Angell enjoys sights and sounds of Olympic Trials | NevadaAppeal.com

Angell enjoys sights and sounds of Olympic Trials

As an avid track and field fan, Austin Angell doesn’t wait to follow the sport on just Olympic years. He follows it every year – and at every level.

“Track meets are always fun to go see, from high school to college to international meets. They’re always good,” said Angell, a long-time South Lake Tahoe resident who is well known in the area as a coach who spent 25 years coaching South Tahoe Middle School cross country and was actively involved with South Tahoe High track and field for several years.

At the same time, there is something special about the Olympics rolling around every four years. Enough so that Angell was in Sacramento to watch the recent U.S. Olympic Trials for the fifth time. The list of stops includes Echo Summit in 1968, Eugene, Ore., in 1972 and ’76, and Sacramento in 2000 and ’04.

Angell, 61, was hardly disappointed by what he saw this time.

“It was an outstanding meet,” he said, “a Chamber of Commerce meet … the weather was perfect … the crowds were very good, and very knowledgeable, and also, the athletes put on a great performance.

“It was a good meet to watch, if you’re a track fan. If you were just looking for world records, it was not that great. But if you were at the meet to watch, the competitions were really fun to see.”

Even the topic of drug scandals didn’t take away from the atmosphere.

“The fans don’t care that much and the athletes don’t care that much,” Angell said. “They just go out to win. The whole point here, no one ever looks at the clock in an Olympic Trials event. Athlete-wise, all they look at is, first, second or third, and, ‘Did I make it to go to the Olympics.’ And that’s what’s important. You do the record times in the small meets and you do the winning places that matter at the championship meets. Nobody ever asks your time if you went to the Olympics. It’s either, ‘Did you win or did you lose?'”

Angell is more than a passing fan of the sport. He follows high school track and field with a passion – he has watched every California state meet over the last 50 years – and he was part of the organizing committee that brought the 1968 Olympic Trials to Echo Summit. As a runner, he ran numerous marathons in the 1970s and ’80s, including visits to Boston, New York City, Honolulu and Tahiti. And yes, he is an avid skier who watched the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley.

Being in Sacramento for the Olympic Trials brought back some old memories from September, 1968.

“The Trials were held in September and it had even snowed by then,” he said, flashing a smile. “It was a very picturesque place to have a meet because they didn’t cut the trees down. They just put the track down on a temporary asphalt base and you got to watch everything. The pole vault was in the middle of the field and it was bracketed by trees on both sides so when you sat in the stands, you just looked at them jumping. You couldn’t even see the start of the runway.”

The atmosphere was totally different this time while watching with 20,000-plus other fans at Sacramento State University’s Hornet Stadium.

“It’s a little different crowd situation here,” Angell said. “You had 2,000 or 3,000 and everybody able to sit around the meet. You were able to sit by the jumping pits and throwing areas. And when you sat in the stands, which were very small football wooden stands, you heard the gun go off and you didn’t see anything until the runners came around the bend and headed toward home because the trees were in the middle of the track.”

He vividly remembers watching Lee Evans and Larry James duel to the wire in the 400-meter final 36 years ago. Evans won in 44.0 seconds, followed by James in second-place at 44.1 – the fastest 400 ever contested up to that point. Evans came back a month later in Mexico City and ran 43.86 to set a world record that stood for 20 years.

“There was some excellent talent,” Angell said. “You saw world record holders and one high school kid, Casey Carrigan, made the team in the pole vault (at 17 feet).”

Two other world records fell during the Echo Summit Trials: Geoff Vanderstock’s 48.8 in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles and Bob Seagren’s 17-9 in the pole vault. Al Oerter also took a step toward winning his fourth straight Olympic gold medal in the discus.

After watching that talent at Tahoe, Angell made the trip to Mexico City by train to watch part of the ’68 Games. He had a chance to see Evans run his world record 400, and to see Bob Beamon’s historic 29-foot, 2 1/2-inch leap for a world record in the long jump.

“If you look at a picture of Bob Beamon jumping toward you, I was sitting in the background, up in the upper deck in general admission seating,” Angell said. “It was starting to rain and hardly anyone was there watching when he made the jump. If there were 50 people, you were lucky.”

Of course, Beamon’s jump surpassed the previous world record by nearly two feet and stood for 23 years. Angell regarded Melvin Lister’s winning mark of 58-4 in the triple jump on the next-to-last day of competition in Sacramento as a comparable performance.

“When you look at it, he (Lister) went from a 55-foot p.r. coming into the Trials, then he goes 56 to make the finals and 58 in the finals,” Angell said. “Beamon had a lot of good jumps coming in that year, so he was well known. But when you look at this kid, who has no sponsor and holds down a full-time job (installing car stereos for Circuit City), to me, that’s more of an impressive improvement that Beamon.”

The 2004 Trials was a good track and field meet.

“There were some awesome events,” Angell said. “The athletes seemed to excel against competition. You had a 19-foot pole vaulter (Tye Harvey), a 57-foot triple jumper (Tim Rusan) and a guy (Coby Miller) run 9.99 in the 100 meters who didn’t make the team. And the 200-meter semifinals; anytime you have 16 runners under 21-flat, you’ve got a good field. I think the United States is sending a strong team to Athens.”

Dave Price is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal. He can be reached at 881-1220 or at dprice@nevadaappeal.com