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'Coach's Dream, Opponent's Nightmare' : Hurdler Janeene Vickers Leads the Competition by Leaps and Bounds

May 29, 1986|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

Pomona High School hurdler and sprinter Janeene Vickers is making disbelievers out of everybody.

Herb Robinson, Pomona track coach, says he has received numerous inquiries from college recruiters asking if Vickers is a senior.

"When I say she's a junior they say 'no way.' They can't believe it."

It is difficult to believe when you consider her dominance this season.

"She's a coach's dream and an opponent's nightmare," Robinson said.

No other prep track performer is listed in the top three nationally by USA Today in three events.

Best in U.S at 300

Vickers is ranked No. 1 in the 300-meter low hurdles with a best time of 42.82 seconds, No. 2 in the 100-meter low hurdles with a 13.56 and No. 3 in the 400-meter dash with a 53.28 clocking.

Those are not typical times for a 17-year-old junior.

But Vickers was an early bloomer. She started running for a boys team--the Valley Vikings--at age 6.

She did not win often but "held my own against them. Of course, they were not going to let a girl beat them."

Vickers intended to sprint in high school, but an assistant track coach at Pomona had other ideas.

"The first day of my freshman year, he started me on the hurdles, and I was scared to death," said Vickers, who had bitter memories of hurdling in youth track. "I had tried them when I was about 9 and I was too short and I kept falling and hurting myself. (She's now 5-7 and weighs 135 pounds.)

"Most people are afraid of the hurdles. It takes most of them a while to get used to them."

A Fast Learner

But it did not take Vickers long. By the time her freshman season was over, she was developing into one of the premier hurdlers in the state. She had reached the state finals in the 300-meter hurdles, finishing sixth in a swift 43.03.

She made a bigger impact as a sophomore, finishing fourth in the 400-meter dash in 55.09, fifth in the 100-meter low hurdles in 13.91 and running on Pomona's fifth-place 400-meter relay team.

The 100 hurdles is her favorite, although her coaches say it may not be her best distance.

"I like the 100 better but the coaches feel I'm going to be my best in the 400 hurdles.

"Last year I had trouble with my trail-leg technique (in the 100) and my dad wanted me to get rid of them and concentrate on the 330s. But I said, 'Dad, I love the 100s,' and he let me keep them."

A Determined Athlete

A versatile track athlete, Vickers has also run the 100- and 200-meter dashes, the 800-meter run and the 1,600-meter relay in dual meets.

"Anything she sets her mind to do she can do and will," Robinson said. "She has done well in the 800 (2:20 is her best time) and nobody ever expected her to do well at that distance. She can even long jump, high jump and triple jump--although she hasn't tried that for us."

Vickers said she could be a good long jumper, but her father wants her to concentrate on her specialties. "He's just afraid I would hurt my knees."

It is hurdling that has brought Vickers the most attention.

Robinson said she has improved significantly since she started competing for the Red Devils as a raw freshman with outstanding natural instincts.

"You could see the ability," Robinson said. "There was the natural ability and it was just a case of building the rest of the stuff in her."

'Like Night and Day'

"If you look at me now and then look at a videotape of me as a freshman, it's like night and day," Vickers said. "My technique has improved so much since then."

Vickers said her hurdling has improved considerably because of strong coaching from Gail Watkins and Ernest Gregoire of the Southern California Cheetahs Track Club.

Although Vickers said she likes competing for her school, she most enjoys running for the Cheetahs. She competes with them after the high school season.

"My hurdles techniques have improved greatly because of my Cheetahs' coach (Watkins). She's a world-class hurdler and my plan was to chase her. That has helped bring down my times this year. She has helped improve my leg speed."

Robinson said rapid success has not changed Vickers' easygoing demeanor.

She's 'Not Flashy'

"She doesn't let it get to her head," he said. "She takes it just like another day. It's like I tell her, 'If you're good, let it show on the tartan--not on your tongue.'

"She's very much in control of her well-being. She's not the flashy kind of track star that you see a lot of times."

Vickers said her father has played a major role in shaping her attitude.

"I just try to be Janeene to everybody I know. There are a couple of freshmen (on the team) who are a little in awe of me, but mostly people treat me like anybody else. My father would never have it any other way."

Vickers said she has benefited from a program for success that her father set when she entered high school.

"My father set out a course for me. He had four kids and couldn't afford for all to go to college. So he had a plan for me to get a scholarship."

The plan is proceeding on schedule. The steady stream of college recruiters who attend her meets attests to that.

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