One might suggest that coach Mike Keller has ridden an influx of international athletes to a golden age of Idaho men’s track.
Keller’s imported Vandals were key to last year’s Big Sky Conference outdoor championship, and have once again put Idaho in position to challenge for a team title this weekend in Tempe, Ariz.
But don’t suggest that Keller is new to wooing foreign talent.
“Hey, I’ve even got an international wife,” Keller said. “I recruited her out of Canada.”
The crafty Keller probably didn’t have to come up with tuition and books, either.
The Idaho men head into the Friday-Saturday meet with marks and times that are the best in eight individual events and two relays.
Six of those bests belong to foreign athletes, and both relay teams are composed entirely of international runners.
Ironically, Keller lands so many athletes from so far away because, he said, it’s cheaper.
“When you have a $500 recruiting budget, you can’t really bring people in on trips, but I still want to win and get the best people,” Keller said. “So it’s easier for me to do it all by phone and through connections I’ve made through the years.
“I just can’t see some 25-foot high school long jumper and say, ‘Come visit us, but you’ll have to take the Greyhound out here.”’
Keller made many initial contacts on government-paid trips to track clinics around the world. Other contacts have arisen through his coaching of world decathlon champ Dan O’Brien.
Niels Kruller, who leads the league in the long jump and 100 meters, is from The Netherlands, while other league-leaders include: Tawanda Chiwira of Zimbabwe (400 meters), Frank Bruder of Germany (steeplechase), Paul Thompson of England (intermediate hurdles) and Chris Kwaramba of Zimbabwe (triple jump).
Others expected to be top scorers include Felix Kamamgirira (sprinter from Zimbabwe), Jason St. Hill (sprinter from Barbados), Garth Chadband (sprinter from Trinidad) and Bernd Schroeder (distance runner from Germany).
“They’re all good citizens and good students. I’ve been really happy with them,” Keller said. “Our school is so tough for them to get into. International kids have to have a 2.8 GPA, while we can get a kid from Idaho with a 2.0.”
Financially, the imports face “tariffs.”
“They have to show Immigration that they have $3,000 available to them at home, plus they have to pay for their own insurance here … to show they’re not indigent,” Keller said. “On top of that, the IRS has started taking income tax out of their scholarships, which they don’t do to Americans.”
Always trying to stay ahead of the curve, Keller has come up with a new recruiting method upon which the NCAA has yet to develop a position.
“I’ve got some e-mail contacts now,” he said. “One of my kids made up (an Internet) page for us and we had over 800 bumps on it last month. Hey, when you’ve got 500 bucks to recruit with, you’ve got to look for an edge.”
Americans with a chance to win events for Idaho are high jumper Thad Hathaway and javelin thrower Oscar Duncan. Duncan, from New Jersey, ranks fifth in the nation, although he has been hampered recently with elbow problems.
“If you take all the bests and score 1 through 6, it figures out to be a dead heat between us and Boise,” Keller said of the men’s title chase. “It’s going to take somewhere in the range of 140 points to win it, and it’s going to be tight.”
Eastern Washington has a conference leader on the men’s side in hammer thrower Les Timm, who has thrown 200-5.
Probably the best chance for Idaho and EWU women to break through for a win is EWU sprinter Christian White, ranked third in the 100 and fifth in the 200.
Washington State coach Rick Sloan doesn’t look too hard to find ways to unseat UCLA’s hold on the men’s and women’s Pacific-10 Conference titles.
That is unrealistic. The UCLA men have won four straight, while the women’s unit has taken three consecutive titles.
Sloan’s approach to the Saturday-Sunday meet at UCLA is to concentrate on “putting up the best numbers we can,” he said. “I’d like to finish high, but to me, right now, I’m more concerned with everybody just doing the best they can.
“We have looked a little bit at trying NOT to finish in the cellar on the women’s side, which is going to be pretty hard because there’s some pretty good women’s teams. But we’re competing really well and, hopefully, we can beat somebody.”
Competing best for the Cougars, it appears, is high hurdler Dominique Arnold, who leads the league in his event.
Hilary Mawindi (third in the triple jump) and Ian Waltz (fifth in the discus) are expected to score points, while conference decathlon champ Leo Slack is rated second in the long jump.
The strongest event for the WSU men could be the 800, where the Cougars have defending conference champ Eric Anderson and fourth-rated Rasto Kiplangat.
The WSU women’s best chances ride with freshman Francesca Green, whose windy 11.55 clocking ranks second in the 100 standings. She also leads the league in the long jump at 20-6.
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