In her warm-up clothes at UCLA's Drake Stadium, Toni Lutjens looks more like a lady than a discus thrower and shot-putter.
An attractive and statuesque 6-1, she might be a model who runs at the track to stay in shape for photography sessions.
But when the UCLA senior strips to a tank top and shorts and starts working out, there is no mistaking that this lady is a champion in track and field--in fact, the defending NCAA champion in the discus.
She weighs 195 pounds and a good part of that weight is in her arms and shoulders, which helps her toss heavy objects a long way. She holds school records in the discus with a throw of 184 feet, 4 inches and in the shot put with a mark of 49-9.
Body Building at UCLA
But the muscles she needs for her sport were not in evidence when she came to UCLA on a track scholarship from Righetti High School in Santa Maria. As a high school senior who starred in basketball and volleyball as well as in track, she said she weighed between 155 and 160 pounds. "Basketball and volleyball kept me pretty slim," she said.
At UCLA, however, she has been kept on a weight-training program by Art Venegas, an assistant coach in weight events for both men and women. Venegas' prize pupils have included shot-putter John Brenner, who broke his own American record last week with a throw of 73-10 3/4, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, world record holder in the heptathlon.
Lifting weights has helped Lutjens add 35 to 40 muscular pounds to her frame, weight she needs to be competitive at the NCAA Division I level. Ironically, however, weightlifting has set her back in her bid to repeat as the NCAA discus titlist.
Pulled a Muscle
While she was doing squat lifts last October Lutjens made an error in judgment. Though she was tired, she tried to squeeze out one more repetition and pulled a muscle in her back. She said that the injury put her more than two months behind schedule in her attempt to peak for the NCAA meet in June.
Last year her winning discus toss at the NCAA meet was 183-2. This year her best mark is 178-6.
Lutjens (pronounced LOOCH-ens) said that she has worked hard to get back in shape for the NCAA meet but "I missed out on the volume of throwing, which is so important because that's how you get your timing down."
Can she get her timing back in time to defend her national championship? Venegas said she can. "If she hadn't been injured, she would be throwing very hard now," he said.
"But looking at the past, she peaked a little early, like in April. But she doesn't have to throw that hard till the June nationals, and, hopefully, she will peak right in the first week of June."
Not Favored to Repeat
Lutjens is not favored to repeat in the discus this year but she might not have been even if she hadn't been injured. This year's favorite seems to be Fresno State junior Lacy Barnes, who did not compete in college last year but who had a practice throw of 193 feet last season, according to Venegas. Lutjens said that she competed against Barnes in high school and that the Fresno State performer "is a powerful thrower" who has had marks in the 190s this year.
Can Lutjens beat Barnes as well as the other top competitors in June? Venegas thinks she can. "I think Toni is capable of an upset. She is a big girl who is very intense at meets. She has the right frame and attitude, but she has got to feel just right on that morning.
"She (Toni) competed as a UCLA freshman and she was fourth at the NCAAs as a sophomore. She would be over the hump now if she hadn't been injured, and I would have put her at even money or slightly favored over Lacy Barnes."
Said Lutjens: "I'm not ruling it (a repeat championship) out, but I have no vendettas against anybody.
"We call her (Barnes) 'the rip artist' because she's got an incredible arm rip (a powerful throwing motion). We're also friends, as good friends as we can be, not seeing each other and competing against each other twice a year."
At the NCAA championships at Baton Rouge, La., she said that she will not be thinking of her competition. "When I go out there it will be me and the discus."
At one point, it might have been her and the javelin. Although she is sixth on the career javelin-throwing list at UCLA with a best mark of 158-10, she has given up that event this year to concentrate on the discus and the shot.
A one-to-one relationship with the object she throws is what works best for her, she said. "It takes a certain mentality to be a track athlete. You're sort of a loner in this sport because basically you're just depending on yourself.
"I miss team sports, but I chose track because I have to depend on me. I don't like to depend on a lot of people. I do have friends and a fiance (John Fouts, a UCLA senior who was a defensive tackle on the football team last year), but I don't prefer to hang out in huge groups all the time."