Cal is hosting the USA Combined Event Championships and the Junior National Combined Events Championships June 18-20 at its track stadium, where fans can see some of the nation's top decathletes and heptathletes. Action begins at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and10:00 a.m. Thursday.
The heptathlon features 2001 runner-up and 2001 World bronze medallist Sheila Burrell, Virginia “Gigi” Miller, who finished third last year at the USA championships, Tacita Bass, who finished third at this year’s NCAA championships for South Carolina, and DeeDee Brown, who finished fifth in the 2002 NCAA championships for Arkansas. Cal?s Missy Vanek won’t compete due to a hamstring injury.
The field for the decathlon, the rigorous 10-event contest, is particularly deep, with 2001 U.S. champion Kip Janvrin, 2000 Olympian Tom Pappas, 2001 U.S. runner-up Phil McMullen, former Cal star Bevan Hart, who won the 2000 NCAA title, and Paul Terek, the 2002 NCAA runner-up from Michigan State.
But the big draw will be 1996 Olympic gold medallist Dan O'Brien, who has never lost to anyone in the Edwards field.
The three-time world and five-time national champion is the old man of decathlon, at 35, and has various foot injuries, including plantar fascia, that have kept him on the sidelines for most of the past few years. O'Brien has competed in just one decathlon – winning the 1998 Goodwill Games – since winning gold in Atlanta six years ago.
The USA championships are part of his preparation for the 2004 Athens Olympics.
“This is the first year back for me,” he said. “This is step one in a five- or six-step process to take me to 2004 and be completely ready there.
“Going into the U.S. meet, I'm looking to get my feet wet again and get out there and deal with a little bit of the stress and pressure.”
“My health is pretty good,” O’Brien added. “My feet still bother me from time to time. I'll have a big high jump session, and I'll come out the next day, and my feet will be a little bit sore. My health is good. I feel as strong as ever, just not real sharp at this point.”
While he admits he won't be at his peak at Edwards, O'Brien is as confident as ever.
When asked if he expects to win the meet, he said, “I think so. That's the goal. I go to compete against the other guys and myself and the scoring tables. I've never looked at anybody and thought, ‘I have to beat this person to win.’ ”
However, O'Brien's competition is younger and healthier right now. Janvrin is the defending champ and a 2000 Olympian, but Pappas, who finished fifth in Sydney, is arguably the favorite going into the meet.
Even Pappas thinks so.
“If I stay healthy and I do what I think I'm capable of scoring,” he said, “barring any injuries or mishaps on any events, I would think going into it I would be considered the favorite.”
“I would say Tom has established himself as the best USA decathlete in the past couple of years,” Hart said. “He placed fifth at the Olympic Games. He was world ranked again last year. But, I would never bet against Dan O’Brien. He has experience and a lot of talent on his side... . I have a lot of respect for him. I'm excited to be able to compete against him in a decathlon.”
Hart is a member of the Army World Class Athlete program, which financially supports his Olympic quest in exchange for three years of military service. He set Cal’s second-best decathlon mark with 8002 points when he won the 2000 college title. Cal’s Chris Huffins won the NCAA crown with 8007 points in 1993.
“I got a late start this year,” Hart said. “About the last month, my fitness has been coming on. My speed has started to resurface. I think I can put up a decent score.”
Both Hart and McMullen are coached by Cal multis coach Ed Miller, who is hoping for a strong turnout at Edwards this week. Stanford, which hosts the USA championships for the rest of the track and field events June 21-23, has in recent years developed a reputation as a major track and field site. Miller hopes the multi-event championships can bring a little of that luster back to Berkeley.
“We would really love to see Cal back on the map in terms of promoting track and field,” Miller said.
“Our competitors down on the Peninsula have done a good job. We'd like to compete for a spot someday for the larger portion of the meet. This is kind of a tryout for us as far as I'm concerned. There's a little more to this than meets the eye. We didn't do this because we like putting on meets. We did this because we have a lot of tradition here.”