June 22, 2007
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Former Washington Husky Brad Walker needed just three attempts Friday to capture his fourth U.S. pole vault title, one of two top-10 performances by UW athletes on the second day of competition at the 2007 AT&T USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis, Ind.
Walker's win -- his first U.S. outdoor title since 2005, and the his fourth win in his last eight national championship events - earns the Spokane native and 2004 UW graduate a berth at this fall's IAAF World Athletics Championships in Osaka, Japan. Walker, who continues to train at UW's Dempsey Indoor while working as a volunteer assistant with the Huskies' track team, is the defending world silver medalist at the bi-annual event, and has ranked No. 1 in the world for much of the past two years.
Friday's win proved easier than usual for Walker against a loaded American field, which included five vaulters currently ranked among the world's top-10. First-attempt clearances at each of his first three heights, however - including the winning height of 18 feet, 8 1/4 inches - proved to be enough as Walker's highly-ranked competitors fell by the wayside in the blustery conditions. Only two other vaulters - American record-holder Jeff Hartwig and Nike's Jacob Pauli -- were able to match Walker at 18-8 1/4, with Walker winning the crown based on his zero total misses in the competition.
"The winds made it a struggle for sure," said Walker. "It was hard to be consistent today. I'm happy to be going to my second World Championships. I won the silver in Helsinki and I'm going for the gold this time."
A two-time NCAA champion during his collegiate career at Washington, Walker is one of just six Americans, and one of just 12 vaulters worldwide, ever to clear the elite six-meter (19-8 1/4) mark, and was the world indoor champion in 2006.
Walker, however, was just one of six Huskies competing in Indianapolis on Friday, and one of 16 past or present UW athletes representing Washington at the four-day meet, which continues through Sunday.
The Huskies, in fact, nearly pulled off a sweep of U.S. senior and junior crowns, with sophomore-to-be Scott Roth placing second in the junior men's pole vault competition Thursday. Another former Husky, 2005 NCAA champion Kate Soma, will compete in the women's vault competition Sunday.
"That would have been pretty cool," fifth-year head coach Greg Metcalf said of UW's near-sweep. "We've had a great run in the vaults the past 8-10 years or so, really starting with Brad and carrying right on through to the young men and women on our team now. It's fun to have even been in the position to talk about sweeping the U.S. crowns, and really says a lot about the work being done by our coaches in that area."
While Walker's bid for a fourth U.S. title proved successful, two-time Olympian Aretha Thurmond's did not - though her achievement may have been even more impressive. A three-time U.S. discus champion and the Director of UW's Big "W" Alumni Club, Thurmond returned Friday to defend her 2006 U.S. discus crown, less than three weeks since giving birth to her first child, a boy, with UW assistant coach Reedus Thurmond.
Despite having been unable to train for months leading up to the competition as a result of the pregnancy, Thurmond still managed a sixth-place finish Friday with a best throw of 180 feet, 4 inches. A 1998 UW alum, Thurmond has placed among the top-six at the USA meet every year since 1996, and ranks third in U.S. history in the event.
"It's pretty amazing to see Aretha out here throwing just three weeks after having a baby," said Metcalf. "And not only throwing, but beating two-thirds of the field. It just shows her passion for this sport and her natural ability. She's dominated this event at the U.S. level for the past decade, and showed just why today."
Washington also received top-20 finishes from All-Americans Martin Bingisser and Norris Frederick. Bingisser, who completed his collegiate career earlier this month with a sixth-place NCAA Championships finish in the men's hammer throw, placed 17th in the same event Friday, while UW senior-to-be Frederick - already a five-time collegiate All-American - was 13th in the men's long jump.
Recently-graduated senior Ashley Lodree, a six-time All-American, was also successful in competition Friday, advancing to the semifinal round of the 100-meter hurdles, while senior-to-be Carl Moe fell just short of a berth in Sunday's steeplechase final.
Just two days into the four-day meet, Washington has already seen four of its representatives earn top-10 finishes and has placed three onto U.S. National Teams for international championships later this summer.
Lodree and Huskies' assistant coach Kelly Strong will attempt to add to that total Saturday, with Lodree competing in semifinal and final rounds of the hurdles, and Strong bidding for her first U.S. steeplechase title.
For start lists and complete results from this year's AT&T USA Track and Field Championships, visit www.GoHuskies.com.
2007 AT&T USA Track and Field Championships and 2007 FinishLine USA Junior Track and Field Championships
June 21-24, Michael A. Carroll Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
Men's Results (UW Only)
Steeplechase Prelims (Heat 2 of 2): 11. Carl Moe, 8:47.39; Pole Vault (Final): 1. Brad Walker, 18-8 1/4; Long Jump (Final): 13. Norris Frederick, 25-0 1/2 (w: 1.9); Hammer (Final): 17. Martin Bingisser, 210-3.