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For Petranoff, the Deadline Nears : Javelin Change Has Him Reconsidering a Baseball Career

February 28, 1986|STEVE DOLAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The license plate on Tom Petranoff's Corvette is "3272JAV," symbolizing the distance of his standing American and former world record in the javelin.

Another important figure in his life is 3-31-86, the date when specifications on the javelin will be changed.

The javelin's tail will be fattened and its center will be moved forward four centimeters (about 1 1/2 inches), making it more difficult to throw for distance. Uwe Hohn of East Germany holds the world record of 343 feet, 10 inches, which may not be broken for years if it isn't bettered by March 31.

Petranoff, who ranks second in the world behind Hohn, will be a busy man in the coming month. The Oceanside resident will compete in the Bud Light Invitational Saturday at San Diego State and possibly two more meets in March.

"The reason I'm doing this isn't because of the record," Petranoff said. "This will be the only time I'll get to throw in San Diego under competitive circumstances. I'm going to try to throw farther than I ever have before. If the (world) record comes, that's fine. When you try to throw for records, they usually don't happen.

"After this, I'll compete at a meet in Berkeley in two weeks and maybe one more after that. Then, I won't compete for a while."

Petranoff said it will take a while for him to learn how to throw the new javelin before he will compete again. He predicts the world best this year after March 31 will be 270 to 290 feet.

The International Amateur Athletic Federation made the change by theorizing that stadiums aren't big enough to hold javelin throws if the world record continues to increase. Dixon Farmer, SDSU track coach, joked that Petranoff would have to throw the javelin onto Montezuma Avenue Saturday to break the world record.

Not surprisingly, the new specifications are unpopular among javelin throwers.

"Imagine changing the size or dimensions of the game in football, baseball or basketball," Petranoff said. "It's like saying they would change the rules because somebody hit so many home runs or some quarterbacks have an advantage. Do you think the Players Assn. would put up a little resistance to that?

"I know I'll be at the top of the world, but this will be depressing. This is putting us back in the archives of the sport. Something makes me think I should check out new avenues. I'm 27, and an athlete peaks when he is about 30 or 31."

Where might Petranoff turn?

The answer may be 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate. Petranoff said he would like to give baseball another try.

He originally moved to California nine years ago to play baseball at Palomar College, hoping it might lead to a professional career. One afternoon, he happened to be watching javelin throwers work out. When he threw a javelin back farther than it had originally been delivered, guess which sport he switched to?

According to Petranoff, he has been contemplating the past few months whether his future may be pitching a baseball instead of tossing a javelin.

"It's a feasible situation," he said. "I definitely have the velocity. I throw an implement (the javelin) 75 to 77 miles an hour at a 30-degree angle, and it's seven or eight times as heavy as a baseball. This may be outside my realm of reality."

Petranoff competed against baseball pitchers Tippy Martinez and Storm Davis, among others, while winning the 1984 Superstars television competition. Other entrants were football players Marcus Allen, Cliff Branch, Bill Pickel and Mark May, boxer Ray Mancini, hurdler Greg Foster and pole vaulter Billy Olson.

However, Petranoff also remembers the ultimate competition that got away. He was favored to win the 1984 Olympic gold medal after the Soviet-led boycott but finished 10th at 257-3, 70 feet shorter than his former world record set May 15, 1983 at UCLA's Pepsi meet.

Petranoff's first two Olympic throws landed flat and did not count, meaning he only had one throw for the record that Hohn set a week before the Olympics. "In that situation, the gun was to my head," he said. "I had put a lot of pressure on myself, which was completely against my character. I was looking past the event to financial rewards instead of concentrating on the job at hand."

Looking toward the future, Petranoff is uncertain whether he will attempt to compete in the 1988 Olympics.

"I definitely want a gold medal, and I want to win the World Championships in 1987," he said. "But I'm going to leave my options open. I'm obviously disappointed with the rule change. With that in mind, I won't be throwing the javelin for the rest of my life. Whether it be marketing, working for Nike or throwing the baseball, I have to set goals for myself and my family. Hopefully, something will materialize. Who knows? Maybe the javelin will materialize." Track Notes

The Bud Light Invitational will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at Choc Sportsman Track on the SDSU campus with Open Division and field event competition. Opening ceremonies and Invitational Division running events are at 1:45 p.m . . . . Top entrants in the meet include USC's Wendy Brown, former world record holder in the triple jump; Bill Greene, the 1986 world-best in the hammer; Ramona Pagel, American shot put record holder who will compete in the discus; and SDSU's LaTanya Sheffield, defending NCAA 400 hurdles champion.

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