A gorgeous Southern California sky heralded the 23rd annual Pomona-Pitzer Invitational on Saturday, Apr. 4. Many professional athletes were in attendance, including several Olympians. Najina Kaltouma of Calgary International Track Club, a citizen of Chad, has qualified for four Olympics and was running in the meet’s 200m and 400m races. Jamie Nieto, a two time Olympian, participated in the high jump.
The meet also featured some of the SCIAC’s best performers. Rose Haag PO ’10 and Micaela Fein PI ’12 set school records in the steeplechase and pole vault respectively, with marks of 11:56 and ten feet, eight inches. Jack Lewis PO ’12 ran a stellar lifetime best of 10.91 in the 100m.
Despite the high level of competition at the event, one thing was conspicuously missing from Saturday’s meet: CMS. On the day of a meet big enough to draw professional athletes, where was CMS? CMS was taking a bus to San Marcos to compete in the Mangrum Invitational, a smaller but still high-quality meet. CMS was also absent from the Pomona-Pitzer All-Comers Meet and sent many of their top distance runners to the Ben Brown Invitational instead of the SCIAC Invitational earlier this season.
CMS certainly has its reasons for attending the Mangrum Invitational, a new meet this year.
“I think the meet that they went to fits into the philosophy of their program,” said coach Boston of the smaller meet with more inter-team competition. Travelling away from campus, too, can be a nice change of pace for a track and field athlete who finds himself competing nearly every weekend, though the opposing argument can be made for the lack of opportunities one typically has to run at one’s own campus, where one’s friends can come out and watch.
Still, every other SCIAC team found its way to the P-P Invitational, and CMS’s absence left a notable hole in the competitive spectrum. During a season, and between seasons, rivalries begin to establish themselves, between teams and individuals. Former multiple world record holder and Olympic champion Sebastian Coe has said of track and field’s need for rivalries: “Yes, it really does [need them]. That’s the narrative. Why were kids all talking about track and field last year? It wasn’t something that track and field had become, a much more interesting set of events. They were talking about Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell […] you need that head-to-head rivalry.”
So, the question presents itself: is the absence of CMS at many of the potential competitive meetings detrimental to the significance of SCIAC track and field?
For starters, taking Coe’s words into consideration, let’s take a look at the attendance of the meet. So many teams were there whose athletes also became spectators that the track was totally packed, yet only a scarce few 5-C students could be found watching. Contrast that with the P-P-CMS baseball game, where many of the track athletes stopped to watch the thrilling, victorious conclusion after their own meet. There were fans. The stands were packed, and people were standing behind the upper railing watching. Baseball is certainly a more popular sport in this country than track and field, but a P-P-Whittier game does not draw attendance like that.
“Letting the rivalry between P-P and CMS get too intense would be calamitous, but right now it’s like the Mona Lisa: picture-perfect,” said Ian Monsma PO ’09. So perhaps a balance is needed, where too much competition could either dull or stoke the fire too much. For Monsma, perhaps CMS is helping the rivalry grow, strengthened by absence and anticipation? Jack Lewis PO ‘12 disagrees about CMS being absent.
“In my opinion, track, as such an individual sport, is driven by individual competition,” said Lewis. “In a small conference like ours, rivalry is what drives athletes to performances that are better than what they are used to.”
Lewis continued, speaking of what he calls CMS’s “insistence on hiding”: “They harm the entire conference. We all know SCIACs is the big one. Yet, coming out and having to fight the same person week after week drives passion. That passion is what ultimately creates the truly spectacular races we all strive to run and want to see.”
So be aware: rivalry is brewing, and based on the results of the Invite, the Sagehens are certainly going to come out strong in future meets.
“I would say the 800 meter runners really stood out,” said men’s track coach Tony Boston. “We had four guys that went sub two, with John [Mering PO ‘10] 0.7 away from the provisional mark, and six of seven guys hitting PRs.”
One of those runners was Colin Flynn PI ’12, who clocked a personal best of 1:55.09, a tremendous improvement for the freshman.
“We were both thinking 1:57 was going to be a solid goal time for P-P Invite, but he shocked me and certainly shocked himself as well, as he was sporting a nice little grin on his face after the race,” said coach Boston.
As the season marches on toward its end, more and more of the remaining meets feature all of the SCIAC competing head to head, with SCIAC Multi-Duals on April 11, and SCIAC finals on April 25. Be it the chase for the steeplechase crown, Lewis’ quest to top the SCIAC as a freshman, or Mering’s goal to win a strong SCIAC middle distance field in his last year as a college athlete, the P-P runners will look to turn these meets into a P-P/CMS rivalry, whether the Stags and Athenas like it or not.