Thursday, July 24, 2008

Meet Kara Patterson...

Vancouver native Kara Patterson (left/photo by Paul Merca), a student at Purdue University, wasn’t exactly on everyone’s radar as a solid favorite to make the trip to Beijing for the Olympics.

With the javelin among the weakest events in the country, it was presumed that the overwhelming favorites to make the team were national record holder Kim Kreiner and last year’s upset national champion, Dana Pounds, from the Air Force Academy.

In fact, Track & Field News only picked Kara to finish sixth at the Trials, thanks to a sub-par performance at the NCAA championships two weeks before the showdown in Eugene.

Nonetheless, Patterson will be going to Beijing as one of the few collegians on Team USA, joining University of Oregon runners Galen Rupp and Andrew Wheating as collegians with ties to the Northwest.

One throw at the Big Ten championships in Champaign, Illinois in May changed the dynamics of the event, as the Skyview High grad let the javelin fly 202-0 to win the league championship, qualify for her second Olympic Trials meet, and most importantly, hold the Olympic Games A qualifying standard to ensure that in the event she didn’t place in the top three at the Trials, the possibility of bumping out a thrower who lacked the standard was available.

In layman’s terms, for anyone else in the field at the Olympic Trials except Patterson and Kreiner to even think about going to Beijing, they had to finish in the top three AND throw at least 198-6.

Kara made that argument a moot point, as she secured her spot on the Olympic team by winning in an Olympic Trials meet record distance of 191 feet 9 inches.

Such was Patterson’s dominance of the field in Eugene that she had two other throws over the 58-meter (190-3) mark, and no one else did.

The road to Beijing and a date to throw against the world’s best began at Skyview, where she was looking for a spring sport to participate in, as she was on the swim team in the fall, and the basketball team in the winter.

Patterson considered turning out for the golf team, but was talked into trying track by her math teacher, Ron Heidenreich, who happened to be the track coach.

During her freshman year, she tried the discus, eventually giving it up. Kara also dabbled in events as diverse as the hurdles, and the triple jump, and occasionally filled in on a leg of their 4 x 400 meter relay team when needed.

She found her calling in the javelin. In recalling her freshman season, she said, “My best throw was 133'1". I had a fifteen foot PR at the state meet that year and ended up second.”

The following year, under the tutelage of Skyview throws coach Nate Botnen, she won the first of three straight state titles (one in 3A, and two in 4A), finished sixth and fourth in the 2003 and 2004 USATF junior nationals, and qualified for the 2004 Olympic Trials in Sacramento, where she threw 139-9, good for 19th place.

Entering this season, Patterson had won two NCAA regional titles, and a Big Ten championship. After unleashing the 202-0 throw to win her second Big Ten title in May, which suddenly made her the second best American all time, and the second American woman to crack the 200-foot barrier since the change to the less aerodynamic javelin in May 1999, one would’ve thought that her confidence would be sky high entering the NCAA championships.

However, that was not the case. After winning the NCAA Mideast Regionals two weeks later in Fayetteville, Arkansas, she suffered a major slump at the NCAA championships in Des Moines, needing all three throws in qualifying to advance to the finals, then throwing a mediocre 176-11 to finish fifth in the finals.

Describing the NCAAs, she said that she was nervous and felt a lot of pressure from within herself to perform well. “I just freaked out; I over thought things, and I wasn’t aggressive because I thought I couldn’t do anything.”

Since winning the Olympic Trials competition at Hayward Field, a venue she admitted she’d never competed at despite the short distance from Vancouver, Kara’s encountered a plethora of media attention, from both her hometown, and from her adopted home of West Lafayette, Indiana, where the junior is a Nutrition and Fitness major.

After taking some down time to celebrate with her family and friends in Vancouver, she returned to Purdue to start the buildup to Beijing, under the watchful eye of coach Rodney Zuyderwyk, who competed at Washington State in the early 1990s, and who recruited her to the Indiana school.

She’s embarked on a strength training program, similar to the training cycle she was on in April and early May, designed to give her the power to throw 63 to 65 meters (206-8 to 213-3), which she figures she’ll need to even make the finals.

Due to the long collegiate season, Patterson and coach Zuyderwyk, a former Australian national team member in the hurdles and decathlon, elected to forego any overseas or domestic meets and concentrate on a long, progressive buildup to the javelin qualifying on August 19th at 9 am, Beijing time, with the finals slated two days later at 7:20 pm, local time.

Patterson leaves for China on August 2nd, stopping off in the Bay Area for team processing. She and her coach will stay in Beijing and train there instead of reporting to the training camp in Dalian, (a three-hour plane trip) as she wants to experience the Opening Ceremonies, minimize the travel to and from the camp, and soak in the atmosphere of the Olympic experience, yet knowing full well that this is a business trip.

She’ll be joined in Beijng by parents Rona and Bruce, brother Craig, and “several folks from Purdue who are either working or doing internships in China”.

Patterson is going to China with the mentality of making the finals. She plans to use the experience of struggling in qualifying at the NCAAs as fuel to “make it to the second day. If I can do that, and believe in my capabilities, I’ll be fine.”

To see her Purdue University bio, click here...

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