Seilala Sua is 6 feet tall, weighs 240 pounds and moves as lightly as a ballet dancer. She is balanced and smooth with a straight back and muscled arms and legs. Sua throws things for the UCLA women's track team. The shotput, the discus, the javelin, the hammer. The senior from Cooper City, Fla., came to UCLA so she could learn to throw things farther than anyone else and it is Sua's hope, her expectation, that she will throw the discus for the United States at the Sydney Olympics.
Angela Williams is 5-2 and weighs less than 120 pounds. If Williams stood behind Sua you would not see Williams. Sua could probably pick up Williams and throw her too, along with the discus, shotput, javelin and hammer. Williams doesn't throw anything. She runs. Though Williams is tiny by sprinters' standards, she is quick. Her start out of the blocks might be the best in the world and Williams, who is from Ontario, is only a sophomore at USC. It is Williams' hope, her expectation, that she will run at least a relay for the United States at Sydney.
This weekend Sua and Williams are competing in the Pacific 10 Conference championships at Eugene, Ore.
On May 31, Sua and Williams will compete in the NCAA championships. Both have something to defend. Sua is the three-time defending discus winner and last year added the NCAA shotput trophy to her collection. As a freshman, Williams won the NCAA 100-meter title. The U.S. Olympic track and field team would be lucky to have both women.
Sua has always been large. "I was a big kid, always was a big kid," she says. Her size never made her uncomfortable. She is a Title IX kid, lucky to grow up when it was OK to be a big girl with strong arms and legs. There was a place for Sua. On the track. "I played softball and other things," she says, "but I liked track and field the best. I felt most comfortable at it.
"I always loved to throw. I guess I was kind of natural at it."
Sua was the No. 1-ranked high school thrower in the discus and shotput when she came to UCLA. Last year Sua was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in the discus and No. 6 in the shotput. Sua was ranked No. 6 in the world in the discus.
When Sua throws things, people pay attention. At the UCLA-USC dual meet two weeks ago, the crowd kind of shifted to one end of the UCLA track stadium when Sua was throwing the discus. It was as if a ship were sinking, the way perspective tilted to the end of the field where the discus was being thrown.
Two little girls, clearly track fans, wished they would grow up, way up, to the size of Sua. This seems a more admirable goal than wishing to slim down to the size of a model.
"Sports does help you feel good about yourself," Sua says. "It's been great for me."
Williams came to track naturally. She was always fast. She talks fast. It is impossible to listen as fast as Williams talks. She learns fast. Williams had a 3.9 grade-point average at Chino High. Most of all, though, Williams runs fast. Always has.
"I think I was setting records in grade school," she says. At Chino, Williams was twice Track & Field News high school women's athlete of the year. In 1998, Williams won the national junior championships. She ran the 100 meters in 11.11 seconds, which broke a 22-year-old record set by Chandra Cheeseborough. As a junior at Chino, Williams ran a wind-aided 10.98, becoming the first high school girl to run under 11 seconds, wind-aided or not. Right now Williams is ranked as the No. 1 under-20 sprinter in the country.
For a good part of this time, Williams has heard she is too small to compete at the very top level, that she will never be able to challenge the best sprinters, athletes such as Marion Jones, who is 5-11.
"Well, that's what people tell me," Williams says. "But I don't believe them."
Almost always, no matter who she is running against, Williams will be the first out of the blocks. "That's my strength," she says. "I don't have much choice, do I? The girls with longer legs have the advantage at the end."
With Jones, Inger Miller and Gail Devers considered favorites to earn the three U.S. Olympic 100-meter spots, Williams is hoping to make the six-woman final at the U.S. Olympic trials and get herself a spot on the 4x100 relay team. At least. "You never know at the Olympics," she says. "I'm not giving thinking I can't make the 100-meter team but everybody says it's a longshot this time."
Because sprinters need strength as well as speed, and because of her size disadvantage, Williams has grudgingly begun working with weights. "I don't like them too much."
Sua would laugh at that. Not liking weights. How could anyone not like weights? Sua and Williams competed at the 1996 Olympic trials. Both were too young, too inexperienced. But neither was intimidated and both began counting the days to the 2000 trials four years ago. The counting is almost over. The large thrower and the small runner aren't intimidated any more.
Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.