Friday, May 6, 2011

Some thoughts and memories of my years at Husky Stadium...

Probably as long as I've been in track & field, there have been three constants: the field surrounding what is now Aki Kurose Middle School (old time Seattlelites know it as Caspar W. Sharples Junior High); the Franklin High School track, where Rainier Avenue and Martin Luther King Way intersect; and, Husky Stadium.

All three venues were the cornerstone for my interest and fascination with track and field, which now spans close to forty years.

My earliest recollections of Husky Stadium as a kid growing up in South Seattle include taking the #48 from the south end, getting dropped off in front of University Hospital, and crossing Montlake Boulevard to go sneak into Husky Stadium and work out on the rubber track in the early 1970s (trust me, being on a rubber track was a lot better that doing intervals on a cinder track, especially on a wet day, when you'd have pieces of cinder all over your legs).

Two of the first college track meets I witnessed were at Husky Stadium in 1974 when the Dawgs ran against perennial West Coast power San Jose State (which sadly doesn't have a team anymore), and the 1975 UW/WSU dual meet featuring the finger-pointing Billy Hicks.

Husky Stadium is where my Franklin HS Quakers won three consecutive Seattle Metro League track championships, and I was honored to accept the 1977 team trophy (left/photo from personal collection) and raise it in front of our parents, and fellow students.

I don't know how I got sucked into this, but in the winter of 1976, a track nut by the name of Jack Pfeifer somehow convinced me and a few other kids to try a distance runner's decathlon, which included a steeplechase to end day one, and a 10000 as the final event!

Pfeifer would get me back in 2010 when he surprised me by presenting the Track & Field Writers of America's Adam Jacobs Award for blogging.

As a mediocre walk-on runner and student manager at the University of Washington from 1977-81, I ran numerous laps around that oval, competed and saw athletes like Scott Nielson in the hammer, pole vaulter Steve Oravetz, Duncan Atwood in the javelin do their thing in practice and in meets.

A middle distance runner by the name of Jim Cline, along with several other Husky track athletes, made the moat separating the stands from the track a part of the workout, as that day's lunch ended up on the bottom of the moat after a hard training session. The joke about poor Jim was, "Where's Ralph?", and the answer was always, "By the moat".

Henry Rono's 8:05.4 world record in the 3000 steeplechase at the 1978 Northwest Relays on May 13th was one of the greatest sporting feats I've witnessed.

On a cloudy Seattle day, I briefly said hello to Rono in the tunnel as he was warming up, using a hurdle to stretch himself, and wished him well.

And well he did.

Any one of the 200 or so people who were inside Husky Stadium that day were mesmerized by the efforts of the Nandi warrior wearing the crimson and grey of Washington State.

In his book, "Olympic Dreams", Rono said that he wrote on a napkin the night before the race his predicted time, which was 8:04.

He came close to his predicted time, but took 2.6 seconds off the old record set by Sweden's Anders Garderud.

After graduating from the UW, track and field at Husky Stadium was always like visiting an old friend's house. Over the years, I'd either run in a race there, work with athletes that I was coaching, or watch others run, jump and throw there.

Even though I wasn't there to witness it (I was in Olympia working in media relations at the 1984 US Olympic Marathon Trials), I have to put Rick Noji's 7-4 1/2 leap in the Seattle Metro League championship meet as one of my personal highlights of track & field at Husky Stadium.

The 5-8 Franklin HS junior rocketed to national notoriety with that jump, which qualified him for the US Olympic Trials in Los Angeles six weeks later, and remained the Husky Stadium record until Hollis Conway broke it at the 1990 Goodwill Games.

Long time Northwest track and field followers will never forget the summer evenings in July 1990 when Husky Stadium was the center of the track and field world as it played host to the Goodwill Games (photo of USA 4x100 relay by Paul Merca)

In those Goodwill Games, 33 stadium records were set by athletes from the USA, the old USSR, and Cuba, as Seattle filled the lower bowl of Husky Stadium to watch track and field as it's never been presented.

I worked as a spotter and statistician for Turner Broadcasting at the Goodwill Games, with my position at the clerk's area for final check in before the athletes were escorted to the starting area. I was constantly in awe looking at how full the lower bowl of Husky Stadium was, and dreaming of a day when we could pull off something like this again.

Seattle nearly had an opportunity to do something like that, when Mexico City suddenly found itself having to give the 1997 World Track & Field Championships back to the IAAF, and track's governing body scrambled to find a host before ultimately settling on Athens, Greece. An innocent remark I made to some local media somehow got the attention of the Seattle-King County Sports Council, which ultimately found out that the IAAF's demands were too rich for its liking.

The 1993 Ken Foreman Invitational holds a special place, as that meet raised the notoriety and profile of my track club, Club Ballard.

My club team had an excellent meet, as our athletes were winning and placing high in the long jump, 100 and 200 meters, and 4 x 100 meter relay (we were a thorn in the side of the Huskies, even though we were a post-collegiate club with very little funding), when one of our newest members, Mike Harris (left/photo by Paul Merca), a former Pac-10 champion from Cal/Berkeley attending UW Law School, popped an unexpected 55-5 1/2 (16.90m) mark in the triple jump, which put him in the national top three.

Harris would later finish fifth in the USA championships, and became the first Club Ballard athlete to make a national team, competing in the World University Games that year.

I'll always have fond memories of our Tuesday night training sessions at Husky Stadium during the Club Ballard years, as I'd find myself holding a stop watch, raking a long jump pit, spotting high jump check marks, or doing whatever was necessary to help out our athletes.

As Husky Stadium hosts a track meet for the final time Saturday, I can't help but think about how much of a constant it's been in all my years of the sport from my start as a wide-eyed 12 year old at Sharples Junior High, until now, when I will help close the stadium's storied track & field chapter by announcing the Ken Shannon Invitational.

I don't know how I'll feel Saturday afternoon after the final event's completed, and it's time to go home.

We'll find out tomorrow.

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