Thursday, May 22, 2014

Jayhawk Hall of Fame

The Czarina made the trek with me to Allen Field House during our recent visit to Lawrence to check out the Booth Family Hall of Athletics.  It was my second stop at the wonderful showcase of Jayhawk athletic history and the first for the Czarina.  She didn't seem too impressed by all the memorabilia, all she wanted to see was Jim Ryun.  The great miler is right there along with dozens of other Jayhawks in the Jayhawk Hall of Fame.
Kent McDonald, Henry Marsh, and Doug Brown 1976 Olympic Trials
The great majority of athletes in the hall are members of K.U.'s once great track and field program.  I looked about for Kent McDonald, figuring he surely would merit inclusion.  Much to my surprise I could only find Kent in a team photo of one of the great Jayhawk teams that placed at NCAA's.  When I got back to my sister's house I hit her laptop to check out the criteria for the hall.  Kent's omission surely must be a mistake.

I went through the list and much to my dismay, Kent didn't meet any of the standards.  He wasn't an Olympian, a world record holder or a national champion.  Kent McDonald is simply the greatest steeplechaser in Kansas history.  The only track records at Kansas older than the one Kent set in the steeplechase, are records set by the great Jim Ryun. 

Kent won four straight Big 8 titles in the steeplechase.  Kent was an All-American his senior year in the steeplechase.  He went to the AAU National Championship meet where he chased rival Randy Smith to a 2nd place finish, a school record 8:28.54, and the 8th fastest time in U.S. history at the time in 1975.  Kent went to the 1976 Olympic Trials but never made it out of the qualifying round.  An injury had been his undoing.  Smith also crashed and burned at those trials and as far as I know, never ran seriously again.

I would argue that Kent deserves a place of his own in the Jayhawk Hall of Fame.  He won four conference championships.  He was just a half second away from winning a national championship.  Kent also helped lead a Jayhawk cross country team to nationals. 

Kent got the most out of his training.  He somehow found a way to survive coach Bob Timmons gruelling workouts.  He realized early on that his slight frame couldn't handle 100 mile weeks.  Kent never bought in to Timmons' demand that his distance runners run twice a day.  McDonald was a fierce competitor with a surprisingly lethal kick.  His biggest misfortune was to come along as the same time as Randy Smith.

The two had battled in high school.  Smith went to Ryun's high school, Wichita East.  He set the state record for 2 miles and broke 4:10 in the mile.  That same year, 1971, McDonald would run 9:08.9 for 2 miles, one of the fastest times in the nation that year and that time still stands as the Lawrence High school record.  Kent finished 2nd to Smith in both the mile and 2 mile at state that year.

Smith went on to have a stellar career at Wichita State.  He finished 2nd to a foreigner in the steeple his senior year at the NCAA's, the same race where McDonald finished 6th.  The two then battled a couple of weeks later at Eugene, Oregon in the 3000 meter steeplechase, both landing on the all time steeple charts for the United States.  Both men went on to represent the U.S. overseas with Smith beating the Soviets in the USA/USSR dual in Kiev.

Kent went on to become a top flight road racer in the south after college.  He moved to New Orleans where he was a fixture on the local racing scene.  As he got older he became a first rate triathlete.  Kent even survived a harrowing head-on crash with a van while out on his bike on a training ride.

I was lucky enough to train with Kent McDonald for a couple of summers when I was in high school. Kent taught me what he could about serious running.  Kent tried his best to dissuade me of any notions of running at K.U.  I had to learn that lesson the hard way.  How he survived four years and kept his love of running is beyond me 

Yes,Kent McDonald still runs.   He coaches high school swimming.  I think he's a Hall of Famer.  Holding a school record for 40 years should count for something. 

1 comment:

  1. an excellent example of how a great athlete can fall through the cracks of historical archives ... we easily forget those who performed exceptionally well but by the inevitable twists of fate are the ones who miss carrying the laurels in those events which comprise recorded history ... thanks for reminding us about great athletes like Kent McDonald
    kind regards, Mason