For Paraguay's Jimenez, it's discus Zen and now

April 26, 1992|By Bill Lyon | Bill Lyon,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- He did the discus dance -- a frenzied, arm-propelling windup, a violent two-revolution pirouette across a concrete circle, an explosive uncoiling, a primal scream, and then the platter was a hissing arc, climbing into dishwater sky.

It fluttered there, a silver bird struggling into a gusting head wind, and then it sliced toward earth and even as it was gouging out a chunk of sod, Ramon Jimenez was thrusting both arms to heaven.

He knew.

He knew it was enough to take the lead.

And maybe enough to hold up, to win the championship flight of the college men's discus throw at the Penn Relays.

It was, and it did.

The white ribbon of measuring tape, stretched taut, confirmed what Jimenez already knew.

In meters: 61.66.

In feet and inches: 202, 3 1/2 .

It is the Zen event of sport, the discus, conducted in lonesome obscurity, men of great size off by themselves turning in dainty slow-motion twirls and half-throws. Like martial artists, they rehearse their explosive ballet that ends with an oversized plate being flung. . . .

Where?

To what purpose?

What is the fulfillment?

"Harmony of body and mind," replied Ramon Jimenez, pleasantly. "The art of body movement. It is a beautiful event."

He is left-handed.

But he doesn't talk like it.

He is 22, a graduating senior at the University of California, majoring in economic development. You suspect that when he has put away the discus, one day he will own a small country.

Perhaps his native Paraguay.

He is 6 feet 3, 245 pounds, skin tight as an orange, a walking McLean Deluxe. But while the throwers of discus tend to be no-necked nose tackles or immense slabs of Greek sculpture come to life, Jimenez says that neither great size nor strength nor speed guarantee, or are even necessary for, success.

"So much of it is technique," he explained. "And body awareness."

At 10, in his native Ascension, he was being groomed to be a professional tennis player. He dabbled in track and field, mostly out of boredom. One day, at a high school meet, he picked up a discus out of curiosity.

"It was the last event I was going to try before I quit track and field forever," he said.

It is a most unnatural event, but Ramon Jimenez took to it naturally. The disc felt smooth and familiar in his hand, comforting somehow. Clearly, this was a cosmic connection.

Almost immediately he broke the national record for boys 16 and under, and within six months he had broken the South American record.

"No more tennis," he said, smiling.

Now, seven years later, he already has qualified for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona (he will represent Paraguay), has won the Penn Relays, and zeros in on an NCAA title.

He was brought to the United States by Mac Wilkins, who is the Babe Ruth of discus and who has mentored and trained Jimenez.

"I am not where I am today without Mac," Jimenez said, with obvious emotion.

He won Friday on his fifth throw, of the usual six.

Wearing the blue and gold of Cal, he was sheathed in leotard and singlet, looking rather like a downhill racer without snow.

Each time he enters the ring, he faces forward and jumps twice, looking hard as though searching for a spot somewhere out beyond the horizon, someplace only he can see, someplace where a man has never thrown the discus before.

At the Penn Relays, the discus throw is consigned to a grassy patch out behind Franklin Field. From inside the brick walls you can hear the throaty roar of the crowd. Here, before a small gathering of coaches and cam corders, there is mostly silence, broken only by the rattle and clatter of railroad traffic.

This must be the only sporting event with trains passing by on either side, and overhead.

The competitors, locked into their spinning-top rehearsals, seem oblivious.

They have their idiosyncrasies.

John Nichols of LSU, a muscular man with shoulders for three, wears two different shoes. He will finish third.

His teammate, Simon Williams, clasps his head with both hands after each throw. He is a disappointed perfectionist. Like the surfer seeking the perfect wave, he is doomed to failure.

But it is the effort that matters.

On the first go-round, Nick Sweeney of Harvard, stubbled and frowning in his concentration, seizes the lead. He wears black shorts, gray T-shirt under a maroon singlet, and he lets loose a mighty "oooooofffffff" with each throw, like a great whale exhaling.

On his last attempt, his last chance to overtake Jimenez, he lifts an air foil into the wind and shouts after it: "Go! Go!"

Alas, it will not obey.

And even before it flops to the ground, Nick Sweeney is shaking his head and walking after it.

He knows.

He knows it is just short.

They have tape measures in their heads, these Zen-master flingers of the platter.

And they know. . . .

They know. . . .

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