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Friends and Rivals, They Chase Olympic Dream

August 29, 1991|KIRBY LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Schwepker and Chris Wilcox met by chance nearly 2 1/2 years ago, but the training partners and best friends are now striving for the chance to represent the United States in the decathlon in the Olympic Games.

Schwepker and Wilcox, who live in San Gabriel, have different backgrounds but similar credentials.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Schwepker was raised in St. Charles, Mo. He placed fourth at the U.S. Olympic Festival in July and set the NCAA Division II meet record of 7,881 points while competing for Southeast Missouri State at the 1988 national championships.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Wilcox was born in West Palm Beach, Fla. He was the Division II runner-up for Cal State Los Angeles in 1989 and 1991.

He holds the Division II decathlon records of 10.59 seconds in the 100 meters and 47.99 seconds in the 400 as well as U.S. Olympic Festival decathlon records in the long jump at 25 feet, 3/4 inches and 400 at 48.02.

Wilcox, 23, has scored 7,807 points for the two-day event consisting of the 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400 meters on the first day followed by the 110-meter high hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and the 1,500 meters on the second.

Wilcox and Schwepker, who were ranked 16th and 17th in the United States last year, first met in Vermillion, S.D., in 1989 at the Division II indoor nationals at South Dakota State. Wilcox was competing for Cal State L.A. and Schwepker was an assistant coach for Southeast Missouri State.

The two exchanged telephone numbers and went their separate ways. But not for long.

Three months later, Schwepker, looking for a change of climate and better competition, decided to move to California. He contacted Wilcox for a place to stay for a couple of days while he looked for housing.

Wilcox agreed, but only if Schwepker slept on the floor.

"I didn't really know what he was like," Wilcox said. "I didn't know if he was a nice guy. He was lucky that I wasn't mad at the world and was in a good mood. It's a total act of God that I let him stay."

Schwepker's two-day stay quickly turned into two months.

"We got along real well and I was never pressured into finding a place to stay," Schwepker said.

But Schwepker kept on searching despite a rapidly dwindling savings account.

"Every day I went to the beach to look for a place to stay, but all I had was $900 and couldn't afford anything. I had no idea how expensive it was for a one-room place."

Eventually, Wilcox and Schwepker began training together and decided to become roommates.

"In Missouri, I practiced hard and long," said Schwepker, 25, who competed in the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials but dropped out after failing to clear a height in the pole vault. "My downfall was that I overtrained in college and I believed more was better. I am motivated from within and don't need someone to go out to practice to make sure that I do my workouts."

Wilcox concedes that he fit into the latter category, but Schwepker has changed his thinking.

"(Schwepker) knows he has to work for everything that comes his way," Wilcox said. "Back then I was satisfied how I was. I didn't put in the hard work to achieve the results and I wasn't the worker he was."

Wilcox has increased his personal best by nearly 500 points since he began training with Schwepker. The two train six days a week and a normal training session lasts five to six hours.

"I owe everything and credit my success to John Schwepker," Wilcox said. "It was just fate that brought us together. He's behind me all the way. There's no jealousy or resentment, and everybody supports each other. We're always looking for ways to improve and we think so much alike that it's almost like the same person in two bodies."

Cal State L.A. men's track Coach John Turek, who trains Wilcox and Schwepker, also notices the bond.

"They're inseparable," Turek said. "It's hard to train alone for the decathlon because there are so many events to learn and perfect that it can be a burden, but it makes it a lot easier when you have someone out there with you. They help motivate each other and their relationship was just meant to be."

Nevertheless, a friendly rivalry has developed on and off the track.

"We compete in everything we do, whether it's in the decathlon, darts or Nintendo," Wilcox said, pointing to a neatly typed sheet of paper on the living room wall of their San Gabriel home titled "House Records." The list includes scores from more than 20 different video games and the date it was achieved.

Turek believes that Wilcox and Schwepker are still several years away from reaching their potential, but the two have geared their training for the Olympic Trials in New Orleans next summer.

Whatever the outcome in New Orleans, the Stars & Stripes Track Club teammates expect some changes in their living arrangement. Schwepker plans to get married after the trials. However, he said that Wilcox will always be welcome to live with him.

"At first I wasn't sure, but training with Chris has been the best move of my life. Any time he wants to stay," Schwepker said, laughing. "The floor will be there."

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