coaches began to stress the importance of the javelin and shot put if she wanted to finish higher.
"You can't be totally bad on a few of them and totally great at the others," Dudley said. "Somehow you've got to spend some time and effort on making sure the throw gets a little better."
Bougard felt the pressure from her coaches to get better at the events. She said it became too much at one point, but assistant coach Steve Thomas stepped in at the right time. She found his coaching to be comforting and a big help.
"He just pulled me aside and we just worked one day at a time trying to get better at one event," Bougard said.
Along with practicing the javelin and the shot put, Bougard has put in time in the weight room to add upper body strength. She has seen other heptathletes and knows they have an advantage over her in the javelin and the shot put because of their upper body strength.
"You have to be really strong in your upper body, and I'm not really strong in my upper body," Bougard said. "I just feel like I'm one of the smaller heptathletes there is. It's just harder for me to throw than it is for them to throw."
Bougard's concentration on the javelin and the shot put hasn't taken away from the other events in the heptathlon.
"Every day I come in and we do two or three events," she said. "Whichever event I'm doing, I like to focus on it at that moment and time and try to get better at it. It's not really hard to balance a lot of things in one day."
Ben Wait is a sports writer for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
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