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Ulrick will make his pitch for USA’s world track team

It’s difficult to find headroom in anyone’s shadow when you stand 6-foot-6. But Drew Ulrick is breaking out.

The Mead and Washington State graduate has, in the space of a year, powered himself into the conversation of the nation’s best discus throwers, status he’ll try to back up this weekend at the USA Track and Field Championships in Eugene.

A throw of 206 feet earlier this month in Chula Vista, Calif., ranks Ulrick sixth in the nation. That’s a 14-foot improvement since graduating from WSU in 2007, and a big jump even from a year ago when his 198-11 best was just 25th nationally.

He got to that point training in Spokane under Whitworth throws sage Gary Baskett; the rest followed his September move to Phoenix where he’s joined four-time world champion John Godina’s stable at his new World Throws Center.

“I had met John a couple of times through the Ironwood Throws Camp,” said Ulrick. “He definitely knows how to get strong and throw far – he’s one of the best there ever was.”

Under Godina’s program, Ulrick has put on 15 pounds – he’s up to 270 – and slowed his spin for more consistency. He opened the year with a throw within a foot of his 2008 best, then spent six weeks battling a pectoral strain before his blast at Chula Vista.

That made him the fourth Cougar, former or current, to top 200 feet – the shadow in which he’s walked. At WSU, he was continually chasing teammate Matt Lamb; as a post-collegian, he’s trying to break into the company of throwers like Cougar alum Ian Waltz, a three-time U.S. champ and twice an Olympian.

“I’ve never got a taste of the success I thought I should have,” Ulrick said. “I was second at state in high school. At WSU, I trained hard but the best I ever got was fifth in the Pac-10. I’m kind of a late bloomer.

“When John called, he talked about my height being a big advantage and how I’m not even that strong yet and it just seemed like there was a lot of room to improve. Now, another five feet and I can be on the World Championships team.”

The big meet

The top three finishers at the USA meet earn berths to the IAAF World Championships in Berlin in August – providing they’ve met the “A” qualifying standard in their events. Besides Ulrick, 21 other athletes with Inland Northwest ties will be in Eugene.

Two potential favorites will be seeing their first action of the year – American record holder Brad Walker in the pole vault and former WSU heptathlete Diana Pickler. Bernard Lagat, the 2007 world champ in both the 1,500 and 5,000, is entered only in the 800 meters. Two-time NCAA champion Jeshua Anderson of WSU will be trying to make his first worlds team in the 400-meter hurdles.

The little big meet

Concurrent with the USA championships, the USA Junior meet will begin Thursday, with berths to the Pan-Am Juniors in Trinidad next month going to the top two finishers.

Two WSU freshmen would seem to have good chances at qualifying. Courtney Kirkwood is the top-ranked women’s javelin thrower with a best of 170-8, while Joe Abbott has run the second-fastest 800 meters – 1 minutes, 48.97 seconds.

And in Canada

Four athletes with area connections will compete in Athletics Canada’s national championships this weekend in Toronto: WSU grad Anson Henry in the 100, North Idaho alum Crystal Smith (North Idaho) in the hammer and two Idaho hurdlers – assistant coach Angela Whyte and her protégé, Christie Gordon.