Defeated Pendergist still on Olympic track

Phil Jackman

May 11, 1992|By Phil Jackman

EMMITSBURG -- Rob Pendergist had just turned in a splendid first day at the Eastern Decathlon Championships, hanging right on his personal record for the first five events, and he was near ecstasy.

"I'm not even tired," he said after the 400-meter -- had ended more than five hours of competition. "I'm happy. I'm going to do it."

The Mount St. Mary's junior had started the day Saturday looking for 200 points. Those points, added to the 7,638 he racked up while winning the decathlon at the Florida Relays in March, would send him on his merry way to the Olympic Trials next month.

If you recall, Saturday was a fairly miserable day around here. Up by the Catoctin Mountains, it was even worse. Usually, all a track and field man can look forward to in the rain and wind is disappointment.

And it started out that way for the kid from Maine. At the start of the 100 meters, it wasn't only raining cats and dogs, they were carrying pitchforks.

Rob's spirits sank when he ran only 11.15, well off his personal record of 10.73, and losing him a lot of points off his effort in Florida. Still, he hadn't come this far to simply fold his tent and quietly steal away.

The rain hadn't subsided even a little bit at the start of the long jump and this is when Pendergist got the idea it was about to be his day. "A best ever in a blinding rainstorm," he gushed of his 24-feet, 7 3/4 -inch effort. Rob next grabbed a shot put and shoved it out there nearly 44 feet, another PR. The points were cascading in now.

A 6-9 high jump stood him in good stead and now it was time for the 400 meters. Decathletes think they're about to perform their best or close every time they are called to a mark for an event.

But Pendergist knew better. The rain had long since stopped, but it was chilly, raw and somewhere on that track the wind would be whacking the guys in the face pretty good for at least 100 meters.

The fierce headwind showed up at about the 200-meter mark. It not only stood the runners up, it had some guys leaning backward. Rob's 50.48 seconds was not great shakes, but his 4,145 points for the first day were.

He had more than half the points he needed to qualify for the Trials and a 25-point lead over Alex Kruger of Great Britain. This was a Mutt & Jeff dual, Pendergist going 5-11 and 175 pounds, the 28-year-old Kruger 6-4 and 200 pounds.

Rob reviewed the day quickly, then ticked off three reasons why he couldn't wait for the final five events yesterday: "It's supposed to be better, warmer. I had a very weak discus and a bad pole vault in Florida.

"I'm going to pick up points because I've been working really hard on the discus and vault. I've got to, because I don't want to have to run a fast 1,500 meters at the end."

"No one likes to have to run fast in the 1,500," said Gary Kinder, who stood third after five events. "That event is counter-productive to all the things you do in the first nine events."

Who would know better than Kinder, who won the Olympic Trials in 1988 with a score of 8,293 despite having a rough time breaking five minutes in the metric mile. Gary could do only the first five events at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul as he injured a foot in pole vault practice and just couldn't push off in any of the throwing events.

"Well, if it comes down to it, I can probably do 4:30 . . . probably," said Pendergist.

The first event yesterday, the 110-meter high hurdles, did nothing to sway last year's IC4A champion from his appointed rounds. Another PR (14.79) had him thinking of pushing on past lTC the 7,800 points for qualifying to 7,850, where they pay your expenses to the Trials.

Then, the discus. Once again, near disaster. Competitors get only three tosses. Rob's first one sailed out of bounds. The pressure was on. He made sure of the next toss, but it went only 115 feet. A third attempt also sailed outside the boundary.

The pole vault was a bummer, too. Mount coach Jim Deegan pointed out, "Rob's been doing 15 feet in practice and it should be a strong event for him." It wasn't. Just over 14 feet was all he could muster.

Dead ahead was the javelin, the ninth event, and Pendergist has had a bad shoulder for a month. It restricts him to one throw. He answered with a fine toss exceeding 193 feet and there was still hope left.

Recall, Rob had said, "I don't want to have a fast 1,500 meters at the end. I can do a 4:30, probably."

The situation dictated he had to run 4:23, not only for the necessary points to meet the Trials qualifying standard but to win the Eastern title. The time is his PR.

It wasn't to be. He ran 4:28.4, finishing with 7,764 points, second to Kruger's 7,804. The 7,764 met the NCAA qualifying standard for its title meet June 5-6 in Austin, Texas, and there maybe Rob Pendergist can find those last 36 points to make it to the Olympic Trials June 19-28 in New Orleans.

It's not life and death, because Rob is just 21, has another year in school and everyone knows the best years for a decathlete are in his mid-20s and even later.

Two days, today and tomorrow, Pendergist allowed himself before heading back and getting all the track paraphernalia back out. Decathletes don't discourage easily.

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