For a man who rates among the fastest human beings on the planet these days, Frank Fredericks was doing precious little racing at Saturday afternoon's BYU Track and Field Invitational in Provo. Aside from running in a couple of relays - in which he gave hometown fans a rare glimpse of the speed he used to run stride for stride with Ben Johnson and Rocket Ismail last winter - he spent the day sitting in the stands, chatting with friends and fans.
"It's going to be a long season," said Fredericks, who will run in the World Track Championships in September. "I need a break, and this was a good time to take it."But there was another reason for the rest on Saturday. "It's cold," he said.
Oh, yes, the cold. It is a sad irony that while BYU possesses one of the fastest tracks in the country, it also has some of the sport's worst weather. Saturday's meet was delayed so that snow could be cleared from the track. When they weren't competing, athletes spent the the day trying to stay warm in the cold, breezy conditions.
It's an old problem. BYU has long talked of holding big-time home meets, but it rarely happens. This year BYU will have only two home meets, and no major invitationals.
"We've offered much money to bring teams in, but no one would do it," said Craig Poole, who coaches the BYU women's team. "The problem is the weather, the remoteness, and the altitude."
In two weeks, Washington State, a national track power, will come to Provo, but the best BYU could pull together for Saturday's invitational were Montana State, Utah State, Utah, Ricks College and a few athletes from Weber State.
It was noooo contest. BYU outdistanced its nearest rival (MSU) 248-77 in the men's competition, and 131-44 in the women's competition.
Fredericks took advantage of the low-key event to take part of the day off. He ran a leg on BYU's winning 4 x 100-meter relay, then retired to the stands for a coule of hours before returning for the 4 x 400 relay. Running the second leg, he got the baton 30 meters behind the leader. He was more than 10 meters ahead at the finish, and fans were gasping and chuckling at the ease with which he had burst past the competition, while clocking a 46.3 split.
"He was just screwing around," said BYU men's coach Willard Hirschi. "He was speeding up and slowing down."
Hirschi has long maintained that Fredericks could challenge the world record in the 400 if he ever took the event seriously, but Fredericks first wants to see how he fares in the short dashes, which is understandable. After all, last year he ranked eighth in the world at 200 meters. In March he won the 200 at the NCAA Indoor championships and was third in the 55-meter dash, inches behind Ismail.
Even with Fredericks in the stands, Saturday's meet was little more than an intrasquad meet for BYU. The men's 100-meter dash matched a pair of Cougar football players, Brian Mitchell and Erik Hughes. Mitchell, an all-conference cornerback, finished his college football career last fall. Hughes, a sophomore, is just beginning. Last year he asked for a tryout with the football team and got it. Last Wednesday he was given a scholarship, having worked his way into the starting rotation at wide receiver.
"He may be the fastest football player they've ever had here," says Hirschi.
Despite cold weather and relatively little conditioning work, Hughes clocked 10.61 to win the 100, .03 ahead of Mitchell. "I played spring football, and then I took three weeks off, so it's been hard trying getting back into it," said Hughes.
Still, he also managed to win the long jump (with a leap of 23-01/2), and finished second in the 200 (21.79) and third in his first javelin competition (146-2).
Football players were the order of the day, although, like Hughes, few are in top shape after taking time out for spring football. Freshman Patrick Mitchell, Brian's brother and a rising defensive back, won the 110-meter high hurdles in 14.51 and teamed with his brother, Fredericks and Jim Waite in the 4 x 100 relay.
"We've been nursing him along," says Hirschi. "He's been hurt. We've only worked on the hurdles two or three times outdoors. He can be one of the really great ones. He ran 14.5 without practice. You don't do that unless you're really good."
Mitchell isn't the only Cougar nursing injuries. Jason Pyrah, the fastest prep miler in the country three years ago, has been hampered by leg injuries since he returned from a church mission last summer, but he still managed to outkick MSU's Woody Woods to win Saturday's 1,500 in 3:57.20.
"Most of his workouts have been in the pool," says Hirschi.
In the women's competition, matters were equally lopsided for BYU. Laura Zaugg, a BYU heptathlete, won both hurdle races and anchored both of the winning relay teams. As always, BYU dominated the distance races, with the strong foursome of Nicole Birk, Angela Lee, Leanne Whitesides and Dorota Buczkowska. Birk produced one of the day's best performances, outkicking Buczkowska to win the 1,500 in 4:31.79.
"It was just a workout today," said Pat Shane, Birk's coach. "She'll be an All-American this year."
It wasn't all BYU on Saturday. Utah's John Schieffer, the state's top miler and only a sophomore, won the 800 in 1:52.77. Utah's jumping sister act of Brenda and Karen Alcorn won the high jump (5-7) and long jump (18-5), respectively. But for the most part, BYU ruled the day.