Some competitors appeared tense, succumbing to the pressure of the Pacific-10 Conference Track and Field Championships.
Others were simply outclassed.
Ian Waltz, in contrast, exuded the focus of a man attempting to bend cold steel - supremely intense when he needed to be, and in complete control.
The Washington State University sophomore and Post Falls native won the shot put competition Saturday in Husky Stadium with a thoroughly convincing performance, posting the afternoon’s top four throws while becoming an automatic qualifier for next month’s NCAA Championships in Indianapolis.
Waltz, the Pac-10’s third-ranked shot putter coming in, set a personal record with his final throw of 61 feet, 8-1/4 inches - the exact distance needed to guarantee an NCAA berth.
“Last year, I was pretty nervous because it was my first year and all,” said Waltz, whose previous PR was 61-7. “But this year, I’ve learned to calm down.”
Shortly after Waltz completed his equally calm victory “lap,” which amounted to a 200-meter jog around the west end of the stadium, teammate Hilary Mawindi added the long jump title to the Cougars’ modest first-day take.
Mawindi jumped 25 feet, 2-1/2 inches to easily outdistance runner-up Kedjeloba Mambo of USC, who went 24-3.
“I started out with a 23-footer and things were not going as well,” said Mawindi, who recently set the Zimbabwean record with a leap of 25-6-1/2. “I didn’t have a great jump when we had a dual meet here and I thought it was deja vu.
“So after that, I went to adjust my run-up and all I did was just run up there and go for it.”
Washington’s Ed Turner, the Pac-10’s second-ranked long jumper behind Mawindi during the season, finished sixth after fouling on his final two jumps.
WSU junior Rasto Kiplangat also endured a frustrating afternoon. For the second straight season, he failed to qualify for the 800-meter final. Kiplangat surrendered the lead in his heat with 200 meters left and faded to fourth place. His time of 1 minute, 53.46 seconds was more than 5 seconds slower than the season-best he ran last week.
If Saturday was disappointing for Turner and Kiplangat, it could not have been more gratifying for Waltz. As a provisional qualifier in the discus last year and in the shot put this past indoor season, Waltz had twice been excluded from nationals when the NCAA made its cutoff directly above his name.
As an automatic qualifier, he’ll have no such worries this time. “Ian is a really strong competitor, but he becomes even a stronger competitor when he gets into the thick of things,” WSU throws coach Debra Lombardi said. “Him being at nationals now, and not having to wait for the NCAA committee to make a decision, he can start focusing on that.”
Waltz showed improvement on each of his final five throws Saturday, and four were good enough to beat runner-up Travis Haynes of UCLA.
“That’s a pretty strong statement,” WSU coach Rick Sloan said.
Haynes had entered the meet as the Pac-10’s second-ranked shot putter, behind teammate Wade Tift. But Haynes could do no better than 59-9-1/2. Tift settled for third at 59-7-3/4. Waltz, Haynes and Tift resume their rivalry next season - all are sophomores.
Led by Waltz, Mawindi and third-place javelin finisher Matt Stadelman, the WSU men scored 32 points. That was good for seventh place in the eight-team field, although it was only three points from fifth-place USC.
Oregon leads with 55 points, followed by Cal (46.5) and Arizona (43.5).
The WSU women, meanwhile, scored just eight points and sit in last place - 60 points behind leader UCLA. They figure to fare better today, when the sprint finals are contested.
WSU has three women each in the 100 and 200 finals, led by Tamika Brown. The junior posted the day’s second-best time in each event, including a personal-record 24.02 in the 200.
WSU freshmen Attrina Higgins and Sharika Higgins join Brown in today’s 100 final, while Brown, Attrina Higgins and freshman LaTroya Mucker qualified in the 200. Mucker also made the 400 final, running a 53.90 that was a PR by .66 seconds.
Other WSU notables: Sophomore Bernard Lagat, the 1,500 favorite, qualified first in 3:45.09; freshman Alishia Booterbaugh made the 800 final with a 2:08.02 that was a PR by more than 2 seconds, and senior Anne Hobbs qualified in the 1,500 with a 4:29.53, also a PR by more than 2 seconds.
Davis slips to fourth
Former Mead High star Micah Davis was on his way to victory in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, and then he wasn’t.
“They caught me probably 2 meters before the finish,” said Davis, an Oregon sophomore. “When they went around me, it was really too late for me to react. They had the momentum.”
Not that Davis was particularly disappointed. He had run a strong race, even if his finishing time of 8 minutes, 48.51 seconds did nothing to improve his standing on the list of NCAA provisional qualifiers.
Arizona’s Jon Pillow was an upset winner in 8:48.17, just ahead of Washington’s Christian Belz.
Oregon junior Rob Aubrey, also from Mead, was fourth in 8:55.70.
Acuff nails quad
UCLA high jumper Amy Acuff capped her brilliant college career with an unprecedented fourth straight Pac-10 women’s title.
Acuff, having recovered from a serious ankle injury suffered during last year’s Olympic Trials, cleared 6-2-3/4 to edge Arizona freshman Erin Aldrich (6-1-1/2).
It was enough to win, but not close to the 6-6 standard Acuff set at the Pac-10 meet two years ago.
Strand fouls out
Men’s hammer favorite Justin Strand, the Stanford junior from Gonzaga Prep, did not make the finals after fouling all three preliminary attempts.
Arizona sophomore Tapio Kolunsarka won the event with a throw of 222-3. Washington State freshman B.J. Schade was eighth (190-4).
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