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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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'Enemies with benefits'

"ESPN The Magazine" feature includes key segment by Minnesota State Mankato sport psychology consultant Cindra Kamphoff.

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In a Feb. 20th “ESPN The Magazine” feature article titled “Enemies With Benefits” – a story about how two one-time “best friends” have now become bitter rivals in the elite sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) – the writer notes:As seen so often across sports, there is nothing nastier than a rivalry that ensues from a messy divorce – be it between former friends, a mentor and a pupil or, in the case of Evans and Jones (the primary subjects of the story), both.”

The dynamics of what ensues when onetime friends become competitors focuses first on the MMA feud and then branches out to look at similar rivalries in other sports.  That, in turn, led to Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Cindra Kamphoff being prominently quoted in the article. 

Kamphoff, who is an Associate Professor of Sport and Exercise Psychology and Graduate Coordinator in MSU Mankato’s Department of Human Performance, specializes in sport psychology among runners.  At the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in January, Kamphoff was fascinated as she watched those kinds of dynamics unfold on the streets of Houston, according to ESPN Senior Writer Ryan McGee, author of the story.

Kamphoff … sees a surprising number of similarities between MMA and the tranquil world of track and field, McGee wrote.   Both are built around training camps, where prickliness and pecking orders lurk within every supposedly close relationship. Kamphoff has studied siblings, friends, training partners and, most recently, former teammates Amy Hastings and Desiree Davila.

Throughout their time as All-Americans at powerhouse Arizona State, Hastings was always No. 1, with Davila right behind. It was simply their accepted place in the running world.

But last April, with Hastings sitting out the Boston Marathon, Davila seized on the chance to compete without her overshadowing teammate. Davila came within two seconds of pulling off an upset win, which set the scene for a dramatic reorder of the marathon universe when they faced off in Houston. "Watching them prior to the race, they joked and said their hellos and good-lucks before the start," Kamphoff says. "Then you could see them working to disconnect from the emotion of it all."

Powered by newfound confidence, with their days of wearing the same ASU uniform three years in the rearview mirror, Davila finished in second place, 17 seconds behind winner Shalane Flanagan, to make the U.S. Olympic team for London; Hastings, one of the prerace favorites, placed fourth, one spot away from qualifying her for the Games. At the news conference afterward, Davila sat beside Hastings and at one point shot her ex-teammate a sympathetic "I'm sorry" look as she told the media, "You have to break people like Amy, unfortunately."

That's what athletes call a game face, Kamphoff says.

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