John Zant: Barbara Nwaba’s Heptathlon Hurdles

Barbara Nwaba recently competed at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China.

Barbara Nwaba recently competed at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China. (Paul Wellman Photo)

A fighter can get knocked down twice in the first round and still come back to win the bout.

But for Barbara Nwaba of the Santa Barbara Track Club, the two-day heptathlon at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing began with a knockout blow. In the 100-meter hurdles race, she lost her rhythm in the run-up to the first hurdle, crashed into the second hurdle and fell, regained her feet, but fell again over the fifth hurdle. She did not receive a score, leaving her an insurmountable 1,000 points behind the world’s best all-around women in track and field.

“It was not a good moment for me,” Nwaba said. “My family and friends were there. I was disappointed in myself.”

There may not have seemed much point in continuing, but that thought never entered Nwaba’s mind. “I didn’t come all that way to do one event and quit,” she said. “My mother said, ‘At least you’re not injured.’ I came out of it without a scratch.” Barbara made the most of her situation, competing strongly in the remaining six events, even outscoring another finisher and placing 27th out of 28.

John Zant's column appears each week in the Santa Barbara Independent.

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John Zant’s column appears
each week in the
Santa Barbara Independent

Santa-Barbara-Independent

“I had two PRs [personal records: 48’1/2” in the shot put and 152’10” in the javelin],” the former UCSB athlete said. “I was happy. It was an awesome season. My main goal was to get to the Worlds.”

Nwaba started the year by winning the Sam Adams heptathlon at Westmont College; she set a new PR of 6,342 points while finishing 11th against an international field in Götzis, Austria; and she earned her trip to Beijing by winning the U.S. championship in Eugene, Oregon, with a milestone score of 6,500 points.

Three-and-6/7s out of four wasn’t bad.

Nwaba can use her experience to drive her to her ultimate goal, the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She confessed to being a bit overwhelmed in the Bird’s Nest (Beijing’s Olympic stadium). “I was super nervous,” she said. “People looked around and said, ‘Wow, this is big.’ I was not comfortable [at the start of the hurdles]. After that, I settled down and did my own thing.”

The World Championships were a great meet for other multi-event athletes who did their spring training at the Westmont track this year. Ashton Eaton improved his world record in the decathlon to 9,045 points. It was a noteworthy accomplishment that deserved more media attention than it received. The Oregon Elite athlete had set his previous record of 9,039 in comfortable surroundings at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Eaton ran the 400 meters in a sensational 45.0 seconds. Taking the silver medal with a score of 8,695 was Canada’s Damian Warner. He was another member of the Westmont troupe, as was Brianne Theisen-Eaton, Ashton’s Canadian wife, who also brought home a silver medal, scoring 6,554 points in the heptathlon. Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill of Great Britain won the seven-eventer with a score of 6,669.

PEAK EXPERIENCE: There is perhaps no other athletic event in the area that ends in a more joyfully shared sense of accomplishment than the Pier to Peak Half Marathon. It’s hard on the body (“Pier to Puke” is an alternate moniker) but elevating to the soul. The 308 men and women who completed the run last Sunday relished the view from the summit of La Cumbre Peak. They could see the entire South Coast, including — almost 4,000 feet below and 13.1 miles distant (by winding road) — Stearns Wharf, from where they started their uphill trek.

Matt Dubberley, a 34-year-old Santa Barbara engineer, was the first to finish in one hour, 40 minutes, 53 seconds. His dominance was not unexpected, as a month earlier Dubberley had set a speed record to the top of Mount Whitney. Runner-up Annie O’Donnell’s time of 1:46:49 was a new women’s course record, and three more female runners — Dani Moreno, Andrea McLarty, and Sara Kida — finished in the top eight.

POOL PARTY: International water polo competitors must be wondering what’s in Santa Barbara’s limited water supply. Three women from our fair city played on the gold-medal-winning U.S. team at the FINA World Championships at Kazan, Russia. Kiley Neushul scored the go-ahead goal in the championship match, a 5-4 victory over the Netherlands. Neushul (Dos Pueblos High/Stanford) had eight goals in the tournament, while Kami Craig (S.B. High/USC) scored five. Sami Hill (Dos Pueblos/UCLA) had five saves in a 13-2 victory over Japan as a backup to Ashleigh Johnson, the outstanding goalkeeper of the tournament.

The U.S. teams competing in the UANA Youth Pan American Championships in Kingston, Jamaica, featured several Santa Barbara teenagers. Abbi Hill (Sami’s younger sister) and Jewel Roemer helped the American girls win the title, defeating Canada in the final, 9-7. Miles Cole (son of this newspaper’s publisher) was a key player on the national boys team that lost a heartbreaker to Brazil, 11-10, in the gold-medal match.

Cole is a returning player on the San Marcos High water polo team that will be defending its Channel League championship this fall. The Royals, ranked No. 4 on the CIF Division 2 preseason poll, will be tested this weekend at the Santa Barbara Boys Invitational, which features the top five teams in Division 1: Harvard-Westlake, Mater Dei, Loyola, Orange Lutheran, and Huntington Beach. Santa Barbara High and Dos Pueblos also are among the 24 competing schools. Final matches determining the top eight places will take place from 1:20-5:30 p.m. on Saturday at DP’s Elings Aquatic Center.

GOLD ON THE DIAMOND: Santa Barbara pitcher Kevin Gowdy provided some strong work in relief for the U.S. National Team at the World Under-18 Baseball Cup in Osaka, Japan. Against Cuba in the semifinals, Gowdy threw two scoreless innings, as the Americans rallied to score a 6-5 victory. They defeated host Japan in the final, 2-1, to win their third consecutive championship. Gowdy, a right-hander, is entering his senior year at Santa Barbara High.

RIP SANTOS: “There goes another icon,” a Santa Barbara High old-timer said at the memorial mass for Santos Escobar, who died two weeks ago at 87. Escobar dispensed miles of training tape and uncountable supplies of friendship and support to the Dons during his 40 years as their athletic trainer.

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