Photographer Marina Shacola’s Olympic odyssey

Ed Odeven Reporting

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Aug. 12, 2004.

An Olympic journey for the ages

By Ed Odeven

You will be bombarded with human-interest story after human-interest story for the next 16 days. It happens every Olympiad. This is the downside of having countless hours of TV coverage.

How many of these stories will you actually remember? Five, maybe 10. It’s mind-numbing overexposure.

Well, my friends, this story isn’t one of those dime-a-dozen, force-it-down-your-throat stories. Nope. Not by any stretch of the imagination. This, I believe, just might be the most fascinating — or certainly in the top one percentile — of all stories associated with the 2004 Athens Games.

This is one woman’s remarkable journey of Olympic discovery. It began in India in April 2003 and ended in Ghana in May 2004. In between, Greek Cypriot photographer Marina Shacola visited 25 countries on five continents —…

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Feature flashback: Pole vaulter Stacy Dragila

Stacy Dragila, who won the first women’s Olympic pole vault gold medal in 2000, visited Arizona four years later and attempted to break a world indoor record on a January afternoon.

Here’s what I reported that day for the Arizona Daily Sun:

Dragila’s strength

By Ed Odeven

Stacy Dragila refuses to believe she can’t do something. When she first took up pole vaulting as a hobby a decade ago, it was a diversion for her and some Idaho State female teammates, something to do when they weren’t training for the heptathlon.

Though she quickly developed a fondness and passion for the sport, Dragila heard the discouraging voices; men told her women don’t have the upper-body strength to be successful pole vaulters.

Boy, how she’s proved them wrong. Dragila rapidly developed into an elite-level competitor, one who has shattered the world record many a time.

Saturday, Dragila showcased that world-class form while winning the women’s pole vault competition at the Springco NAU Invitational at the Skydome. She vaulted 15 feet, 5 inches, a scant few inches shy of her American indoor record of 15-8.25.

Much to the delight of the crowd, Dragila attempted to set a world record at 15-10. But she failed to clear the bar on three attempts. (Others have attempted similar feats in Flagstaff: On Feb. 9, 2002, Canadian Mel Mueller attempted to surpass the then-world indoor record of 15-5 at the Mountain T’s Invitational at the Skydome.)

“You have to be patient,” the 32-year-old Dragila said. “It’s a long year. It wasn’t about coming up here and breaking a world record; it was about coming up here and executing the things I’ve been working on in practice.”

Indeed, those are the words of a perfectionist.

Dragila, who moved from Pocatello, Idaho, to Paradise Valley last spring to train on a full-time basis in a warmer climate, has a name synonymous with astounding athletic accomplishment, especially historic achievements. Consider:

* She won the first-ever women’s world indoor pole vault competition in 1997.

* Two years later, she won the first-ever women’s outdoor pole vault title at the IAAF World Outdoor Championships in Seville, Spain.

* And she won the inaugural women’s pole vault competition at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

“What an awesome experience,” a smiling Dragila said, about what it was like to win the gold medal in Australia. “To be on the podium and know I was the first one to receive a gold medal for the women’s pole vault, I didn’t want to get off the podium. Everyone was screaming and yelling and I’m like, ‘This is my moment. This is it. This is what I’ve worked my last eight years to achieve — this medal.’

“It was just so much fun.”

RISE TO STARDOM

Don’t think, not even for a second, that Dragila was immediately a superstar vaulter.

There was a King Kong-sized detail — fear of heights — that was a major stumbling block in the early days.

“The first couple trillion times trying to go over the bar were frightening for me,” recalled Dragila, whose outdoor personal record (15-8) is second all-time behind Russian Yelena Isinbayeva’s 15-9. “I was terrified to go upside down.”

So what was the phobia-buster for her?

Well, she began training in gymnastics at a gym near the Pocatello campus, where the wife of her ISU coach Dave Nielsen served as a coach.

“I think that really helped me become comfortable upside down on the pole,” Dragila said. “It just gave me a lot of upper-body strength that I didn’t have.”

Nowadays, gymnastics are an integral part of Dragila’s weekly workout routine — doing handstands and the use of high bars, rings, etc. all help her maintain her strength. Usually, Mondays and Wednesdays are “jump days,” with the focus being pole vaulting. Tuesdays are her “multi-event days,” when she incorporates long jumps and hurdles into her workout. Thursdays are generally reserved for jogging, stretching and going to a gymnastics club.

Dragila is considered America’s fastest female pole vaulter, and as she dashes down the runway, you notice her graceful, explosive stride.

Speed helps, she said, but it’s not the most important thing.

“It’s not necessarily about being fast,” Dragila explained. “It’s about being consistent, and being able to maintain that speed. If you’re just fast and you can’t put up a jump, it’s like (sprinter) Marion Jones — she struggles so hard with the long jump. She’s so fast, but if she can’t set up a jump, she’s really going to struggle in the long jump.”

Over the next several months, Dragila will work on fine-tuning her technique in preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Up next for her is the Boise Invitational on Saturday, followed by the Boston Indoor Games Jan. 31. Then it’s the prestigious Millrose Games Feb. 6 in New York City.

Last year, Dragila hired a new coach, Greg Hull, who also instructs Arizona native and reigning men’s Olympic gold medalist Nick Hysong. She said the change will be beneficial in the long run.

“I just have to be patient and I know that the heights will come,” Dragila said. “I’m really excited. I’m healthy. I’m putting my technique together.

“I think it’s really going to help me get to the next heights that I want to see,” she added. “I think we’d like to start off with 16 feet, and then anything after that is always a special place to go. The ultimate goal is 17 feet out there for me. I’ll just keep chipping away at it, it’s like climbing a mountain.”

LIVING LEGEND

Though Dragila didn’t start pole vaulting until she was 23, she hasn’t wasted any time securing her place in the annals of American sports history.

Even so, Dragila dismissed the notion that she’s a pioneer.

“I think when I retire I’ll recognize the things I’ve done for the sport or the things that I’ve accomplished,” she said. “But right now, like anybody else who has goals, my focus is this: to work on my technique, make it back to the Olympics and go for another gold medal. And after that, maybe I’ll sit down and go, ‘Wow, it’s been a long time. What have I accomplished?’ It’s been fun but I try not to think about those things.”

There’s plenty of time for Dragila’s contemporaries to ponder such thoughts.

Just ask April Steiner, who trains with Dragila in Paradise Valley.

“She’s a great ambassador for our sport. Everybody loves her,” said Steiner, a Mesa native. “She just never stops. She’s always pushing it. The girls have been chasing her for the last five years; it’s always out of reach. We just can’t get her.”

 

Feature flashback: Hockey star Allison Johanson

This feature on ice hockey standout Allison Johanson appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in June 2005.

Chasing a goal …

By Ed Odeven

As a seventh-grader, Allison Johanson excelled while playing for a Flagstaff peewee hockey team, finishing second on the club in goals and first in penalty minutes.

It was a boys squad.

Thinking back to those days, Johanson’s mom, Leslee, had this to say:

“I knew I didn’t want to watch her play with the boys one more year.”

She didn’t. She made the life-altering decision to leave her hometown and attend Shattuck-Saint Mary’s, a prep school, in Faribault, Minn.

Five years later, Johanson is armed with a high school diploma (the big day was May 28) and an endless supply of memories.

Shattuck-Saint Mary’s captured its first-ever girls national championship in early April at the USA Hockey U19 National Tournament in Centennial, Colo. The Sabres finished the season with a 51-3-8 record.

A hard-nosed right wing, Johanson wracked up 16 penalty minutes during SSM’s six games at nationals and earned the tourney’s Fastest Skater Award during the skills competition. She finished the season with 19 goals and 24 assists.

In retrospect, her parents are awfully proud of their daughter’s commitment to achieve academic (she’s an honor roll student) and athletic excellence hundreds of miles from home.

“To do what she did in eighth grade and know that’s what she wanted to do (and) to follow through with it (is impressive,” Leslee Johanson said during a lunchtime interview Thursday. “That takes a lot for a kid to do that, to make that decision at 12 years old.”

And Johanson is glad she did.

“Working these last five years and winning the national championship is what I went to Shattuck to do,” Johanson said. “So, finally, after five years the hard work has paid off. To win the national title was probably the most rewarding thing.”

The Sabres’ team chemistry was special, Johanson said, calling it one of the biggest factors in the title run.

“The fact that everyone got along so well was unimaginable,” she added.

Johanson was an assistant captain as a senior and one of the young team’s top vocal leaders.

Leslee Johanson said, “From the perspective of hearing other parents and other kids, she was definitely a team leader. If the team would get down, she was the one that got them back up and got them right back in the game and (say), ‘Come on, we’re not going to lose this.'”

Johanson downplayed her leadership role.

“It’s not like we needed a lot of encouragement,” she said. “We only lost three games this year, so it wasn’t like we were down a lot.”

Which was greatly due to the team’s strong depth. Sabres head coach Gordie Stafford regularly used four lines — other teams have two or three strong lines. Excellent conditioning was also a factor: SSM practiced every morning at 7:30 for the first two periods of the school day (regular classes began afterward).

Now, Johanson is preparing for the next stage of her life: College.

She signed a letter of intent to play hockey at Bemidji State (Minn.) University next fall. In doing so, Johanson is the first Flagstaff native, male or female, to earn a Division I hockey scholarship.

“Of course it’s special,” Johanson said. “It’s amazing to be the first one out of Flag, but you have to think that I go to school with kids … there are 61 graduating kids in my class, and I guarantee you 40 of them have D-I scholarships somewhere.”

Ex-SSM defenseman Brooke Collins, for instance, also will attend Bemidji State in the fall.

Bemidji State is a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, a top-notch league which includes two-time reigning NCAA champion Minnesota, North Dakota and Ohio State.

So what does Bemidji State coach Bruce Olson expect from Johanson over the next four years?

“Allison is a strong, powerful forward that will help us gain some much-needed size up front,” Olson said in a press release. “She will be counted on to play against some of the bigger lines in the WCHA. Allison has the ability to improve into a forward that will make plays in all aspects of the college hockey game.”

And if you ask Johanson, she’ll tell you she’s ready for the challenge.

“It’s going to be like Shattuck,” said Johanson, who attracted the attention of dozens of college hockey recruiters, including Boston College, Vermont, New Hampshire and Dartmouth. “That’s what you’re doing there: Playing hockey at a much higher level; but it’s going to be different. It’s going to be fun.”

Johanson recently participated in the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team tryouts in St. Paul, Minn. In mid-July she’ll find out if she’s been invited to the team’s final tryouts this summer in Lake Place, N.Y. Players from this group will represent the United States at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

“U.S. women’s hockey head coach) Ben Smith called my coach (SSM’s Stafford) after the tryouts and asked more about me,” Johanson said.

Stay tuned.

Larry Cannon: Former ABA players seeking legitimacy, respect from NBA

Ed Odeven Reporting

Larry_CannonLarry Cannon starred for the ABA’s Denver Rockets in the 1970-71 season, averaging 26.6 points per game. PUBLIC DOMAIN

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Sept. 11, 2017)
Part six in a series

Nobody needs to remind Larry Cannon that his 1973 induction into the Big 5 Hall of Fame and his 1977 induction into the La Salle Hall of Athletes are bold reminders of his splendid college basketball career.

He lived through it. He remembers it.

For Cannon, this includes helping the Explorers go 23-1 in his third and final season on the varsity squad, 1968-69. In that brilliant season, Cannon, a 6-foot-5 star guard, was the squad’s top assist man and No. 2 in rebounds. Over three seasons with the Philly college, he poured in 19.9 points per game.

La Salle was ranked No. 2 in the nation, trailing only mighty UCLA at the outset of the ’68-69 campaign. That…

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Football Flashback – 2003 (a talk with Bill Kajikawa)

Ed Odeven Reporting

Kajikawa has seen it all in Tempe

Ed Odeven
Sports column
Arizona Daily Sun
(Published on Sept. 5, 2003)

***

Arizona State University’s sporting history has been highlighted by the accomplishments of stars like Reggie Jackson and Barry Bonds on the baseball diamond, Byron Scott and Fat Lever on the basketball court, Herman Frazier on the track and Jake Plummer, David Fulcher, Terrell Suggs, Danny White and Gerald Riggs on the gridiron.

Perhaps no man connected with the program has witnessed or been as much a part of history as Bill Kajikawa. This kind gentleman has been associated with the Tempe institute of higher learning since 1933, when he enrolled as an undergraduate student after attending Phoenix Union High School.

In those days, ASU was still known as Arizona State Teachers College. Kajikawa played fullback for the ASTC Bulldogs from 1934-36 — the school changed its nickname to Sun Devils…

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FEATURE FLASHBACK: Prefontaine’s legacy still growing 40 years after death | The Japan Times

‘I’m not afraid of losing. But if I do, I want it to be a good race. I’m an artist, a performer. I want people to appreciate the way I run.’ — Steve Prefontaine

Source: Prefontaine’s legacy still growing 40 years after death | The Japan Times

FLASHBACK: Jim Lampley remembers historic fight in Tokyo | The Japan Times

Jim Lampley witnessed one of the most unforgettable moments in sport history: The sight of James ‘Buster’ Douglas landing a quick, powerful flurry of punches that knocked out Mike Tyson in the 10th round of their Feb. 11, 1990, heavyweight title fight at Tokyo Dome.

Twenty-five years later, Lampley repeated his play-by-play description of that scene when reached by phone in California.

Source: Lampley remembers historic fight in Tokyo | The Japan Times