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David Walsh: Olympians visit South Point track this week

May. 05, 2013 @ 10:25 PM

Nick Willis stood on the outside of the fence Friday night where he could watch the start of the 4x800 relay for boys and girls track and field teams in the Arthur Lydiard Classic at South Point High School.

Willis paid close attention to the stride of the runners. Some he found impressive.

Willis is a pretty good judge of distance runners. The New Zealand native won the silver medal in the 1500 at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing with a time of 3:34.16 minutes. He's currently training for the World Championships in Moscow.

Willis admitted that watching the 4x800 and other distance races in the meet named after Lydiard -- one of the most successful distance coaches in New Zealand history -- made him think back to his high school days in his homeland. In 2001, Willis ran the mile in 4:01.33, the fastest high school time ever for that distance. No wonder he earned a track scholarship to the University of Michigan. He and wife Sierra still live in Ann Arbor.

"It's the same as where I was once," Willis said just after being introduced to the crowd. "You never know where it will take you. It's important to be proud of your grass roots. How naive I was at the time. You learn the less you know, the more you enjoy it."

Some distance runners, like Raine Wireman of Fairland, zipped around the track to win their events in record time (1600, 4:27.99). Others struggled to make it the two, four or eight laps.

"Without failure or disappointment, success is not enjoyable," Willis said.

At the London Olympics in 2012, Willis was flag bearer for New Zealand. His best mile time is 3:50.66 (2008 in Eugene, Ore.).

Willis had another message for the athletes: "Enjoy the team aspect."

Willis, Barry Magee and Bill Baillie, former Olympic athletes from New Zealand, spoke and showed videos of their career highlights on Thursday night in the school cafeteria. At the meet, they signed autographs, posed for pictures and handed out awards. At Thursday's event, Willis met Chris Parsons, boys track coach at Cabell Midland High School. Willis said he knows about Jacob Burcham, standout distance runner for the Knights.

In the 2008 Olympics, Willis actually finished third, but got moved to second when Rashid Aamzi was disqualified after a positive drug test.

"I cried many tears," Willis said of getting on the medal stand. "I thought, 'How do I deserve this little slice of history?' "

Hawke's Bay's Kahurangi Maori Dance Company performed during a short break just after the meet began. They got to showcase dance, music and culture of New Zealand and several of the Pacific Islands. When they finished, they presented a kiwi bear to young Megan Fulks.

Another former Olympic standout on hand was Randy Barnes, native of St. Albans, W.Va., and winner of the gold in the shot put in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta (70 feet, 11.25 inches). He took home silver in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul (73 feet, 5.5 inches). Barnes still is the West Virginia Class AAA record holder in the shot and discus. In 1984, he won the shot with a heave of 61-7. A year later, he sailed the discus 181-7 for the record.

I don't know if Barnes saw Unioto's Trevor Detillion perform in the discus, but I'm sure he was smiling if he did. Detillion, just a sophomore, won the event with a record toss of 176-9 -- 26 feet, 1 inch better than the previous mark of 153-10 by Greg Bender of Coal Grove.

SPECIAL AWARDS: Awards for coaching and volunteer work were handed out at the Lydiard Classic. Ken Cook got the Lifetime Coaching Achievement honor and Roy McCallister got the Volunteer award.

SOUTH POINT CONSTRUCTION: Baseball and softball fields are being constructed at South Point High School. Visitors to the school for the Lydiard Classic could see the outlines for the two facilities.

TAKE THAT COACHES: Spring Valley wrestling fans had a roast/dinner for departing coaches Bruce Niday and Keith Schaffer on Saturday at the school. Event started at 2 p.m. It ran until the final story was told. Word is it wasn't a retirement party. That will be next season.

SPORTSMANSHIP AWARDS: Beechwood's Alexis Hunter and Monroe County's Chad Wilson were statewide winners in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Sportsmanship Recognition program. Each received a $3,000 scholarship. They were chosen from a pool of 32 regional winners. Each regional winner got a $350 scholarship.

Regional winners from the area were Johnathan Burke (Fairview) and Jordan Gillum (Greenup County) in Region 16 and Ethan Rowe (Pikeville) and Sarah Dawahare (Pikeville) in Region 15. To qualify for consideration, a student must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5, verification of no game disqualifications for unsportsmanlike conduct, and be involved in leadership roles within the community.

David Walsh is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2759 or dwalsh@herald-dispatch.com.