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Gilles Shows Special Qualities as Glendale College Heptathlete


Something about Marji Gilles was special.

It was apparent to Glendale College track Coach Jon Gold the first time he watched Gilles compete in the triple jump as a Burbank High senior in 1988.

Gilles had the look of a heptathlete.

"I looked at her body frame and saw that she had the build for it," Gold said of the 5-foot-10 Gilles. "She had spring in her legs and I could tell she had a lot of talent and could pick things up quickly."

Gilles, 19, also proved to have the ability.

She placed fifth in the heptathlon, which consists of seven events spread over two days, with 4,122 points in the state junior college meet last season.

Athletes compete in the 100 meters, the shotput, the high jump and the 200 meters on the first day, followed by the javelin, the long jump and the 800 meters on the second.

With an additional year of experience, Gilles returns to the state meet in the heptathlon and triple jump Friday and Saturday at Santa Barbara City College.

Gilles was the fifth-place qualifier from the Southern California region in the heptathlon last month with 4,008 points and placed fourth in the triple jump (37 feet 3 1/4 inches) at the Southern California championships at Cerritos College last Saturday.

"It's a really good field and there's a lot of good competition," Gilles said about the upcoming heptathlon. "I'm not going to worry about what place I take. Last year, there was no pressure to make it to the state meet. It was a gift. But this year, it was different. Everybody expected me to make it back.

"I just want to have fun, relax and improve upon last year's mark."

Gilles, who has bests of 39-4 3/4 inches in the triple jump and 127-6 in the javelin, also placed eighth in those events at last year's state meet.

"I thought she would excel very quickly in the heptathlon," Gold said. "She had run the mile relay and done the jumping events in high school. Then, she picked up the shotput and the javelin well. The only thing that really needed work was the hurdling."

Quite an achievement for Gilles, who had never run hurdles or thrown the shotput and javelin before last season.

"When I first came to Glendale, I thought I was going to be a triple jumper," said Gilles, the 1987 Southern Section Division 3-A triple jump champion.

"I didn't know I was going to be a heptathlete, but Gold made it sound so great. He just put that big smile on his face and told me, 'Don't worry, it's not hard. It'll be easy.' He just talked me into it."

Gold placed sixth in the decathlon in the 1981 junior college state meet for Mt. San Antonio College before moving on to compete at UCLA.

"When she came (to Glendale), we had a real small team," Gold said. "We only had five girls--three throwers and a high jumper--and Marji. We needed some people to do other events."

This year's team has 12 members, but Gilles still competed in nine events at last month's Western State Conference finals. She scored 38 of Glendale's 115 1/2 points to lead the Vaqueros to a third-place finish.

"After that I was so tired, I just felt like going home," Gilles said. "I was just going back and forth from event to event. I was doing the high jump and shotput at the same time. I didn't have time to change my shoes so I had to do the shotput in my socks. It was terrible."

But not as bad as her debut in the heptathlon in a meet at Cal State Los Angeles in December 1988.

Gilles had practiced over 30-inch-high hurdles for more than a month, but was unpleasantly surprised to learn the day of the meet that the height in the 100-meter hurdles was actually 33 inches.

"I hated the hurdles to begin with, but I got to the point where I was somewhat comfortable running them," Gilles said. "And then when I got to the meet, I thought they had put (the hurdles) too high. I had never gone over a hurdle that height before.

"I was a wreck, but somehow I got through it."

She survived her first heptathlon, but training for it hasn't been what Gilles has expected.

"I didn't realize how much work it takes to become technically sound in just one event," Gilles said.

It also has taken away a lot of time from the triple jump.

"I still don't consider myself a heptathlete," said Gilles.

"The triple jump is still my favorite event, but I've had to pretty much neglect it for the past two seasons."

For now, Gilles is devoting herself to the heptathlon.

"She knows what she needs to do to accomplish her goals," Gold said. "It's a very time-consuming event. . . . You have to be dedicated and can't afford to miss practice in those one or two events that you are weak in. She's extremely motivated even on those days when she feels flat."

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