Last friday night, Kamy Keshmiri of Reno stepped into the ring at the University of Oklahoma's John Jacobs Track for his fifth throw in the discus competition at the U.S. Olympic Festival. This had already been a year of celebration for Keshmiri. In June he won the discus at the TAC championships with a throw of 218'2". That not only made him, at 20, the youngest U.S. discus champion this century but it was also the culmination of a remarkable comeback after what looked like a career-ending leg injury in '88. Keshmiri had become, once again, the bright young hope in an event that has been dominated for years in the U.S. by hulking graybeards like Mac Wilkins, 38, and John Powell, 42.
But now Keshmiri faced a challenge by John Nichols, 19, the NCAA champion from LSU, who minutes earlier had grabbed the lead from him with a toss of 206 feet. The air was heavy and still—not at all conducive to throwing the discus a long way. "I thought I was done," said the 6'3", 235-pound Keshmiri. "Like a drowning fish."
He spun round the circle and flung the discus high against the black sky. He yelled something that sounded like "Ahhhh! Go!" and the discus obeyed. It fell to earth in the wet cinders more than 200 feet away. Keshmiri raised both arms. "I felt that pull, that torque," he said. "I knew before it landed that that discus was going to go."
When the distance was announced—211'10"—Keshmiri did a gleeful dance. Nichols got closer in the final round with a 209'1" toss, but Keshmiri's throw held up for the gold medal. "Not bad for dead air," he said afterward.
Keshmiri's performance was one of the highlights of the festival, which has showcased aspirants in Olympic and some non-Olympic sports since its inception in 1978. There were others: Kathy Arendsen, 30, of Holland, Mich., pitched the first perfect Softball game by a woman in festival history. Diver Mark Lenzi, 21, a junior at Indiana University, executed, though somewhat sloppily, the first four-and-a-half front somersault tuck from the three-meter board. And Hollis Conway, 22, a senior at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, high-jumped 7'10", one-quarter inch better than his eight-week-old American record. There were also a few unavoidable snags during the ten-day festival, which took place in and around Oklahoma City: Portions of several cycling and yachting events had to be canceled because of too much rain or too little wind. But if you didn't mind the Oklahoma heat and the cavorting festival mascot. Boomer, who looked like a steroid-fed prairie dog, it was easy to enjoy the first major gathering of U.S. Olympic athletes since the '88 Games—and the national debut of many hopefuls who could end up as stars in 1992.
Throwing the discus is, in a sense, Keshmiri's inheritance, passed down to him by his father, Joe, who was a hero in his native Iran in the '60s. Not only did Joe, then known as Jalal, represent Iran in four Olympics and set the national record of 200'4" in the discus, which still stands, but he was also a goalkeeper on the national soccer team. Even after he moved to the U.S. in 1963 in hopes of improving his throwing, Joe continued to compete for Iran internationally. Indeed, it was watching his father win the discus at the 1974 Asian Games in Teheran that made Kamy want to be a discus thrower. From the time Kamy started throwing the discus at age nine, Joe has been his only coach.
Their partnership has been fruitful. In 1987, as a senior at Reno High, Keshmiri had the kind of season that only a handful of high school athletes have ever experienced. In the space of 11 weeks, he had 20 throws longer than the previous national high school record of 213'6", which had stood for seven years. At the Golden West Invitational, his six throws averaged 218'4", and the longest of the bunch, 225'2", is still the national high school mark.
Keshmiri headed off to UCLA with a full scholarship and a bright future. But his freshman year was a nightmare. During a weight workout, a teammate picked him up in a playful bear hug and dropped him on the concrete. The impact hyperextended Keshmiri's left knee and cracked the tibia. The first doctor he saw told him his career was over. "When I heard that," Keshmiri says, "my whole body froze."
So he got a second opinion, which was far more promising. Three months later, Keshmiri dragged his by-then flabby body to the U.S. Junior Championships in Tallahassee, Fla., where he finished second, and then to the World Junior Championships in Ontario, where he learned a little about his own raw talent by winning the silver medal.
Keshmiri decided against returning to UCLA last fall, because he hadn't received the personal attention there he was used to getting from his father. Instead, he enrolled at Nevada-Reno, and he has been subjecting himself to five-hour workouts and making a staggering 300 throws a week. He takes special pride in his abdominal workouts, which have helped trim his body fat to 4.6%. "I don't want to be one of those heavy throwers," he says. "I want people to have to guess what event I do."
Keshmiri's win at the TAC championships in Houston qualified him for the World Cup in Barcelona next month, and winning a medal in that competition remains his major goal for the season. "I want to stun people over there," he says. Of course, Keshmiri plans to make another trip to Barcelona—for the 1992 Olympics—but by then he plans to be the world-record holder.
To be sure, Keshmiri, Arendsen, Lenzi and Conway weren't the only stars who shone brightly at the Olympic Festival. Here are three others, all of them up-and-comers who bear watching:
•Allen Rasor, archery. Like the discus, archery in the U.S. has long been the domain of two men. Between them, Darrell Pace, 32, and Rick McKinney, 35, have won 16 U.S. and five world titles since 1972. But in Norman, Okla., last week, Rasor, 16, gave warning that their days at the top may be numbered. The kid from Atascadero, Calif., moved up steadily through the last two days of competition to beat Pace and tie McKinney for second, two points behind 51-year-old Ed Eliason of Stansbury Park, Utah. Though Rasor lost the silver medal shoot-out to McKinney, he showed that he has come a long way from last year, when he finished ninth in the Olympic trials. "I started improving at the end of last year," he says, "when I scored my first 1,300."
Like Keshmiri, Rasor is continuing a family tradition. He started shooting when he was two; his first bow was 18 inches long, a gift from parents who were avid field archers. Says McKinney, "If it's possible to say this about someone so young, I've idolized him since he was a cadet."
Rasor gracefully straddles the worlds of MTV and esoteric psychology. Between rounds at the festival he listened to heavy metal groups like Def Leppard and the Scorpions on his headphones. "That's my shooting music," he explained. "You have to watch your arousal levels, but I think it's better to work with anxiety than to fight it."
He grins sheepishly as he says this. He knows it's a little odd for a guy who wears braces and routinely jackhammers his eardrums with heavy metal to be talking about "arousal levels." But as he explains why he shoots faster than his rivals, Rasor sounds like an Eastern mystic. "I try to get away from thinking," he says. "I've shot enough arrows so my muscles know what to do. If I slow down and my mind gets involved, it throws everything off."
•Jessica Grieco, cycling. Slowing down is one problem Grieco doesn't have to worry about. Not yet, anyway. Grieco, a 15-year-old from Emerson, N.J., won the omnium award as the festival's top all-around female cyclist, winning the points race and finishing second in the time trial. That would have been a startling achievement had she not earned the same award in '87—at age 13.
A superb athlete, Grieco caught the cycling bug in 1984 while watching on TV as Connie Carpenter won the first Olympic cycling race for women. Two weeks later Grieco's father, Alan, who rode in the '64 Olympics, took her to watch the nationals in Trexlertown, Pa. There she met Olympic silver medalist Rebecca Twigg, and her future was decided. "I bugged [my father] until he got me a bike," she says.
Three nights after the nationals, Alan brought home a used custom-made bike. A month later, Jessica entered her first race, at Bear Mountain, north of New York City. "I had to race against guys older than me," she says. "And I won it. I was like, 'Wow! This is great.' "
Grieco traveled to Moscow this summer for the world juniors. It was her first trip outside North America, and she had problems with the food. "The first morning we had hot dogs and peas for breakfast," she recalls. "I didn't eat much at all." Still, she finished second to teammate Dede Demet in the road race.
Grieco's father refuses to make predictions about Barcelona. "Practically speaking, we're not gearing up for '92," he says. "I'd like to think she's a contender. But we have one of the top women's Olympic teams in the world. It's going to be hard to crack." Hard, yes. But as Alan himself knows, not impossible. In 1992 Jessie will be 18, the age at which her father competed in Tokyo.
•Jim Pedro, judo. Pedro, an 18-year-old Brown University sophomore, discovered his sport much earlier than Grieco did hers. Judo was more or less thrown upon him by his father, Jim Sr., who runs the Massasoit Judo Club in Danvers, Mass. "I grew up walking on the mats," says Pedro, who began competing at the age of five and won his first national age-group title the following year. For a long time Pedro felt no joy in winning, only relief. "I used to cry before every tournament," he says. "I never wanted to lose." When he finally did lose—in a controversial decision at age 11—he collapsed on the mat in a tiny heap. "I was horrified," he says. "I didn't know what to do. My dad had to come out and pick me up."
Pedro has not had to grow too comfortable with losing. At the nationals in April he was named Outstanding Judoka for beating both Joe Marchal, who represented the U.S. at 65 kilograms in Seoul last summer, and former national champion Jim Martin. At the festival Pedro whipped all four of his opponents.
Throughout his career, Pedro has had only one coach—Jim Sr. "His father has been able to make his son the judo player he couldn't be," says festival judo coach Steve Cohen. The elder Pedro took up judo after high school out of frustration with the coaches of team sports, who had dismissed him as too small. "He wasn't a great technician, but he trained real hard," says his son. "He tried to out-condition people."
Jim Jr. has inherited that work ethic. Besides pursuing his judo career, he wrestles for the Brown varsity and finished fourth this winter at an Eastern regional, missing a trip to the NCAA championships by one place. Academics? Pedro has a 3.8 average, is planning to major in business and economics and hopes to go to law school.
But as 1992 and Barcelona draw closer, Pedro will simplify his life. He will give up wrestling and take a few semesters off. "The Olympics have always been my dad's dream," he says. "They've always been my dream. I don't want just to make the team: I want to do something in Barcelona."
It was a theme heard again and again from all of the young standouts at the 1989 Olympic Festival.