See highlights from the Sanger Easter Classic track and field meet
The 100th Central Section Track and Field Masters Meet, also known over the years as the Valley Championships, is Saturday at Buchanan High’s Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Athletes are competing to qualify for the state meet, to be held May 24-25 at the same venue.
Some might even hold future Olympic aspirations (2024 in Paris?) like the dozen from the Central Section who have already enjoyed Olympic competition.
With information supplied by section track and field historian Ron Blackwood and section historian Bob Barnett, here are the Olympians who competed in the section meet and notable accomplishments or place in the Olympics:
Bob Mathias, Tulare Union – He was a two-time gold medalist in the decathlon in 1948 in London and 1952 in Helsinki, Finland.
Rafer Johnson, Kingsburg – He competed in the Olympics in 1956 (Melbourne)and 1960 (Rome) in the decathlon. Johnson won the gold medal in 1960 after taking silver in 1956.
Leamon King, Delano – He helped the U.S. 400 relay team win gold in 1956 with teammates Ira Murchison, Thane Baker and Bobby Morrow. King ran the second leg of the race.
Sim Iness, Tulare Union – He was the gold medalist in the discus in 1952, starting a streak of five straight golds for U.S. throwers.
Tommie Smith, Lemoore – He won gold at the 1968 games in Mexico City, winning the 200 in 19.83 seconds despite running with a hamstring hurt prior to the race. Teammate John Carlos was third. On the medals stand the Americans each raised a black-gloved fist, one of the most famous moments in Olympic history.
Lee Evans, Central – He was gold in the 400 and 1,600 relay in 1968. Evans set a world record in the 400 in 43.86 seconds. In the 1,600 relay, he was the anchorman as the team set a world record of 2:56.16.
Maxie Parks, Washington Union – He was part of the 1,600 relay team that won the gold medal at the 1976 games in Montreal. His teammates were Herman Frazier, Benny Brown and Fred Newhouse.
Randy Williams, Edison – He won the long jump at the 1972 Munich games. His winning jump of 27 feet 4 1/2 inches set a world junior record that stood for 40 years.
Kyle Alcorn, Buchanan – He competed in the steeplechase at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Jenna Prandini, Clovis – She competed in the 200 at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and finished 10th in 22.55. Prandini remains an elite-level athlete with her sights set on the 2020 games in Tokyo.
Nwanneka ”Nikki” Okwelogu, Clovis West – She represented Nigeria in 2016 and placed 29th in the shot put.
Christine Sonali Merrill, Bakersfield Christian – Representing Sri Lanka, Merrill competed in the 400 hurdles and was eliminated in the first round.
Athletes to watch
Who’s poised to be the next Valley track and field Olympian? Maybe one of these standouts:
▪ Clovis North junior Caleb Foster leads the state in the boys long jump with a best of 25-1 1/2. He was fourth in the state last year.
▪ Buchanan senior Meagen Lowe is the state’s top girls distance runner with best season marks in the mile, 3,000 and 3,200.
▪ Clovis West senior Elizabeth Funk has the state’s best girls pole vault mark of 13-9.
▪ Fowler senior Jocelynn Budwig has the best mark in the girls discus, 171-7. She was third in the state last year and is the defending state shot put champion.
▪ The Masters Meet did not take place at least five times, Blackwood said. An outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease caused organizers to cancel the 1924 meet, and it was not held from 1942-45 because of World War II.
▪ Saturday’s meet starts at 4 p.m. (field events) and 5 p.m. (track events). Tickets are $8, $6 for high school students with ID and $7 for seniors.
▪ The top three finishers in each event qualify for the state meet.