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Former Cougars shot-put standout Waltz on top of game

Ian Waltz is getting the feeling that 2004 is his year.

Take last Saturday. At a high-level meet in Provo, Utah – a tuneup for this week’s Olympic Trials – the former Post Falls and Washington State strongman hooked up with the top four discus throwers in the United States this year, led the competition for two rounds, twice slipped to third and finally pulled out a victory over last year’s national champ, Carl Brown, on his final throw.

“What a confidence booster,” he said. “It was really hot and stuffy, the conditions weren’t very good, but it was a great competition – and I think a pretty good indication of what I’m capable of in the Trials.”

But Waltz hasn’t been just a one-meet wonder. He’s thrown 202 feet or beyond in 10 meets this season, topped by a personal record 212-3 six weeks ago in Salinas, his first PR since he uncorked a school-record 211-5 his junior year at WSU in 1998 – in that very same ring at Hartnell College. He has the No. 6 throw in the country this year – and No. 7 is nearly six feet back.

The improvement in both distance and consistency is due, he believes, to his acceptance as a resident at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., where he’s come under the watch of coach Brooks Johnson. He still works part-time at a Rite-Aid – and has been accepted at WSU’s pharmacy school next year – but no longer has to worry about school considerations, square meals or getting to competitions.

“I’ve had my ups and downs since college,” said Waltz, a seven-time All-American and three-time Pac-10 champ. “I was third in the U.S. championships two years ago, but sixth last year – but I had my appendix out 10 days before the meet. But I haven’t really had good seasons. I was working my butt off training and going to school and I wasn’t seeing the results.”

Waltz had moved to Boise after graduation in 2000 to train with friend Jarred Rome under Boise State coach Mike Maynard, but that relationship fell apart and “sort of left us on our own.” Under Johnson’s tutelage, Waltz finds himself making as many as 50 full throws a day, twice what he did before, and experimenting with different pliometric techniques. Meanwhile, his strength has improved – he bench-presses more than 550 pounds and cleans more than 400.

“It used to be I was just competing with everybody,” he said. “Now I feel I can beat the top people in the U.S., even when my body isn’t feeling good or I’m having a bad day. That’s what Brooks preaches – ‘win on a bad day.’ I just think I can get up any time and go throw far.

“The Olympics have been a dream since I realized I was good in the sport. I can almost taste it, it’s so close.”

– John Blanchette