Huskies Among Favorites At World Track Championships

Aug. 4, 2005

HELSINKI, Finland - Two-time U.S. discus champion Aretha Thurmond and reigning U.S. pole vault champion Brad Walker lead a trio of former University of Washington track and field competitors in the 10th IAAF World Track and Field Championships, beginning Saturday at Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, Finland. Swiss national Christian Belz, a 1998 UW graduate, will also compete at the event, which continues through Aug. 14.

Over 1,900 athletes from 209 countries will be represented at the meet, considered track and field's Olympics in non-Olympic years. Among IAAF members, only Afghanistan and Bhutan failed to send athletes to Helsinki.

A 2004 UW graduate and native of Spokane, Walker enters the competition ranked fifth in the IAAF World Rankings, based on performances in national and international meets throughout 2005. Walker's best vault of 19 feet, 4 ¼ inches in 2005 is tied for the world's second-best this year, and equals the 10th-best mark ever by an American male.

The two-time NCAA indoor pole vault champion defeated three Olympic medalists in June to win the vault at the USA Track and Field Championships, after also winning the U.S. indoor pole vault title in February. The top three finishers in each event at the U.S. meet in June qualified to represent Team USA at this weekend's World Championships.

Since winning the U.S. title in June, Walker has endured a heel injury during a competition in Paris, and a broken pole in Stockholm, Sweden.

'He's been working hard to get himself ready to go for this competition, and he's got a new pole coming in this weekend, so I'm confident he'll be ready to go,' said Washington assistant coach Pat Licari, who continues to train Walker at UW's Dempsey Indoor.

First-time Team USA member Walker will be joined in Helsinki by a pair of seasoned international competitors in Thurmond and Belz, both national champions and two-time Olympians.

Thurmond, known as Aretha Hill before marrying fellow thrower Reedus Thurmond in April, took third in the discus at the USATF Championships in June, snapping a two-year streak of U.S. discus titles. A 1994 graduate of Renton High School, Thurmond finished her collegiate career in 1998 with four All-America honors and an American collegiate record in the discus, and represented Team USA at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, following her sophomore collegiate season. Currently a resident of Opelika, Ala., she has placed among the top three at the USATF Championships in six of the last nine years, and will be making her third IAAF World Championships appearance.

Belz, meanwhile, will represent his native Switzerland at the World Championships for the fourth time in his professional career, and in his third different event. Having earned top-25 World Championships finishes in the steeplechase in 1999 and 2001, and a 13th-place finish in the 5,000 meters in 2003, Belz will compete Monday in the finals of the 10,000 meters. The 1998 UW grad broke a 20-year-old Swiss national record in the 10,000 meters at Stanford in May, his first professional race ever at that distance. He also owns Switzerland's national record in the steeplechase, and was the 12th-place finisher in the 5,000 meters at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

Eight Huskies have competed at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships since its inception in 1983, including three-time competitors Thurmond and Rick Noji, and four-time competitor Belz. No Husky has placed higher at the meet -- held every four years from 1983-1991, and every two years since -- than discus thrower Adam Setliff, the fifth-place finisher in 2001.

2005 IAAF World Track and Field Championships
August 6-14, Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.

Name                     Event         Date                    Time (PDT)Christian Belz           10,000m       Final: Mon., Aug. 8      9:20 p.m.Aretha (Hill) Thurmond   Discus        Qual: Sun., Aug. 7       1:45 a.m.                                       Finals: Tues., Aug. 9    8:35 a.m.Brad Walker	Pole Vault          Qual: Tues., Aug. 9      2:10 a.m.                                       Finals: Thur., Aug. 11   8:35 a.m.
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