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Steve Christilaw: Top track, field athletes poised to break records

If you sniff the air, you can smell it hanging on the breeze.

It’s the smell of records ripe to be broken.

The end of the high school track and field season is like a cook reducing a sauce to concentrate flavors. Each meet in the postseason gets tougher and tougher, while the competition gets stronger with each passing heat.

The best competitors, like cream, rise to the top.

Some records are more ripe for breaking than others – just ask West Valley alums Lisa Taplett, Julie Rowse, Amy Larson and Debbie Haag.

In 1983 that quartet of sprinters ran the 4x200 meter relay faster than any group of Eagles had ever run that distance, finishing in 1 minute, 46 seconds.

How long ago was that?

The first flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger happened earlier in 1983, and a month after this group set the WV school record the late Sally Ride would become the first U.S. woman to go into space aboard that same ship. Three years later the Challenger exploded moments after it launched.

Michael Jackson debuted both “Billie Jean” and the moonwalk in March 1983 and in May kids like Taplett, Rowse, Larson and Haag were lined up at theaters to see the final installment of the original Star Wars trilogy: “Return of the Jedi.”

Spokane’s own Tom Sneva would win the Indianapolis 500 in May, and as a measure of just how much has changed in the last 33 years, the NBA finals in 1983 featured the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Kareem and Magic, and the Julius Erving-led Philadelphia 76ers. Oh, and the Sixers swept the finals in four games.

Oh, and the Seattle Mariners were busy finishing last in the American League West in 1983, 39 games out of first.

For the last 33 years the names of Taplett, Rowse, Larson and Haag have hung on the WV wall of honor with the rest of the school’s track and field record holders – not the oldest records on the wall, but venerable nonetheless.

Gary Whitmore, Class of 1957, ran the 220 (yards) in 21.8 seconds, which converts to a school record 22.04 over 200 meters, making it the oldest West Valley track record on the books. And it will remain on the wall for at least another year. Senior Zech Herford ran the 200m in 22.26 in a dual meet with Cheney and likely would have broken it, but he’s not running that particular race in the postseason, concentrating instead on the 100, where he’s run 10.62, and a pair of relays.

There is no such thing as an unbreakable record. You just have to be patient.

Bob Beamon stepped into the arena in Mexico City during the 1968 Olympic Summer Games and long-jumped a super-human 29 feet, 2 1/2 inches, breaking the previous world record by nearly 2 feet.

When Beamon realized what he had done, he collapsed on the track, his legs no longer able to hold his weight. His teammates had to help him to his feet.

The defending gold medalist, Lynn Davies, told him “You have destroyed this event!” On that day, Oct. 18, 1968, a new word was entered into the lexicon: Beamonesque, which became a common word to describe spectacular feats.

That image of Beamon lying in a heap, his hands covering his face, is one of the most powerful images to come out those games – an Olympic Games that also produced the image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos atop the medal stand after the 200m finals, with black-gloved fists raised.

Beamon had broken the record by such a margin that some considered his record unbreakable.

But that’s the thing about records. If one human being can set the record, another human can eventually break it. In this case, it took a Beamonesque effort by another American, Mike Powell, 23 years later at the World Championships in Tokyo.

Powell jumped 29 feet, 4 3/4 inches.

At West Valley, the 4x200 plaque now has to be taken down – but there’s no hurry.

Friday, the quartet of Madeline Liberg, Kiana Nagata, Jordyn Rauer and Jenna Sullens ran 1:45.35 at the District 7 2A meet to earn the No. 1 seed into this week’s regional meet, one step away from reaching the state meet.

This group has a handful of chances to lower their record, up to and including the state finals, where they should be in the mix for a top finish.

Smart money says it won’t take another 33 years to break this record when it finally goes up on the wall outside the main West Valley gym.

The Eagles are rapidly building a reputation for sprint excellence. A year ago, it was the long-held boys sprint relay record that fell. This year the girls’ 4x200.

You can expect Beamonesque assaults on all the sprint records.

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