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Local connections run deep through first USATF Indoor Championships held in Spokane

Feb. 27, 2022 Updated Sun., Feb. 27, 2022 at 9:57 p.m.

Nick Johnson from WSU runs in the men’s 60-meter hurdles during the 2022 USAFT Indoor Championships on Sunday at the Podium in Spokane. He did not place.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Nick Johnson from WSU runs in the men’s 60-meter hurdles during the 2022 USAFT Indoor Championships on Sunday at the Podium in Spokane. He did not place. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

As he got ready to run the 60-meter hurdles on Sunday, Sam Brixey got a pick-me-up that he doesn’t hear at tracks in Eugene or Albuquerque or Los Angeles or many of the other stops he’s made with Washington State’s track team.

“I got like five ‘Go Cougs’ in warmups,” he said. “That was great.”

Home-track advantage in the national championships. Who would have thought?

That was even truer for fellow hurdlers Parker Bowden and Nick Johnson, who both grew up in Spokane and competed at Central Valley and Gonzaga Prep as high schoolers.

Among the best in the country at the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships were some of the best in the Northwest, and from right here, too.

They didn’t win any medals or earn trips to the world championships that were at stake. But having the national championship in Spokane’s shiny new multisports facility, the Podium – and having qualifying marks to get them into the competition field – was an opportunity they weren’t going to let pass.

The regional connections went beyond the three hurdlers.

Three precocious Washington high schoolers faced up with the best in the women’s vertical jumps. Twins Amanda and Hana Moll of Capital High School in Olympia finishing fourth and seventh, respectively, in the pole vault – Amanda clearing a lifetime best 14 feet, 9 inches and tying the American junior (under 20) record in the process.

Puyallup’s JaiCieonna Gero-Holt, an Emerald Ridge freshman, leaped an indoor personal best of 5-103/4 for eighth in the high jump.

Ex-Cougar Kiana Davis returned to the Northwest and finished fourth in the women’s triple jump. Colton Johnsen, wrapping up his WSU running career, struggled with the fast pace in the men’s 1,500 meters and faded to a distant 12th.

Bowden, Brixey and Johnson didn’t make it out of their hurdles heats – but relished the experience nonetheless.

Johnson, in fact, dashed back Saturday night from Seattle, where he’d run races on consecutive days in the Pac-12 Invitational for WSU, just to run in his hometown.

“From the moment I qualified I knew I wanted to compete in this,” he said. “Who knows if I’d get that chance to do that here again?”

The Podium will likely host more big meets – possibly even this one again – but having 40-some Olympians under the new roof made it special for those who’ve already run in the building.

“It’s nice having this place so close to home,” Brixey said. “The Northwest has needed something like this. And to have the pros here – I watched the (TV) interview with Donavan Brazier while he was on the (Riverfront Park) gondola. That was so funny.”

Brixey and Johnson are finishing their WSU eligibility this indoor season and plan to continue running post-collegiately – a path Bowden has already started on after finishing at Eastern Washington last spring.

“I’m going to give this a try until 2024 and see what I can do to make an Olympic team,” said Bowden, who flashed a 13.58-second run in the 110 hurdles outdoors in winning Big Sky athlete of the meet honors.

“I just started hitting my peak last year. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and faster than I’ve ever been. I think the sky’s the limit and that I can run a lot faster than other people think I can. There’s only one way to know and that’s to try.”

If the Moll sisters – both juniors at Capital – didn’t have home field advantage, they had another one to help deal with any nerves: each other.

“I wasn’t going in alone against all these great girls – I had my sister,” said Hana. “That really helped me calm down and have fun, and that’s the most important thing to me.”

What they did have to sweat out was a lofty opening height of 14-11/4, a bar which Amanda missed twice before clearing. Hana’s end came at 14-9, after making it over 14-51/4.

“For me, the biggest thing was getting myself in a mindset that I belong here,” said Amanda. “If I’m good enough to make it, don’t be scared, even if these are amazing girls I’m competing against.”

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