The record says discus thrower Leif Arrhenius is the man to beat in the NCAA track and field championships in two weeks.
The BYU sophomore has the nation's top mark so far, at 207 feet and 1 inch, or 63.12 meters, with UCLA's Greg Garza second (62.42) and Clendon Henderson of Liberty third (62.26).
More than a week ago, Leif, younger brother of BYU All-American thrower Nik both sons of Cougar All-American Anders Arrhenius was named the top athlete at the Mountain West Championships in Fort Worth. He scored a whopping 28 points, which amounted to more than half of Wyoming's total team score.
If you meet Leif, who is of Swedish descent, you immediately recognize his athletic profile: big shoulders, huge chest, bulky arms. Just like his dad, he's a guy you'd want to push your car out of a ditch or lift your cow into a truck.
Leif bench-pressed 495 pounds as a freshman. He pressed 455 in high school, but now he doesn't focus on his ultimate ability to bench weight. His 495 bench would put him in the top two or three strongest football players in the Mountain West or perhaps the Pac-10. BYU's football team record for the bench press is 540 pounds, set by current guard Travis Bright last year, and that's
about as good as any collegiate lineman in the country.
"If I maxed out, I could probably go over 500," he said.
But Leif's "Incredible Hulk" appearance is overshadowed by a nice guy disposition. He's what you'd imagine an opera singer might be, as in Luciano Paverotti. A three-time state shot put and discus champion at Mountain View High, he served an LDS mission in Taiwan. He's sensitive, kind and respectful.
Leif could have played football. His brother Nik did in high school, but when Nik tweaked his knee and it threatened the Arrhenius family legacy as championship track and field athletes, his father restricted his sons from blocking and tackling, focusing their athletic careers on the shot, discus and hammer throw.
"I wanted to play football, but my dad wouldn't let me. My brother hurt his knee, and it freaked him out," said Leif. He did play some basketball and soccer growing up.
It takes more than brute strength to excel in field events, said Leif. Technique is almost as important if not more significant than the ability to generate power.
"It has a lot to do with positioning, angles, timing, rhythm, leverage, a lot of things with the science of physics," he said.
While Leif is just 21, he notes the best discus throwers in the world are actually older, ages 29 to 35, so he's got time to mature and peak.
"It takes that long to learn what to do, to get your technique down with practice," he said. "So, the best years are probably ahead of me."
And he's got some great teachers, including former Olympic medal-winner L.J. Silvester, his dad and brother Nik, whom he will join this summer competing in Europe with a club team in Sweden. Nik leaves next week for Stockholm and will try to make the Swedish Olympic team.
Anders Arrhenius has been the constant in the throwing prowess of his sons, which started with the oldest, Daniel. He pushed, coached and motivated them, pinpointing their natural talents to something he spent a great deal of his life perfecting as an athlete, when he was one of the top shot put throwers in the NCAA in the early '70s.
One thing that might surprise people is how friendly the competition is in track and field.
Unlike the trash-talking that goes on in some sports, like basketball or the words often exchanged in the trenches of a football game, Leif says some of his biggest supporters have been his competitors and their coaches.
There's a camaraderie, a brotherhood that weaves its way into competition, said Leif. At the MWC track meet, his father was unable to attend, and Leif found support in the shot from coaches from Wyoming and TCU.
He often receives help from University of Arizona field coach Craig Carter, a former Clearfield High and Utah State University track star, and a staff member at the University of Utah, Tapio Kuusela.
"People help out and everyone wants each other to succeed, It's cool."The next competition for Arrhenius and the MWC champion Cougars is the NCAA regional at Northridge, Calif., before the national championships at Drake University in Iowa where Leif has set a goal to protect his status as No. 1.
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