June 23, 2005 -- UPDATED 6/24, 10:38 A.M.
CARSON, Calif. - Former Husky Brad Walker completed his sweep of 2005 American pole vault titles Thursday, winning the event at the 2005 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Carson, Calif. Walker also won the vault at the USA Indoor Championships in February, and will represent the United States at the IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, in August.
Walker was one of five Huskies competing Thursday. The top-three finishers in each open-level event earn berths at the IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, in August, while the top-three finishers in the junior-class events qualify for the July's World Youth Championships in Marrakech, Morocco.
Ranked seventh in the world and fourth among American men entering the competition, Walker needed only to clear 18-10 1/4 -- six inches below his 2005 season best -- to win the U.S. crown, stating that the always tricky winds at the Home Depot Center might have affected some of the other competitors early on.
"It was pretty bad early on. It calmed down quite a bit once we got to some of the bigger heights," he said.
Wind or no wind, Walker had no trouble with any of his first three heights, clearing each without a miss, the latter the 18-10 ¼ winner. The former Husky's final clearance was followed by first-attempt misses by U.S. Olympians Nick Hysong and Toby Stevenson, the only other vaulters remaining at that height.
Knowing he could not beat Walker at 18-10 ¼, Hysong passed his remaining two attempts up to the next height, 19-0 ¼, while Stevenson elected to continue vaulting at 18-10 ¼. Neither strategy proved effective, however, as both vaulters missed their remaining attempts, leaving Walker the only competitor standing. The win in hand, the 2004 UW alum passed his next three attempts all the way up to 19-6 -- a height two inches beyond his 2005 season- and lifetime-best -- but missed on each, before acknowledging an appreciative crowd after his final attempt.
"Brad was incredible today," said Stevenson, the defending U.S. outdoor champion and 2004 Olympic silver medalist. "He's pushing the hell out of me. Not only is it a thrill to make the team, but to make the team with these two guys. We're going to go over there and take one-two-three."
Stevenson was one of three Olympic medalists to finish behind Walker in the competition. Hysong, winner of the 2000 Olympic gold medal in Sydney, placed second, while 2004 Olympic gold medalist Tim Mack was seventh.
"The goal was just to make the World Championships team, so to come out and win the whole thing is just icing on the cake," said UW assistant coach Pat Licari, who continues to train Walker at UW's Dempsey Indoor. "The wind was a little swirly out here, but it wasn't too bad. Brad was just mentally tougher than those guys, and it paid off with a national title."
Walker's national title was the second this month for Licari, who coached UW senior Kate Soma to the NCAA Championship just two weeks ago. Including Walker's win Thursday, Husky athletes have won four U.S. titles and three NCAA championships since the start of the 2003 season. In addition, former Husky Christian Belz has won a pair of Swiss national crowns in distance-running events, and 2003 UW alum Sabrina Monro won an international cross country championship in March.
"This has been a heck of a year for spreading the Washington name, that's for sure," said UW head coach Greg Metcalf. "That trickles right back down to the folks we have on our team now. They see the people they are training with winning national and international titles, and it makes them realize that they can do it, too."
Joining Walker on the U.S. National Team in Helsinki will be two-time U.S. Olympian Aretha Thurmond, who placed third in finals of the women's discus. The two-time defending U.S. champion in the event, Thurmond -- known as Aretha Hill before marrying thrower Reedus Thurmond in April -- earned a best mark of 202 feet, 8 inches Thursday, four feet shy of the winning mark of 206-5 by University of Nebraska senior Rebecca Breisch.
"Hey, I made the team," Thurmond said afterward. "I wish I would have thrown a lot farther. I know I should have won the competition, but the goal was at least to make the team."
Currently a resident of Opelika, Ala., Thurmond graduated from Renton High School in 1994, and finished her UW career in 1998 with four All-America honors and an American collegiate record in the discus. She has placed among the top-three at the USA Outdoor Championships in six of the last nine years, and was the gold medalist at the 2003 PanAm Games.
Walker and Thurmond led five Huskies top-20 finishes Thursday. Former Husky Mat Schwinn placed 18th in the men's discus, while Husky freshman Norris Frederick was fourth in the junior men's high jump, and 2005-06 UW signee Annaliese Chapa of Portland was 13th in the junior women's 800 meters.
Frederick's fourth-place finish, at 6-10 ¼, was a three-spot improvement over his placing in the same event at last year's USA Junior National Championships. Then a Roosevelt High School senior, Frederick also placed seventh in 2004 in the junior men's long jump, an event in which he will compete again Friday. Frederick competed at the 2004 World Youth Championships in both events, and was an 2005 NCAA Championships participant in the long jump indoors, and the high jump outdoors.
"For someone so young, Norris has a ton of big-meet experience, and that really helps him at a competition like this," said UW head coach Greg Metcalf. "He knows what to expect and isn't intimidated by anything."
Schwinn, meanwhile, earned 18th-place in his second USA Championships appearance, having placed 20th at last year's U.S. Olympic Trials. Just as he did last year, the 2003 UW alum recorded just one legal mark, tossing his third attempt 160 feet, 5 inches. The Castle Rock, Wash., native has been outstanding thus far in 2005, recording the nation's 11th-best mark with a 199-foot, 1-inch toss in Vancouver in April.
Competing in her first USA Outdoor Championships was Chapa, who ran fifth in her preliminary heat of the junior women's 800 meters, her time of 2:13.29 the 13th-fastest overall. The Portland, Ore., native is one of two Husky women's distance signees competing at the Junior National meet this weekend -- California prep champion Tori Tyler of Palo Alto will run in the junior women's 5,000 meters on Friday.
Eight more Huskies will be in action this weekend at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which continue through Sunday. For a complete event schedule and results, visit www.usatf.org.