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Hurdler Vickers Is On the Fast Track : UCLA: Former sprinter finds success as a hurdler. She will be competing in two events at this week's NCAA meet.

May 30, 1991|MITCH POLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

From the time she first started competing in track and field at age 6, Janeene Vickers says she considered herself to be primarily a sprinter.

So when she took up the hurdles at Pomona High, Vickers wasn't exactly enamored with the event.

It wasn't until her senior year at Pomona that she started to shift her emphasis.

"That was when I was converted to the idea of being a hurdler," she said. "Since that time I've always thought of myself as a hurdler and I haven't looked at myself as a sprinter."

Since joining the UCLA track team four years ago, Vickers' performance in the 400-meter hurdles has improved dramatically.

As a senior with the Bruins, the 22-year-old Vickers is regarded as one of the premier hurdlers in the U.S.

UCLA Coach Bob Kersee said there is no telling what Vickers can accomplish as a hurdler in the future.

"She can win the NCAAs, she can win in the Olympics, she can break the American record and she can break the world record," Kersee said. "I think she can do all of that based on the knowledge that I have (about her). I think she's going to be one of the best of all time as a college athlete and as a (track and field) athlete."

While the 400 hurdles has been her specialty--she is defending NCAA women's champion in the event--Vickers' talents are not limited to that event.

In fact, going into the NCAA championships that started Wednesday and will run through Saturday at the University of Oregon, Vickers had qualified for the NCAA championships in six events. She qualified with automatic clockings in the 100-, 200- and 400-meters and with provisional times in the 400 hurdles, 100-meter hurdles and 400-meter relay.

While Vickers will compete in only two events at the NCAA meet--she competed in four last year but will compete in only the 100 and 400 hurdles this year--she said it serves a dual purpose to enter as many different events as possible during the season.

"It's an attempt to show my versatility but it's also meant to prepare myself for the 400 hurdles," she said. "We want to get into the low 53s and in order to get that (time) I have to improve my speed."

Vickers said she concentrated mostly on the 400 hurdles early in her UCLA career because she was still learning the event. But as a senior, she said Kersee wanted her to concentrate on developing her strength and speed and build up to competing in the 400 hurdles.

"I think it was done in part to help me prepare better for the European hurdlers," Vickers said. "Every time I've run in the sprint races, I've gone in three or four events in a day so I work on my speed and my endurance at the same time."

She said it is all part of Kersee's long-term program that he set up for her when she first arrived at UCLA.

"I'm a progressive kind of coach," Kersee said. "I try to progressively bring an athlete around. Since she started here, she has improved her patience in me. She's trusted my ability as a coach and that has helped me develop her ability as a track athlete."

Vickers said: "There were things that had to be learned about the 400 (hurdles) and there were things I had to learn about the sport and about the coach. But everything has fallen into place this year and that's why I've been so successful."

By implementing Kersee's strategy of competing in numerous events in order to prepare for the 400 hurdles, Vickers expects it to lead to faster times in the 400 in the long run.

Along the way, Vickers has also developed into a top-notch sprinter.

In fact, her qualifying time of 23.20 seconds in the 200 meters is listed among the best times in the U.S. this season.

That's not too shabby when you consider that it is a distance she has rarely competed at since early in her high school career.

"Over a six-year period, that was only the third time I've run it since I was a sophomore in high school," she said. "I ran it at UCLA (six) weeks ago and then the week before I ran it in 24.5."

It is not as if Vickers wants to cast aside her ability as a sprinter. She said she sees the sprint events as something to fall back on.

"Sooner or later, the opportunity will be there for me to do some speed work and I'll put the 400 hurdles aside and do some sprints and I think people will be surprised with what they will see," she said. "I was running well in the sprints before people even heard of me as a hurdler."

But for now, there is little doubt that the 400 hurdles is her focal point.

"Right now I have no intentions of concentrating on the sprints," Vickers said. "The 400 hurdles is still my best event. It's still my best event and it's still my favorite event and it will be until I retire."

That is why Kersee has planned her training schedule for the season around the 400 hurdles, an event that Vickers won at 55.40 seconds at the NCAA championships last year.

"The main event is the 400 hurdles and we want her to go in and try to defend her title," Kersee said. "After that it depends on how the team race goes. We expect her to qualify in five events (and two relays), so that gives us some options."

After the NCAA finals, Vickers will set her sights on more lofty goals, such as the world track finals in August in Tokyo.

"I think the American record is a possibility and the world record is not out of reach," she said. "If we can take (the race) to the 52s and win it, I can possibly get a world record."

Vickers, who competed in the 400 hurdles at the 1988 Olympic Trials but did not qualify for the team, is also pointing toward her goal of winning a medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

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