Lazas vs Nixon / Pentathlon Duel 2010

By ELLIOTT DENMAN

Oh, the miracles of 21st-century electronic communication.

Kevin Lazas lives in Brentwood, Tennesssee, a Nashville suburb.

Gunnar Nixon's hometown is Edmond, Oklahoma, just north of Oklahoma City.

They've never met, they live over 600 miles apart - but they're the best of friends.

They talk and text, chat and compare notes regularly on all things important to high schoolers who also happen to be rising forces in the multi-events branch of track and field. Fortunately. however, their electronic pen-pal arrangement is coming to an end - for one day, anyway.

Fortunately for them. Fortunately for their fans. Fortunately for all who relish the idea of the best going at it head-to-head, mano-a-mano.

Lazas and Nixon will finally meet on the field of friendly strife, Saturday morning in the boys pentathlon event at the Nike Indoor Championships at Boston's Reggie Lewis Track and Field Center.

They are the headline entries in a field of 29 that includes a heap of other multi-talented performers expected to take multi-cracks at the record book.

The all-time meet best (3,980 points by Californian David Klech in 2006) is almost sure to go. And the national junior-class record (3,962 by Californian Marcell Allmond in 1998) may be shattered, too.

Look for some drastic improvements on last year's Nike Indoor National pentathlon performances.

The 2-3 performers of 2009 are back - Lazas, now a senior at Brentwood High, registered 3,758 points in 2009 to place second. Back, too, is Owings Mills, Md. senior Justin Gross, third last year at 3,568.

Just as expected, last year's top pentathlon seniors have moved up to the college ranks. The 2009 champion, Neamen Wise, is at South Florida; fourth-placer Chris Fowler at the U.S. Naval Academy, fifth-placer Caleb Matthews at Pittsburgh.

"I think it's going to be very-very close between Kevin and I," said Nixon, junior at Santa Fe of Edmond, where he's coached by Carl Hawkins.

"It could boil down to the last two events and, you know, anything can happen there."

"I agree with Gunnar," said Lazas. "It's going to be intense. We're both really pointing to being at our best in Boston. Hey, wouldn't it be really cool if we both broke the meet record (Klech's 3,980) there?

"We'll both push each other, I know. The national record (the 4,303 by Donovan Kilmartin of Eagle, Idaho in 2003) is really tough. It might be out of our range.

But I think we both can go over 4,200."

Nixon's Saturday morning game plan:

"We open with the (60-meter high) hurdles, and I want to run something between 8.05 and 8.15. Then, the long jump. I've gone 22-8 this winter. In Boston, I want to go 23-ish. The shot put, I've done 45-7 so far. I think I can hit 47 in Boston, at the least.

"The high jump's my best event. I can score big there. I've done 6-10; 7 feet, that's definitely obtainable. Finally, it's the 1,000 meters. I can probably run a 2:38."

Lazas looks at it this way:

"The 60 hurdles, that's a work in progress for me. But I know I can run 8.30-something. In the long jump, I expect to go 23-mid. Then the shot. I think I can go over 50 feet.

"In the high jump, I want to clear something in the 6-4 to 6-6 range.

"So that brings us to the 1,000. The game will be on. I know I'll be ready to do whatever it takes. I can't wait for it to happen.

"One thing I do know is that both of us will be in a great frame of mind for some tremendous performances. "

And how did Lazas get this bit of strategic intelligence?

"Oh, by talking to (or texting) Gunnar," he said.

"Sure, that's right," said Nixon. "We talk about what we're doing in training, in school, a whole lot of things. We tell each other what we do in practice. We're always encouraging each other. Maybe we'll even be teammates some day."

Yessir, that's a good possibility.

Lazas has already accepted a scholarship offer from Arkansas, and keeps encouraging Nixon to be a Razorback, too.

Lazas, who is coached by Gary Kinder at Brentwood, finalized his decision to come to Fayetteville, Ark. after considering Georgia and Arizona and is convinced he's made the best possible decision.

"No other school can compare to what I saw in Arkansas," said Lazas. "In terms of facilities, both indoors and outdoors, it's just tremendous. And the academics is excellent, too. I expect to be a business major."

The Arkansas coaching staff - head coach Chris Bucknam, Travis Geopfert and Doug Case - has been together for years, first building a great program at Northern Iowa, then moving to Fayetteville.

Bucknam is already on record that: "Lazas is the best all-around (high shool) athlete in the country. He has terrific experience in the decathlon that will also add depth in open events like the javelin and pole vault. We are thrilled to have him join our program."

Kinder has been the driving fore behind Lazas's progress.

Of course, it's always a huge plus to be coached by a man who reached the heights in the multi-events game.

Kinder started his college career at Mississippi and finished up at the University of New Mexico. By 1985, he was one of the top collegiate decathletes in the nation and placed a very close second (by just five points to Rob Muzzio of Geoge Mason) in the NCAA deca-final.

He went on to represent the USA in the 1987 IAAF World Championships in Rome, placing 12th, then won the 1988 USA Olympic Trials with a score of 8,293. Heading into the '88 Seoul Games, he had huge hopes of a high placing, but saw those ambitions wrecked in a training mishap. Working on his pole vault, he jammed his right ankle. He gave it his best shot at the Games, but had to bail out of the competition, in severe pain, after registering 3,900 first-day points.

At times, he now reflects, he was self-destructive:

"Sometimes, I overtrained horribly. If I thought an omelette was good with three eggs, I was going to do one with eight eggs." And so injuries often hampered his ambitions.

Still, as a master of the 10-event arts, Kinder became a masterful coach.

"I vaulted at least 16 feet, and high jumped at least 6-5, for 8-9, up to 12 years," he said. "But not anymore. My last meet was in 1998."

Instead, he stays in top shape mastering other things - and pouring all that knowledge and energy into his coaching.

Lazas is just one of the many outstanding all-arounders who've come through his programs in Brentwood. The town has three different high schools, but his athletes come together under the banner of KinderSports.

Lazas is a determined young man, and so is his coach.

"His (Lazas') intensity is off the charts," says Kinder. "He's always ready to go, my job often is to calm him down, to buffer his excitement."

As a Nashville suburb, Brentwood is in the heart of the country music world.

A versatile man, Kinder is heavily into that scene, too - as a singer and songwriter, who has has worked with such major artists as Garth Brooks and with Warner/Chappell Music.

His favorite composition is titled "Pennies In The Bank."

Translated, it's a track and field theme - meaning that every deposit of sweat and toil by an athlete at a workout session is bound to pay dividends when it's time to step into the starting blocks at a meet.

He double-negatives the point of emphasis: "You don't come to practice for nothing."

Winter seasons are tough in Brentwood - and the rest of the Volunteer State - because there is no official winter season there. So eager athletes and their coaches have to find action elsewhere. So Boston will be just the third outing this winter for Lazas, who has been to one meet in Indiana and another in Illinois.

Outdoors, though, Tennessee is ahead of most other states because the decathlon and heptathlon are official events on the state program. Just one problem there, Tennessee substitutes the deca-triple jump for the javelin, nullifying national record consideration. Oh, and a triple jump injury put Lazas on the sidelines for a long stretch last summer.

Before that happened, Lazas won his Tennessee state regional decathlon wth a 7,057 score and went on to register 7,140 points winning the National AAU intermediate boys title.

Nixon has solid deca-credentials, too.

He won both the decathlon and the 400-meter hurdles at last summer's USA Track and Field Junior Olympics (scoring precisely 7,000 points, a meet record), that after taking golds in the decathlon as well as the 110 hurdles and high jump at the USATF Youth Nationals. He's fortunate, too, that indoor track has full official status in Oklahoma, and has been in a flock of meets this winter.

Nixon has been a track athlete since the seventh grade.

"I pretty much fell in love with the sport right from the start," he said. Variety has been the spice of his career ever since.

"Track is both an individual sport and a team sport, at the same time," he said. "There are so many events to try. I love them all. Everyone is a different kind of challenge."

"I agree with Gunnar," said Lazas.

"Yeah, the variety of it all is the big thing. There's always something new to look forward to."

"I'd compete in everything, if I could."

The internationalism of their sport is one more huge attraction. Tops on the summer 2010 schedule are the IAAF World Junior Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, and the first edition of the World Youth Olympics in Singapore.

All going well, Boston will be just an early stop on their world tour.

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