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Track and Field : A Weighty Issue Adds a Dispute to Pac-10 Meet

May 20, 1986|Mal Florence

The Lakers are on the brink of elimination in the NBA playoffs, the Dodgers are struggling and Wally World adds an element of excitement to the Angels.

So, with all of this going on, people are probably unaware of the great hammer throw controversy that is brewing.

Washington State Coach John Chaplin, who is in Los Angeles with his team for the Pacific 10 championship track and field meet Friday and Saturday at the Coliseum, is hammering away about the site of the hammer throw.

He can't understand why the event should be held at Cal State Long Beach Friday instead of a more convenient location such as USC's Cromwell Field, which is near the Coliseum.

Before this weighty matter is pursued any more, one has to know that Chaplin, an eminently successful coach, seems to relish controversies.

Chaplin and former UCLA Coach Jim Bush feuded for years through the media without rancor about Chaplin's use of foreign athletes.

The hammer throw is often held on an adjoining field because school or stadium officials are fearful that the instrument will create mini-craters in the turf.

"It's not that USC can't have the hammer at their place, it's because they won't have it," Chaplin said. "We hold it at our place, and we have a better field. Why should USC take on the Pac-10 meet if it can't do it right."

USC Coach Ernie Bullard said he has no disagreement with Chaplin, but his hands are tied.

"The school won't let us hold the hammer throw at Cromwell Field," he said. "It's a multi-purpose recreational facility, and we rent the field like everyone else."

The Coliseum doesn't want any part of the hammer either, so Chaplin will have to get up early Friday morning to beat the traffic to Long Beach for the noon event.

Chaplin may be at a distant outpost in the conference--some call it a foreign track encampment--but he is heard loud and clear.

For one thing, his rapid-fire sentences are like a tape recorder on fast forward. But his Cougars give him a more meaningful platform.

Since he became Washington State's coach in 1973, Chaplin's teams have won 122 dual meets while losing only 10.

His last three teams won the conference championship by runaway margins, and WSU is favored along with UCLA in this year's meet. Chaplin's Cougars have finished in the top five of the NCAA meet six times, including two runner-up finishes. He has a good shot at winning the NCAA title this season.

Chaplin has had a recruiting pipeline to Africa that is the envy of other coaches. When Kenya's Henry Rono was competing for Washington State, he set world records at every distance from 3,000 through 10,000 meters--including the steeplechase. He still holds the 3,000 meters and steeplechase records.

Chaplin has another strong foreign contingent led by Gabriel Tiacoh of the Ivory Coast, the silver medalist in the 400 in the 1984 Olympic Games, and Kenya's Julius Korir, the gold medalist in the steeplechase. Tiacoh tuned up for the Pac-10 meet with a blazing time of 44.32 seconds in Saturday's Pepsi Invitational, third fastest ever recorded at sea level.

A look at WSU's roster this year finds athletes from Africa, Argentina, Sweden, Greece and Cyprus.

But Chaplin says that UCLA is the logical favorite in the conference meet.

"On paper you have to give it to the Bruins, but you also have to show up and do something," said Chaplin. "We're an experienced team and we won't screw up. But we need some help."

UCLA had a 9-0 record in dual meets this season, while Washington State was 9-1, losing only to Oregon. "We dropped the stick in the short relay and that cost us the meet," Chaplin said.

Chaplin, 49, a former sprinter from Wilson High in Los Angeles, always seems to be fuming about something.

He is now quarreling with UCLA Coach Bob Larsen, saying that the Bruins dropped him from a proposed triangular meet with California in Berkeley in 1985.

In retaliation, Chaplin wouldn't accept Larsen's offer to meet UCLA in Westwood this year.

Larsen says the schedule was already set when Chaplin wanted to get into the meet, and the UCLA coach didn't want to disrupt the traditional dual meet structure with Cal.

Chaplin, a shrewd, knowledgeable coach, keeps his name and team in the news. It could be calculating, or, perhaps, it's the paranoia of perceived slights from his base in remote Eastern Washington.

"I'm in a county with the same size (area) of L.A. County but with only 40,000 people, and you have 13 million (actually 8 million) here," Chaplin said. "And that counts 16,000 college students and 10,000 more people in Pullman.

"I stand here looking out onto the freeway and in five minutes I'll see more people than the 40,000 we have in our county."

Today, the hammer throw issue. What's next, the 35-pound weight throw?

Track Notes

The USC women's team won the Pac-West track meet Saturday night at Tempe, Ariz. The Trojans scored 207 points, ahead of Arizona with 181 and Stanford with 127. Highlights for USC included Wendy Brown's double win in the triple jump (43-11) and 100-meter hurdles (14.08); Lesley Noll taking the 800 in 2:07.59 and victories in the 400- and 1,600-meter relays.

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