Novice decathlete finds success

  • By Mike Cane / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, July 26, 2005 9:00pm
  • Sports

Less than seven weeks ago, Jake Webb had never competed in a decathlon, one of the most demanding activities an athlete can undertake.

Kevin Nortz / The Herald

Arlington High School senior Jake Webb is competing in the Young Men’s decathlon at the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Championships this week in Indianapolis, Ind. Webb also plays football for the Eagles.

Furthermore, he had never even attempted two of the competition’s trickiest events (javelin and pole vault).

Yet this week Webb finds himself battling some of the nation’s elite young athletes at the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis. The 18-year-old Webb, who this fall will begin his senior year at Arlington High School, is competing in the Young Men’s division (ages 17-18).

It’s been a whirlwind summer for Webb, a standout running back on the Arlington football team who had never traveled east of Spokane until this week. After placing second in his first decathlon June 9-10 in Yelm, Webb won at the Region 13 Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships July 7-8 in Cheney. The top two finishers at the regional meet (which included athletes from Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho) qualified for nationals.

After Day 1’s events (100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter run), Webb was 14th out of 26 competitors with 3,194 points. Vince Kinney of Lynnwood was 16th (3,108).

The contest concludes today with five more events: 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, 1,500-meter run.

A talented sprinter and jumper, Webb tried the decathlon this summer following encouragement from Judd Hunter, head track coach at Arlington High and coach of the Soaring Eagles Track Club. Hunter believed Webb had the tools to do well in the grueling decathlon, but the youngster’s rapid rise has been stunning.

“It was pretty surprising,” Hunter said of Webb’s performance. “I always knew he had it in him. He just had to put it all together.”

That’s a tall order in the draining decathlon. On any given day “You can be the best in all sorts of events,” Hunter said, “but if you can’t put it together on those two days, it’s not gonna happen.”

However, Webb has impressive focus that helps him apply his physical gifts.

“He’s probably the best at having mental toughness and mental preparation of anyone on the team,” Hunter said.

Webb tallied 5,509 points at the regional meet, topping Vince Kinney of Lynnwood (5,386). Webb increased his score by about 500 points over his first decathlon, where he finished second to Kinney.

One key to Webb’s success is his emergence in the pole vault. The first day he tried the event, he consistently cleared 10 feet. Then at regionals he vaulted 11 feet, a personal-best mark.

“That’s just absolutely crazy,” said Greg White, President of the Soaring Eagles.

“He just seems to catch on to things,” said Ronda Webb, Jake’s mother. “If you just show him how to do it, he picks it up.”

Jake Webb is one of three Soaring Eagles team members competing at nationals this week. Hailee Drege, 17, of Arlington qualified in the Young Women’s high jump, and Ken English, 10, also of Arlington, advanced in the javelin.

Although Webb has shown signs of becoming a promising decathlete (He hopes to continue competing in college), some aspects are extra unnerving. The javelin, a technique-driven discipline, is his weakest event (He was last at regionals). There’s also the decathlon schedule, which from Webb’s perspective seems like a perfectly designed cruel joke. Thoughts of the final event, the 1,500-meter run, keep the sprinter constantly on edge.

“That 1,500 just kills, especially after nine other events,” Webb said. “… I just hate that race. It’s always just sitting there in the back of my mind.

“I totally respect distance runners,” Webb said, laughing, “but what’s the point?”

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