Bears compete with some of world's best to end regular season

Michael Broder/Courtesy

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Long-distance runners tend to travel in packs and feed off each other's energy - the better the runner's competitors, the better the runner's time.

More than 1,000 entries have been accepted to compete in Sunday's Payton Jordan Invitational, some of which are world-class athletes seeking a qualifying mark in Stanford, Calif. for the World Championships and Olympics.

With the Pac-10s in two weeks, the high-octane meet held at the Cobb Track & Angell Field is the Cal track and field team's final one of the regular season and the last opportunity to make adjustments.

Named after the head coach of the powerful 1968 U.S. Olympic track and field team that won a record 24 medals, the Payton Jordan Invitational is notorious for the long distance records set there.

Last year, unaffiliated athlete Chris Solinsky broke the men's nine-year-old 10,000m American record with a time of 26:59.60. His astounding finish comes out to an average of about 4:35 per mile.

This Sunday, running events start at 3:45 p.m. and continue until after 11 p.m. with the final section of the women's 10,000 meters; the later times are always deliberately scheduled this way because it is cooler and there is virtually no wind after the sun sets, ideal conditions for long-distance runners.

The Payton Jordan's magic touch worked for a few of Cal's athletes last year as well.

Senior Michael Coe posted a then- personal record time of 13:49.68 on his way to becoming the top college athlete in a competitive men's 5000m race. He will run the 5000m again on Sunday.

"He's primed and motivated and ready to go do a great job this weekend," coach Tony Sandoval said.

Sophomore Sofia Oberg captured the title in the women's 800m and will be competing in the 1500m this time around. She tweaked her ankle at the Big Meet two weeks ago but competed last week.

At last year's meet, Patrick Kowalsky and Kristen Meister won in the men's shot put and women's high jump, respectively.

Cal will send about 25 competitors each from the men's and women's teams. A majority of them are Pac-10 qualifiers and will be focusing on their main event instead of doing several events.

It's critical for the athletes not to go too long without competing in the more technical events in order to keep technique in peak form.

"They're just competing to stay sharp," Sandoval said.

The key this late in the season is to continue doing what has worked so far and not worry about the rest.

"Every athlete, no matter what program they're in, they get to the end of the year and wish they'd had more training," Sandoval said. "It's about playing with the cards that are dealt to you, so to speak.

"This is the part where it's more about mental toughness and competing, those are the intangibles that are important right now."


Byron Atashian covers track and field.

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