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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Windfall Doesn't Materialize

Discus: Best throwers in the U.S. come to Antelope Valley but can't breeze to new records.

April 17, 1998|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANCASTER — Up on the high desert, the sight of disk-shaped objects spinning across the sky can mean only one thing--alien visitors.

That's precisely what happened Thursday when a half-dozen of the nation's best discus throwers traveled to this out-of-the-way spot for the Antelope Valley College Throws Festival.

They came in search of truly Martian conditions with dust blowing and fierce gusts that could turn a strong throw into a world record.

The wind reared up, if a bit late in the day, to no avail. The afternoon brought only pedestrian marks.

John Godina won the men's competition at 212 feet, 11 inches while Suzy Powell needed only 197-4 inches to win the women's event.

"Not exactly what I had in mind," Godina said. "The wind feels great but you have to use it."

The field of 15 men and 11 women had come, as one of them put it, "all psyched for some big throws." They have heard stories about the festival.

In the late 1960s and early '70s, it was a regular stop for the discus elite. Because there is no such thing as a wind-aided throw in their sport, the athletes want a "quartering wind" that blows at them from the right and keeps the discus aloft.

In 1971, desert gusts helped Jay Sylvester set a then-world record of 230-11, which still ranks sixth on the all-time U.S. performer list.

The festival was discontinued soon after, but time and rumor served to bolster its reputation.

"We heard the legends of old," Powell said. "We heard about people throwing 239 [feet] onto the track."

Now that Antelope Valley track Coach Mark Covert has revived the festival, he can use that folklore to attract the likes of Godina and Powell, both 1996 Olympians ranked No. 1 in the U.S.

Covert, however, cannot attract the wind.

He was hoping for something out of "Aliens," something howling, with sharp teeth. Instead, with the women's competition set to begin at midday, he got a breeze as harmless as "E.T."

"Can you believe this?" he asked. "It was blowing 30 mph yesterday."

Under calm conditions, Powell fell well short of her best of 214 feet.

Jackie McKeenan of Great Britain took a dermatological view of the proceedings.

"It was a nice, sunny day," she said after finishing fourth at 184-4. "At least I got a tan."

The wind finally picked up at 3 p.m., just as the men got started. Suddenly, there was excitement.

During warmups, Godina launched an errant throw that reached the track and bounced into the football bleachers.

Then, in the second round, Dave Dumble threw a career-best of 201-3. It was noteworthy because his sister, Dawn Dumble, threw 201 feet in a meet last month. They are the first brother and sister in U.S. history to surpass 200 feet.

"It felt good," Dave said after accepting congratulations from Dawn, who finished third among the women. "It was just a nice, easy throw."

Godina soon followed with a throw of 222 feet that landed just foul.

Having missed a chance to better his best by a foot, he settled for a shorter albeit winning mark in the fourth round.

"I'll come back again," he said, turning to face the wind. "And hopefully I'll take advantage of the situation."

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