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Track and field running hot at UO

Colorado, Minnesota, Washington challenge Ducks in invitational

EUGENE Ñ It's a year of change and promise for University of Oregon track and field, which has given the state Steve Prefontaine, six NCAA titles, and scores of individual champs and, in greatly influencing Phil Knight, helped spawn Nike Corp.

Two national champions, John Stiegeler in the javelin and Santiago Lorenzo in the decathlon, are back after losing last season to injury. Not one but two Ducks could square off for the NCAA title in the women's pole vault. And Tom Heinonen will coach the women's team for the 28th season before he retires.

The Ducks play host to the Pepsi Invitational at noon on Saturday at Hayward Field, welcoming Colorado, Minnesota and Washington. Minnesota has one of the country's most solid men's teams.

Decathlon dream

Lorenzo hopes to be talking about the Olympic Games next year. He set a personal best of 7,911 points last weekend at the Texas Relays and needs to top 8,000 to make the world championships and Olympics for his native Argentina. His next decathlon will come at the Pac-10 Conference meet May 10-11 at USC. He'll train and compete mostly in the 400 hurdles till then.

'I know I left 150 points on the table' in Texas, says Lorenzo, 24. 'My 400 and shot put were definitely not good.'

Lorenzo sat out last season after partially tearing a left calf muscle in February 2002. He had trouble standing up, much less running the high hurdles or the mile.

'I was going to be close to making it back (last year), but I pushed too hard too soon and reinjured it,' he says.

Lorenzo, who came to the states in 1999, won the NCAA title in 2001 and has captured the South American title many times. After the Olympics, he wants to return to Oregon, take the entrance exam and attend medical school.

Hoping to progress

About this time last year, Stiegeler planted to throw the javelin, and his left plant leg gave out. He suffered a detached meniscus and torn anterior cruciate ligament. Separate surgeries followed. With the help of a brace, Stiegeler has returned strong and confident.

In 2001, he set the UO javelin record (252 feet, 10 inches) and won the NCAA title. He threw 219-11 last weekend, a good progression mark. By the Pac-10s, regionals and NCAAs, he says, he should reach 250 feet again.

'The 252 is definitely there,' says Stiegeler, 23, from Coos Bay. 'I can definitely win the NCAA title.'

Blowing out a knee is an odd injury for a javelin thrower, he says. A rolled ankle is more common.

'It gets stiff,' he says of the knee. 'It's not fully stable. It'll be another year before I'm totally back.'

Stiegeler has lost 10 pounds, getting down to about 200, and reduced his body fat to about 6 percent.

'Had I not got hurt, I would have thrown at the level it takes to make the Olympics,' he says. 'It set me back two years.'

Pole-vault prowess

Becky Holliday and Niki McEwen are potential NCAA pole-vault champions. The former Niki Reed, from Newport, married ex-UO football player Seth McEwen last summer.

Both vaulters eclipsed 14 feet during the indoor season. McEwen went 14-1 1/4, Holliday 14-3. Holliday's goal is 14-8 outdoors this spring. Vaults of 15 feet would likely put them in the 2004 Olympic Trials.

McEwen has been working on her steps and is working in longer poles. Holliday has the better 'top-end,' meaning the ability to flip over the bar.

'Yeah, if we combined forces,' Holliday says, 'we'd go 16.'

Notes: Not only is Heinonen retiring, but assistant coaches Sally Harmon and Mark Stream will be looking for work June 30. Head men's coach Martin Smith will reconfigure the staffs for track and field and cross country, with one head coach presiding over each. Smith, 51, will handle track and field. He has led the Duck men to two top-five NCAA cross-country finishes and two ninths (one outdoor, one indoor) in track and field. Harmon, a UO grad and topflight javelin instructor, and Stream, a sprint/jumps/hurdles coach since 1977, are invited to reapply, Smith says. Many in Eugene assume a woman will take over Heinonen's position as cross country coach and distance coach. The Ducks haven't been higher than fifth in the Pac-10 in women's cross country or track and field in the past five years.

The Ducks' 4x100 men's relay will include Jordan Kent, a basketball player, and Samie Parker, a football player. Kent is faster in the 200, Parker faster in the 100. Kent also could make his mark in the long jump. É The Oregon men are gunning for the Pac-10 title; Heinonen's women probably won't fare much better than fourth. É Javelin thrower Sarah Malone, a two-time Pac-10 runner-up, will redshirt this year with a back injury. É Distance runner Carrie Zografos of Portland may not be healthy until the Pac-10 meet because of a bad hip.