Hilary Mawindi has a career best of 52 feet, 2 inches in the triple jump, not counting the one that took him from his native Zimbabwe to Eastern Kentucky University and ultimately Washington State.
At age 22, he is the youngest of five children, yet older than his country - Zimbabwe turns 17 later this month.
His perspective is fresh.
“To a certain point, the freedom you guys have here is good,” said Mawindi, WSU’s leading man in the triple and long jumps. “You get to go out there in the world, it’s like a trial-and-error type of thing, test what you like and test what you don’t like.”
Mawindi generally likes what he has found in America, Northwest winters aside. His education is paid for, there are track meets on the weekends and the local supermarkets stock corn meal, a welcome reminder of the African diet.
“The thing I don’t like is maybe, to a certain extent, eating habits,” Mawindi mused. “Junk food. It’s like, c’mon, let’s go and get a burger.”
The gateway grub.
“My old roommates would say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to order pizza - try some, it’s good,”’ Mawindi said. “And then from there, it’s like, ‘Pizza? We’re going to go to Taco Time, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Baskin-Robbins.’
“Most of it, I’ve never seen it in my whole life before, so it was a new thing altogether. I think the eating habits, you have to kind of watch out. I never really used to care about this fat thing.”
Mawindi’s cultural and dietary support group includes WSU teammates Eric Kamau, Rasto Kiplangat and Bernard Lagat. They room together, three Kenyans and a Zimbabwean.
The corn meal is good, as Mawindi’s 5-foot-10, 166-pound frame attests. So is the level of athletic competition, although that wasn’t always the case.
Three years ago, Mawindi left Gweru, his hometown and Zimbabwe’s third-largest city, to pursue a business major and collegiate track career in the United States. Eastern Kentucky seemed as good a place as anywhere.
“When you’re back home,” Mawindi explained, “you just want to try to step your foot in the water.”
He would soon learn that the Ohio Valley Conference didn’t hold much of it, so he decided to transfer after one year.
In looking for another school, Mawindi contacted Chris Kwaramba, a boyhood friend and competitor who had settled in as a leading jumper at the University of Idaho.
Mawindi might have joined Kwaramba in Moscow, had the Vandals been looking for another jumper. Instead, WSU became an unsuspecting beneficiary.
“He fell right in our lap,” WSU coach Rick Sloan said, “and he’s really doing the things we thought he was capable of doing.”
Through three meets this outdoor season, Mawindi is already a provisional qualifier in the triple jump, although he needs to improve upon his 52-2 to ensure a trip to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June.
He’ll get such a chance when Oregon and Idaho visit for Saturday’s dual meet at Mooberry Track. Mawindi is also entered in the long jump.
For the first time since suffering a hamstring injury during the indoor season, Idaho sprinter Montrell Williams is healthy enough for competition.
The two-time former Big Sky Conference champion is entered in Saturday’s 100 and 200 meters but will be held out of the relays for at least another week.
WSU will also be short-handed. Decathlete Leo Slack remains troubled by a shoulder injury and will not compete, while women’s star Francesca Green is doubtful with an injured toe. Men’s high jumper Chris Mosley has an injured patellar tendon and is out for the season. He is expected to petition for a medical redshirt.
Taking Ducks the distance
Oregon remains strong in the distance races, making strategy especially important for Sloan and the Cougars.
“We’ve tried to utilize our people in a way that maybe we can win the 800 (Kiplangat), 1,500 (Kamau) and 5,000 (Lagat),” Sloan said. “If we can win those, then we outscore them in those events. Those will be critical areas for us to be competitive in the meet.”
Former Mead High stars Rob Aubrey and Micah Davis are among Oregon’s distance threats.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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