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Chris Dufresne

Band Leader Jumps to a Different Height

August 24, 1986|Chris Dufresne

Of course, none of my friends would listen to me years ago when I tried to tell them about Doug Nordquist.

Heck, they'd probably lie and say they can't even remember now.

It was back at Sonora High School in 1976. I was a senior, Doug a junior.

Every day at lunch, our group would meet in the upper commons to tackle some of the hotter issues of our time. Once we spent a week on Dorothy Hamill's haircut.

But it seemed every time I brought up Nordquist's name for discussion, someone would plant a Ding Dong in my forehead.

"Nordquist?" they'd say. "You mean that geeky-looking guy in the band?"

That was exactly the guy I meant. Sure, it didn't seem possible at the time that he would one day become a world-class high jumper.

Nordquist was rail thin and clumsy-looking back then, not to mention a member of the school band. Worse yet, he was our drum major. When dressed in uniform and band hat, Nordquist kind of looked like a giant Q-tip.

Some of my friends mocked him as he lead our band on to the field at football games. Not me, of course.

I was convinced of his talent. Sportswriters, naturally, are born with certain gifts and instincts. Among other things, we can smell press box food at 10 miles, dangle a participle without even trying and skillfully dispense of any fact that might otherwise clutter a perfectly good story.

We also can spot Olympic talent when we see it.

So while all my friends were throwing their after-school hours away, I would study Nordquist at the high jump pit.

I'd count the steps of his approach, comparing him with the great Dick Fosbury. I spent long hours in the library, researching his lineage, only to discover he was a distant cousin of the great Dwight Stones.

It only figured, I figured.

So wasn't I embarrassed when Doug vanished from the earth after high school. I'd heard he'd gone on to Fullerton College and even won a JC high jump title.

But after a watered-logged career at Washington State, Nordquist melted into the real world.

He got a job at Santa Fe Springs High School teaching--what else--marching band.

Such a waste of talent, I thought.

But as fate would have it, Nordquist decided to give it one more giant leap in the summer of 1983, a year before the Olympics Games would arrive in Los Angeles.

He returned to the local track meet scene and, thank goodness, had his reputation to fall back on.

"I entered this meet at Cal State Los Angeles but I got there too late," Nordquist recalled. "I had to beg the guy to let me in."

Nordquist talked his way in and won the event and eventually finished second in the Olympic Trials.

In the '84 Games, he finished fifth, shocking everyone save one loyal sportswriter who had all but predicted his stardom years before.

Nordquist had an off year in 1985, but this year, at 27, he has been the hottest high jumper in the world.

Nordquist started his streak in May, winning the Bruce Jenner Meet in San Jose. Then came his first major title in June, when he captured The Athletics Congress championship in Eugene, Ore., with a leap of 7-feet 7 3/4-inches.

The win qualified him for the Goodwill Games in Moscow, which would put him face-to-face with world-record holder Igor Paklin of the Soviet Union.

Nordquist saved this moment for his greatest leap ever, 7-8, good enough to beat Paklin and win the gold.

Since, he has added a win in the U.S. Olympic Festival in Houston.

He is closing in on the American outdoor record of Jimmy Howard (7-8 1/2), and fully expects to be in peak form for the 1988 Games in Seoul, Korea.

Nordquist has spent the summer touring the world, winning acclaim at every stop.

And I have been hanging on his every jump, scouring foreign papers for international results, grabbing precious nuggets of information where I can.

But the Nordquist Global Hop, for now at least, is about to touch ground. Next month, school begins at Santa Fe High. Remember, there are tubas to be tuned and spit valves to be cleaned.

Nordquist has a running gag with his band students. Every time he returns home from a big win, he walks into class and delivers his favorite line . . .

"Not bad for a band director, huh?" he says.

Not bad at all. And only now, after proving it to a world of skeptics, will he admit that he knew it could happen all along.

"Even back at Sonora I had a dream," Nordquist said. "In 1972, I saw Dwight jump at the Olympics in Montreal. I knew then that I wanted to jump in the Olympics. I only told my real close friends. You don't tell many people because they'd just laugh at you."

Some people, maybe. But we knew it all along, didn't we Doug?

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