NO REV ATHLETE COMES CLOSE TO KRISTA VANSANT’S ACHIEVEMENTS

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

I could hear the whispers in the stands at Redlands East Valley High, circa 2007.

“She’s only on the team,” said one volleyball-players’ mom to another, “because her mom’s the coach.”

That was enough evidence for me. I glanced down the roster. Saw there was actually a Vansant, jersey No. 16. Freshman. Sure enough, Tricia Vansant was the coach.

Can’t stand a pushy parent. Here’s one mom that pushed her daughter right onto the Varsity – as a freshman. It takes something special to make Varsity as a freshman.

Right?

REV had a squared-away squad. Victoria Brummett, a college-bound (Univ. Colorado-Boulder) junior was playing middle. At setter was sophomore Johnna Fouch and libero Kyla Oropeza, both eventually winding up at Univ. San Diego.

“Two Story Tori” – Brummett’s nickname – would eventually transfer back to NCAA Division 2 powerhouse Cal State San Bernardino and win All-American honors.

Then there was that little REV freshman.

Little? She was listed at 6-feet, 2-inches.

Talk about a “loaded” team.

COLLEGIATE POWERHOUSE IN SEATTLE

Krista Vansant probably wasn’t kidding when she spoke about hopes of winning a national volleyball championship for the University of Washington. She’s that competitive. There was a breathtaking come-from-behind win over Pac-12 rival USC in the 2014 NCAA Division I Western Region championship.

Krista Vansant
Team USA was Krista Vansant’s final stop on a brilliant volleyball career that included Rancho Volleyball Club, Redlands East Valley High, University of Washington, a little European pro ball, capped by a near-miss on reaching the 2016 U.S. Olympic team (photo by Team USA).

One match later, Washington landed in an NCAA semifinals against second-ranked Penn State.

The onetime REV superstar outside hitter had risen from the Gatorade National Prep Player of the Year in 2010 to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Player of the Year in 2013.

It was quite a run – for Vansant, her team and coaches, family and friends, plus all those that followed her exploits – in a season full of remarkable achievements. After that match against USC, though, she was full of hope.

She spoke about not being satisfied, setting goals, never reaching the Final Four despite great teams, winning a national title. For athletes like Vansant, nothing short of winning is ever enough.

Said Vansant: “So I think we’re not being complacent. We’re in the gym working hard every day to get better.”

(Speaking of working hard. During her REV days, Vansant might’ve been among two or three volleyball players working in the weight room – alongside the school’s high-achieving football team.)

When third-ranked University of Washington took the floor against No. 2 Penn State in the NCAA Division 1 women’s volleyball semifinals on a December night just before Christmas, Vansant was the logical force in the Lady Huskies’ attack.

Vansant, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, would likely be a factor in lifting the Huskies to the national title game two nights later. But the Nittany Lions swept Washington’s women in three sets.

One match earlier, top-ranked Texas, the defending NCAA champion, was knocked off by No. 16 Wisconsin – a huge surprise. In an all-Big Ten showdown, Penn State later knocked off Wisconsin for the NCAA title.

Against Penn State, Vansant looked tall, lithe and athletic, totally ready to fire. Penn State, no stranger to national championships (seven titles since 1999), took her out of the flow, its attack dwarfing Washington in that semifinals matchup.

Washington’s win over USC became ultimate triumph.

Vansant’s efforts were key – 38 kills and 30 digs – the first-ever 30-30 performance for a Husky in the NCAA tournament’s long history. Her 38 kills notched a Washington record, beating Stevie Mussie’s 35 kills against BYU in 2007.

 

Washington, trailing USC by two sets in the NCAA Western Regional finals, likely stunned a national TV audience, completing a comeback that included saving two match points to knock off the sixth-ranked Lady Trojans in five sets, 26-28, 23-25, 25-22, 25-18, 17-15.

I watched closely on TV. You couldn’t miss her. Vansant was seen instantly breaking into tears on the court after the emotionally-draining marathon.

Vansant eventually joined eventual Team USA Olympian Courtney Thompson, a previous Washington star, as the only Honda Award winners in program history.

Finalists included Haley Eckerman (Texas), Kelsey Robinson (Nebraska) and Carly Wopat (Stanford).

For good measure, Vansant was also the espnW Player of the Year.

Incidentally, Vansant was a two-time Honda Award winner.

It’s hard to keep all those awards straight.

CAPPING HER PREP CAREER

At REV, Vansant was a monster – part of a stacked REV lineup that won three CIF titles (2007-2009), winning CIF Player of the Year honors as a sophomore, junior and senior from 2008-2010 – her Lady Wildcats’ squad winning all 59 Citrus Belt League matches with her mother, Tricia, as coach.

In Dec. 2010, Vansant, who was REV’s Homecoming Queen, and later named national Gatorade Player of the Year just after completing her senior season at REV.

She was in my wife’s English class at REV. If I quoted Laura Brown properly, there’d be comments about how classy and responsible, humble and honest, forthright and work-conscious.

Let’s not forget that was in English class – not on the volleyball floor.

It was for that reason that Mrs. Brown forced Mr. Brown to drive all the way to Redondo Beach to watch REV play in a Division 1 playoff match. In a rarity, REV lost the Division 1 showdown to Redondo Union.

It was Vansant’s final prep match. She was a senior.

REV’s end was just the beginning for Vansant. She became the first-ever Lady Husky to win the AVCA Player-of-the-Year honor. On hand to present the award was none other than multi-Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh-Jennings.

The comments were typical Krista:

“I did not prepare a speech, I just want to thank my friends and family and all my teammates for everything you guys do for me. You make my life so easy and I love you all so much.

“Love you Mom and Dad (Robert). Thanks to my previous club coaches. I would say my previous high school coaches but those are my parents, so thanks again!”

As for Vansant’s freshman year at REV, there were 38 matches. Thirty-four of them were victories … team-high 367 kills … she could receive a serve (201) … she could serve well (30 aces) … she could play the net (26 blocks).

The Lady Wildcats went through the playoffs without blinking much – Monrovia, San Bernardino Cajon and Wildomar Elsinore, all in 3-game sweeps.

South Torrance went down in four.

In the finals against North Torrance, REV won in five.

So much for being the coach’s daughter!

 

Down The Road: Stories to come – Vansant came within an eyelash of making Team USA at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics … her coaching career is underway at Indiana.

WYSOCKI’S JUMP FROM REDLANDS TO L.A. GAMES

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Clay Brooks raved about Ruth Kleinsasser.

So did Ted Runner.

Brooks, who spent years as the University of Redlands track & field coach, was a true professor of his sport.

Runner, whose presence on that campus as an athlete, coach and, ultimately, director of athletics, was fond of track. He’d competed. For years, he coached. It almost seemed like he kept a closer eye on that sport than he did anything else.

When Kleinsasser (eventually Ruth Wysocki) stepped onto the track at the Los Angeles Coliseum nine years after spending her freshman season at Redlands, the two men – Brooks and Runner – watched with great interest.

The Alhambra-born Kleinsasser, who ran at Azusa High School, was a prized performer at Redlands for one season.

What made Kleinsasser special was her true dedication to the sport. As a track star, she’s a lifer.

It started in age-group races in the late 1960s, starting an eventual period of about 30 years, until she became a Masters (over-40) runner in 1997.

As an Azusa High senior in 1973, she ran a 2:16 to win the CIF Southern Section 880-yard championship. She also sped around the track to win the 440 (57.3). That’s as tough of a double is in any championship meet.

Since there was no State meet held for girls that year – one would start in 1975, Kleinsasser never had a chance to prove her domination.

By the 1975 season, Kleinsasser was running at Redlands, primarily because internationally-renowned Bulldog coach Vince Reel had come out of retirement. Reel, in fact, met Kleinsasser halfway. He trained her in Claremont.

Ruth Wysocki
Former University of Redlands runner Ruth Wysocki, then known as Ruth Kleinsasser, beat Mary Decker Slaney, right, at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials in the women’s 1500-meter – one of the shocking upsets that year in track (Photo by runmoremiles.com).

A YEAR IN REDLANDS

Reel, who was married to Chinese star Chi Cheng, had international status, especially since he’d lured some top talent – Chinese sprint star Lee Shiu-Chia, middle distance runners Chee Swee Lee, plus Donna Fromme and some dandy runners like distance star Molly O’Neil, hurdler Pam Ashe, sprinters Gloria Kennedy, Lynn Jones and Denise Becton.

Throw Kleinsasser into that mix. If only she’d lasted four seasons.

Reel wrote about his own exploits. Part of his writings were about Ruth, including her season at Redlands.

Vince Reel
Vince Reel, shown her as a Long Beach City College athlete, where he was State champion in the 100 and 220, in the early 1930s. A two-time sprint champion at Occidental College in 1936, he was fourth in the NCAA 220 championships for Occidental College.He would become a huge connection in the track world as a coach –  Long Beach Wilson High School Track and Field Coach (1938-1957), moving on to Claremont College (1958-71), coming out of retirement to coach Redlands through 1979. He was also the Olympic track & field coach for India (1960) and China (1972). Reel was the founder of “Women’s Track and Field” magazine. (Photo credit: Long Beach City College).

Admittedly, Kleinsasser dropped out of Redlands. “I realize I had chosen the wrong school. Not that it isn’t a wonderful place; it was not just the right place for me.”

“That was before the NCAA for women,” Kleinsasser told Reel in the days when women’s sports were governed by the old AIAW. Truth is, in those days, Redlands’ men were part of the NAIA, not the NCAA.

In reality, Kleinsasser wasn’t even the fastest half-miler on her own team. That same season, Lee Chiu-Shia ran a 2:05.36 in the SPAA meet at track-rich Occidental College, just outside of Pasadena.

At the Bakersfield Invitational, Kleinsasser posted her 2:07.6.

A more familiar name may well be Ruth Wysocki. That came after she married top national distance runner Tom Wysocki.

What made her a Redlands Connection was the year she spent at the University of Redlands. In 1975, she ran fast – the 2:07.6 in the 800, plus a 56.80 in the 400 at the Long Beach Invitational – but she headed back to Citrus College.

More domination. At Citrus, running as Ruth Caldwell, she scored victories in the State cross country championship for both 1977 and 1978.

During the spring track seasons in 1978 and 1979, she was State champion in both the 800 and 1500.

There was a pattern here. Like many international competitors, she was laying the groundwork for the Olympics. In fact, she ran a 2:03, qualifying for the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials – still under Reel’s watch. She was 19. Ruth took eighth in the Trials.

She was on-again, off-again training – seriously, pondering, planning. She’d gone from Ruth Kleinsasser to Ruth Caldwell and, finally, to Ruth Wysocki.

WYSOCKI SLAYED SLANEY

If there was a top-flight moment for the ex-Redlands runner, it might be these:

Wysocki upset highly-touted USA star Mary Decker to win the 800 at the 1978 U.S. Championships in 2:01.99. Wysocki scored another upset victory against Decker (eventually Slaney) at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials, this time in the 1500-meter.

It was huge at that time. Still is … huge, that is.

Wysocki outsprinted Slaney to win the Trials in 4:00.18 – her lifetime best.

It was Tom Wysocki, training for the Trials, that had convinced his wife to train for the Olympics.

Brooks, who was Reel’s successor at Redlands and Runner, who were both coming to the end of their Redlands careers, watched with curiosity as the one-year Lady Bulldog star made her way into the L.A. Games.

She finished sixth in the 800 and eighth in 1500.

To veteran observers like Brooks and Runner, it was a Redlands victory. One of their own had reached the pinnacle of the sport.

Who cared if the Eastern Bloc nations had boycotted the 1984 Games?

Remember, these were the games of Carl Lewis’ 4-event gold medal.

The women included sprinters Valerie Brisco-Hooks, Evelyn Ashford, plus Flo Jo – Florence Griffith Joyner – plus onetime San Gorgonio High School star Sherri Howard (4 x 400 gold medalist), Jackie Joyner-Kersee, along with marathon champion Joan Benoit.

More men: Britain’s Daley Thompson scored his second straight decathlon title.

Hurdler Edwin Moses. Triple jumper Al Joyner.

ANOTHER REDLANDS CONNECTION

Adding to the flavor of Redlands connections:

One year before the L.A. Games, Redlands held its annual invitational on its cinder track. Two interested participants were Air Force Academy (Colo.) and Azusa Pacific University, among over a dozen other team entries.

In the meet-concluding 4 x 400 relay, Air Force’s Alonzo Babers and Azusa’s Innocent Egbunike ran neck-and-neck on the anchor lap. They might have even brushed against one another halfway on the final lap.

Egbunike could be seen turning his head in Babers’ direction. Neither runner broke stride.

At the finish, Egbunike prevailed.

One year later, the two met in the open 400-meter – Egbunike for his native Nigeria and Babers for the U.S.

Babers won the gold in 44.27 seconds. Egbunike took last in 45.35.

The two would meet again in the 4 x 400 relay.

Sunder Nix, Ray Armstead, Babers and Antonio McKay won the gold, prevailing in 2:57.91. Nigeria, anchored by Egbunike, ran third in 2:59.32.

As for Wysocki, that Redlands Connection kept going for years.

Over a decade later, in 1995, Wysocki ran seventh in the 1500 at the Championships in Athletics in Gothenburg.

In 1997, Wysocki set several Masters records at distances from 800 to 5000 on the track, plus 5K and 8K road races.

She was surrounded by distance runners.

Her dad, Willis Kleinsasser, was a successful Masters athlete.

Alan Kleinsasser, her brother, ran a 1:50.5 over 800 meters and a 3:52.2 clocking in the 1500 – both school records at Caltech in Pasadena.

Then, of course, her husband, Tom produced 13:35.33 in the 5000-meter and 28:19.56 in the 10,000.

WYSOCKI AT THE L.A. OLYMPICS

It wasn’t going to be easy. Despite the absence of the Eastern Bloc nations, that boycott led by the old Soviet Union, there was still plenty of international talent.

On Aug. 6, Romanian Doina Melinte circled the Coliseum track twice to score gold in 1:57.60. USA’s Kim Gallagher, whom Wysocki had encountered on plenty of occasions, won silver in 1:58.63. Melinte’s teammate, Fita Lovin, won the bronze in 1:58.53.

Wysocki ran sixth (2:00.34).

She also qualified in the 1500, held on Aug. 11.

Wysocki was America’s best in that event, but she took eighth (4:08.32), nowhere close to her best mark set at the Trials.

Melinte won the silver, barely nosed out by Italy’s Gabriella Dorio (4:03.25), the Romanian a fraction behind in 4:03.76 with yet another Romanian, Maricica Puica winning bronze (4:04.15).

Wysocki had to be thinking if she’d matched her lifetime best – that 4:00.18 at the Olympic Trials – she’d have been a gold medalist.

She told Reel, “Even though the Olympics didn’t go really great for me, when I got to Europe after the Olympics, I beat everybody that beat me in the Olympics, including (Dorio).”

It was, she said, some vindication.

Brooks, for his part, sent plenty of half-milers out to do battle in Lady Bulldog colors.

Runner, meanwhile, often reflected on the year that Ruth Kleinsasser ran at Redlands.

“She was,” he said, “not just a hard worker.” Runner said, observers could easily tell, “she had a game plan in any race she ran.”

She even made one last game attempt to qualify for the 1996 Olympics at 38.

That one season, 1975, she was a Redlands Connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GOING FROM A REV LADY WILDCAT TO AN ARIZONA LADY ’CAT

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

In honor of the NCAA College Softball World Series, which are unfolding …

Those telephone calls to the sports desk from Pam Martin, softball coach at Redlands East Valley High School when that campus opened in 1997, were quite a ritual. There was often cheer in her voice.

In all cases, she had something newsworthy to report.

One of Martin’s top players, Allyson Von Liechtenstein, probably played in as many big games as any Redlands-based product at the collegiate level during her post-REV years.

It’s simple. Von Liechtenstein, the twin sister of Elizabeth (Lizzie) and younger sister of Sarah, was part of a trio of Highland-based players who were raised under the softball thumb of their dad, Dave.

Ally Von L, a left-handed, slap-hitting, fleet-footed outfielder played four sensational seasons at REV. It was nothing for Martin to report a 3-hit game for Ally Von L. Or maybe a couple of stolen bases to go along with her two singles and, maybe, a triple. At the time, she patrolled center field.

Von Liechtenstein
Ally Von L, a Redlands East Valley product who played big-time NCAA softball at powerhouse University of Arizona (Photo by UA).

It should’ve been no surprise, then, that she committed to play collegiately at the University of Arizona from 2002-2005. She was a 5-foot-5-inch slash hitter heading off to Tucson.

Arizona’s Lady Wildcats’ softball program should be considered among the finest in the land. Ally Von L found herself playing four straight seasons at the College World Series.

Mike Candrea, coach, might’ve been USA’s best go-getter for UA. He went and “got” Ally Von L.

Ally Von L was a nice catch for her new Wildcats’ team. At that time, anyone caught playing for UA should’ve been considered quite a player.

Candrea, who led Team USA to the 2004 Olympic gold medal, was a fun interview. Make that a professional interview. He knew how to take control. He knew the questions before I’d even launched them at him.

At least when you could get hold of him. Schools this big have Sports Information Directors. Got to get through them to get to guys like Candrea. The man’s got coaching to do.

By the 2018 season, incredibly, Candrea was within a couple hundred wins away from 2,000.

Mike Candrea
Univ. Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea is closing fast on 2,000 victories – 211 of which came when he coached Ally Von Liechtenstein from 2002-2005 (Photo credit, University of Arizona).

This is the guy who landed Ally Von L. Not to mention Jennie Finch. Not to mention Alicia Hollowell. And Caitlin Lowe. And Autumn Champion. And Kristie Fox. Each of whom were teammates with Ally Von L.

Lowe hit .510 one year, swiping 27 out of 30 bases. Hollowell won 40 games in a single season. Finch went 32-0 in another. Lovie Jung hit .481 one season, stroking 25 bombs. Champion hit .489 with 26 steals one season. That same year, 2004, Lowe hit .437 with 46 steals.

These were the players Candrea landed.

On Ally Von L, he said, “Listen … (pausing for a few seconds to collect some thoughts) this is a kid with speed. She can hit. She’ll run the bases. She can catch anything hit out there. She’ll help us here.”

Remember, he was taking a player right out of the area from UCLA should’ve been grabbing from (USC doesn’t have intercollegiate softball). At Arizona, Ally Von L had a solid career – .321, .381, .384 and .265 as a senior.

She started 105 games, playing in 172. Often used as a pinch-runner. Swiped 28-of-35 bases over four seasons. Ninety-four hits, 283 at-bats. Scored a batch of runs.

Said Candrea: “There was a time when if UCLA wanted a kid, they got the kid. We got a few breaks. We got some key kids.”

ALLY VON L AGAINST THE GREATS

Along the way, there were remarkable games played against the likes of Cat Osterman.

Tennessee’s Monica Abbott.

Michigan’s Jennie Ritter.

UCLA’s Keira Goerl.

Louisiana’s Brooke Mitchell.

Fresno State’s Jamie Southern was named to the ESPN Rise All-Decade team in 2009.

LSU’s Kristin Schmidt.

Georgia Tech’s Jessica Sallinger.

Alabama’s Stephanie VanBrakle.

These were the kids Ally Von L was playing against – the USA’s most decorated pitchers.

Von Liechtenstein hit against most of them. As close to being a starting player without actually starting every game, Ally Von L was part of a team that included All-Americans almost everywhere on the diamond during her four-year stint from 2002-2005.

On Saturday, June 5, 2005: It was a Von Liechtenstein single in the 12th inning at the NCAA Women’s College World Series that knocked home the winning run in a 3-2 win over Cal-Berkeley – a game played in Oklahoma City.

Ally Von L’s heroics were only short-lived.

One day later, the fabulous Texas southpaw, Osterman, knocked off the Lady Wildcats, 1-0, to leave Arizona without a 50-win season for the first time in years. Arizona ended its season with a record of 45-12, having reached its 17th Women’s College World Series over an 18-year span.

Ally Von L and I connected a few times on articles about her collegiate experiences, which were vast. She wasn’t hamming it up, probably preferring to lay low. After all, this kid was one of REV’s finest athletes.

You always got the feeling she was battling. Aggressive. Not in awe of her surroundings, but highly respectful.

In 2005, the Lady Wildcats were co-Pacific-10 Champions. Playing against the likes of UCLA, Stanford, Cal, you name it, UA was a force in NCAA softball.

Wouldn’t you know it: Von Liechtenstein became a group of four Lady Wildcat players to play all four seasons without a national championship since 1987. It was quite a streak, especially when Von Liechtenstein had played behind such stalwart pitchers as Hollowell and the sensational Finch.

Jennie_Finch_vs._China
Jennie Finch was a University of Arizona teammate of Ally Von Liechtenstein during a prime time of Lady Wildcats’ softball in Tucson (Photo by Team USA).

Finch was a senior during Von Liechtenstein’s freshman season.

A year after Ally Von L’s departure, Arizona – which had copped five NCAA titles over a seven-year span in the 1990s – won the NCAA World Series title again.

Who knows? Maybe it set the stage for a future NCAA Division 1 softball great. About a decade after Ally Von L, Sahvanna Jaquish, also from Highland, showed up at REV. Off she went to Louisiana State University, where she became an All-American.

 

TOUR DE FRANCE: THERE’S A CONNECTION TO REDLANDS

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

It’s a connection that defies imagination.

In the 2005 Tour de France (TDF) alone, a string of cyclists had Redlands Classic ties.

Floyd Landis and Francisco Mancebo, Cadel Evans and Santiago Botero, plus David Zabriskie – cycling stars who had long lifted themselves into the cycling spotlight. Landis, an eventual winner who had the title stripped for doping, and Evans were eventual champs.

Francisco_Mancebo_2016_TOA
Two-time Redlands Bicycle Classic champion Francisco Mancebo, has a string of top 10 Tour de France finishes (photo by Wikipedia).

Mancebo was a top 10 finisher a handful of times.

Botero, who later admitted to doping, was good in the TDF mountains.

Zabriskie, a time trial stage winner, was also relegated for doping.

This could be the missing piece that Redlands area fans are missing: The Tour de France (TDF). It’s the crown jewel of cycling. Besmirched a bit by the noted drug scandals, notably 7-time champion Lance Armstrong, plenty of other cyclists have clean enough backgrounds.

It’s not hard to keep track of the scandalous cyclists.

All evil-doing has largely gone ignored, at least officially, by RBC. The focus is on the roads. To anyone’s knowledge, no cyclist has ever failed drug tests at Redlands.

Even back in the earliest days of the Redlands Classic, Team 7-Eleven’s Jacque Boyer was the first U.S. cyclist who showed up in the fabled Tour de France.

Phinney’s 1986 Redlands Classic victory was only a prelude to a great career. The 7-Eleven cyclist became the first American to win a stage at the TDF.

That doesn’t even begin to cover the connections between TDF and RBC.

U.S. Postal Service cyclist Jonathan Vaughters, the 1998 Redlands champion, was a former U.S. national time trials champion. When he won that deadly mountainous climb to snowy Oak Glen in 1998, he sat in a team car musing over his future in Europe.

“This time in a couple of months,” said Vaughters, “I’m really hoping I can be one of Lance Armstrong’s lieutenants in the mountains of Europe.”

Jonathan_Vaughters_CA_2011
Jonathan Vaughters won at Redlands, hoping to land a spot with the U.S. Postal Service squad in Europe where he would be a lieutenant in the Lance Armstrong quest to win more races, including the Tour de France (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

A lieutenant’s role is simple: To keep a team’s race leader fresh for the finish of each stage.

He was trying to pay his dues at places like Redlands.

Christian Vande Velde, who capped U.S. Postal’s 4-year streak of winning at Redlands, won in 1999 by 39 seconds. Nine years later, he took fourth in the Tour de France, trailing winner Carlos Sastre by 3:05.

Vande Velde was seventh one year later. In 2011, he was a lieutenant to Tom Danielson – third, RBC 2003 – in a top 10 finish.

Evgeniy Berzin, the 1989 RBC champion, has won a stage at the TDF.

Dmitri Zhadanov, the 1990 RBC champion, rode in four TDF peletons.

The Poland pair: Tomas Brozyna and Dariusz Baranowski raced for world-renowned U.S. Postal, Armstrong’s team.

Baranowski, 1995 RBC champion, was a 5-time Tour de France starter with a 12th place finish in 1998.

Brozyna was 22nd at the Tour de France in 2003, winning RBC in 1996.

Botero, for Rock Racing, was Tour de France’s fifth best climber in 2005.

At the 2008 RBC, the Colombian rolled to a 54-second win over Chris Baldwin.

Zabriskie, runner-up to 4-time RBC champion Chris Horner in 2000, is a 7-time TDF starter, even capturing a stage in 2011. Like Armstrong, Landis and others, some of Zabriskie’s results have been stricken from the records.

Tour_de_l'Ain_2009_-_Chris_Horner_(cropped)
Chris Horner, the only four-time winner of the Redlands Bicycle Classic, took off for the European jewels of cycling, including the Tour de France where he was a top 10 finisher (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Speaking of Horner: Just after winning his fourth Redlands tour, he pronounced himself unlikely to ever get a shot at a berth in the TDF. Eventually, he got seven shots at the fabled Tour de France. He took ninth in 2010.

Then there’s Mancebo, one of Spain’s all-time greats.

Amid a flurry of top career finishes – Tour of California, Redlands champion, plus a string of European successes – the cyclist known as “Paco” on the peleton has a string of top 10 Tour de France finishes.

Ninth in 2000, seventh in 2001, 10th in 2003, sixth in 2004, his best ride in the French classic was a brilliant fourth place finish in 2005. It could actually be viewed as a second place finish since Armstrong, the winner, along with third place Jan Ullrich, were both eliminated from official results for testing PED positive.

That was evidence some clean cyclists remained on the peleton.

It was in 1998 that Australian 20-year-old Cadel Evans showed up at Redlands. It took the all-out efforts of the mighty U.S. Postal Service squad to keep Evans out of the yellow jersey.

Cadel_Evans_-_Criterium_du_Dauphiné_2012_-_1ere_étape
Cadel Evans showed up at the 1998 Redlands Bicycle Classic almost at the last minute, but wound up coming up just 20 seconds short to place second that year. Thirteen years later, the Australian cyclist won the 2011 Tour de France (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Vaughters, aided by another future Tour de France combatant Tyler Hamilton, barely edged Evans in the chase to Oak Glen. Evans chased Vaughters the remainder of Redlands, losing by just 20 seconds.

In 2011, Evans, a two-time Tour de France runner-up, capped his career by winning the Tour de France. He retired a few years later.

NEXT WEEK: Name the woman and, chances are, she’s raced at Redlands.

CYCLING HALL OF FAMER DAVIS PHINNEY HELPED LAUNCH REDLANDS CLASSIC

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Davis Phinney took over the post-race media conference after winning the yellow jersey at the 1986 Redlands Bicycle Classic.

Phinney was a cycling rock star.

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Until Greg LeMond came along to win the Tour de France in 1988, there may have been no bigger USA cyclist than Davis Phinney, who won the Redlands Bicycle Classic while wearing Team 7-Eleven colors in 1986. (Photo by Wikipidia Commons.)

He’d just ridden a handful of days, pushed over the line by runner-up Raul Alcala, an Olympic bronze medalist for his native Mexico a couple years earlier. Phinney also held off future teammate Jeff Pierce in that Memorial Day weekend event.

Interviews centered around, naturally, of Phinney’s Tour de France success. Wasn’t that big news?

Wouldn’t Redlands like to connect with a guy that was in cycling’s greatest race?

After all, he would eventually become the first-ever American to win a stage at that European-dominated event. Americans, at that point, had rarely competed in that event.

Team 7-Eleven had raced across the pond in the globe’s most important cycling race. Until Greg LeMond came along, the Americans weren’t successful at any level in Europe.

In Redlands, Phinney was trying to be kind, but he knew why he was there. Phinney’s presence, along with his pre-eminent 7-Eleven cycling team, had been whisked to Redlands in order to help try and send the one-year-old event to the next level of popularity.

There were enough questions about European racing. Mostly mine. I was thinking globally, not locally.

“Let’s stop talking about the Tour de France,” said Phinney, in a manner of taking over the post-event media conversation, “and talk about the Tour of Redlands.”

Fair enough. We’re on U.S. soil. On hand for those moments were handfuls of Redlands race organizers, no doubt delighted over their guest’s manners in trying to highlight their race.

Team 7-Eleven’s presence might have been paramount in keeping Redlands afloat. Eighteen years into the next century, it’s still pertinent and relevant in the cycling world.

In 1997, that team was inducted into the U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame. That original 7-Eleven squad had sent two teams to Redlands for that 1986 Memorial Day weekend trek.

Team manager Jim Ochowicz, a Hall of Famer in his own right, had organized a remarkable collection of mainly U.S. riders.

Racing in Redlands that weekend was Tom Schuler and Bob Roll, Ron Kiefel and Doug Shapiro, plus Alex Stieda, Roy Knickman, Chris Carmichael, not to mention Phinney and Alcala.

It was a showcase for Redlands, its area fans, perhaps, not yet connected to cycling.

Don’t forget Eric Heiden, the Olympic speed skater who captured multiple medals at the 1980 Lake Placid (N.Y.) Games while also qualifying as an alternate for Team USA’s cycling squad later that summer.

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Eric Heiden, a 1980 U.S. Olympian in both speed skating and an alternate in the Summer Olympics as a cyclist, was part of Team 7-Eleven’s appearance at the 1986 Redlands Bicycle Classic. His presence brought extra prominence to the growing event. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

And don’t overlook another Hall of Famer. Knickman, who rode for La Vie Claire and Toshiba-Look alongside the famous teams that included LeMond, Andy Hampsten and Frenchman Bernard Hinault.

We’re told the U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame, which has limited hours in a Northern California city of Davis – just outside Sacramento – isn’t all that impressive. That it exists is, in itself, a major bow to the sport.

Team 7-Eleven’s presence in Redlands that year, I was told, came after plenty of negotiation – with Ochowicz, I believe – to help lift Redlands’ race to prominence. It was hard to bring his team west when most of the most important competition and events were in Europe.

Perhaps spurred on by his Redlands success, Phinney won the third stage that summer at the Tour de France, copping the 12th stage a year later.

Phinney, meanwhile, was accorded a high honor in Redlands when organizers proclaimed “Legendary” status on him at a ceremony in 2012.

It was a Hall of Fame moment, a Redlands Connection and a huge chapter for the Redlands Classic.

 

GOLD MEDALIST SHOWED UP IN REDLANDS, SET RECORDS

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Today, April 23, is the 97th anniversary.

He was dubbed the Golden Streak of the Golden West.

A USC superstar.

He was Sir Charles.

Also known as the Winged foot of Mercury.

At the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Charles Paddock was a gold medal sprinter, winner of the 100-meter and part of the USA’s winning 4 x 100 relay.

Charley Paddock (Photo by Pasadena Sports Hall of Fame)
Charles Paddock, a 3-time Olympic gold medalist, showed up in Redlands and set four world records, tying another on April 23, 1921 (photo by Pasadena Sports Hall of Fame).

It was, in fact, the same Olympiad at which Redlands-based hurdler William Yount had participated.

Ted Runner, the longtime athletic director at the University of Redlands, was careful to point out Paddock’s connection to Redlands. It was long before Runner’s time, but as a lifetime devotee of track & field, Runner was aware of the lore that had preceded him on the venerable university’s grounds.

No less than Guy Daniels, Jr. – whose dad, Guy, Sr. was a Redlands coach of that era – and another ex-Bulldog, Terry Roberts of Yucaipa, who was a student of Olympic history, had known of the legend. Throughout the years, all weighed in with me on Paddock’s visit to Redlands.

Of course, neither Runner, Daniels, Jr., nor Roberts were present for Paddock’s appearance.

Paddock wasn’t quite track’s version of baseball’s Babe Ruth. Or boxing’s Jack Dempsey. Or tennis’ Bill Tilden. But he was a decorated sprint champion.

On April 23, 1921 – less than a year after he’d won the gold medal in Belgium – Paddock showed up at the University of Redlands. That day, Paddock broke four world records and equaled another one.

Paddock, whose historically significant role in a 1981 motion picture, “Chariots of Fire” (portrayed by Dennis Christopher), had shown up at Redlands for an exhibition. That day, he set no less than five world records.

Paddock, a 100-meter gold medalist in 1920 – the same Games competed at by Yount – was a high-profile athlete during those days.

In “Chariots of Fire,” there was nothing about Redlands, of course.

There was nothing about the world marks he’d set on that April 23, 1921 afternoon.

Paddock, in fact, was a mere character at the 1924 Paris Olympics – a favorite who was chased down by Britain’s Harold Abrahams in the 200-meter.

Still, Paddock was part of America’s winning 4 x 100 relay that year.

FOUR RECORDS SET, ANOTHER TIED AT REDLANDS

At Redlands, the four marks – 100-meter, 200-meter, 300-yard and 300-meter – while equaling the world mark at 100 yards, made the tiny little San Bernardino County city a mark in international track history.

He was clocked at 9 3/5 seconds in the 100-yard dash.

For the 100-meters, he sped 10.40, cracking 1912 U.S. Olympian Donald Lippincott’s mark by 1/5 second.

Multiple Olympic gold medalist (St. Louis and Athens) Archie Hahn’s 21 3/5-seconds over 200-meters fell to 21 1/5 via Paddock.

The world’s fastest human, Bernie Wefers’ 300-yard mark of 30 3/5 seconds was broken by two-fifths … Paddock in 30 1/5 at Redlands.

As for the 300-meter mark, held by 1912 Olympian Pierre Failliott of France in 1908 and equaled by Frigyes Mezei of Hungary in 1913 at 36 2/5 seconds was smashed by Paddock’s speed – 33 4/5 seconds.

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This was a typical Charles Paddock finish, turning his left shoulder to the left as he crossed a finish line. This was likely the scene on April 23, 1921 at the University of Redlands when Paddock set world records in four events, tying another mark that same day (photo by USC sports information).

At Redlands that day, there were two races.

Bob Weaver, president of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), was the starter.

No less than a reporter from the old Los Angeles Examiner had shown up that day to record the events. The local newspaper from Redlands was also on the scene.

They described conditions as “bitter” cold. Overcast, a little wind, some rain sprinkles, but it had died by race time.

According to accounts of the day, Paddock crossed two tapes in his first race, four in his second, at least five watches at each tape.

Part of the issues of the era was the eastern troops might not believe the accounts that Paddock set such records. It’s one reason why so many watches were procured. That the AAU president, Weaver, was in attendance helped make it official.

Those records were verified.

Paddock’s main competition came from the likes of Vernon Blenkiron, a 17-year-old from Compton High School , who had squared off against Redlands’ high schooler Bob Allen in the State 100 and 220. Forrest Blalock, who spent two season on USC’s track team, was also running.

Paddock was described as “two yards in front of Blenkiron.” At one point, Paddock was “20 yards ahead of Blalock.”

No, this field did not include the likes of Abrahams, Wiefers, Hahn, Lippincott, Failliott, Mezei or even Yount of Redlands.

TRACK & FIELD NEWS REDLANDS ACCOUNTS

According to Track & Field News, “with one jump he passed the 200-meter and 220-yard marks.

“On around the sharp turn he ran. He seemed to weaken and slow down. Finally, he reached 300 yards. His sprint was nearly gone. Fighting every inch of the way he raced on toward the last tape, the 300-meter mark. He was now on the straightaway again. Pulling with eyes half shut and mouth open he passed the finish line and fell in a heap into the arms of waiting friends.”

On the shorter run that day, T&F News reported it this way:

“Down the stretch they came, Paddock seemingly unable to increase his lead. Fifteen feet from the tape Paddock gave a mighty bound and fairly flew over the finish line two yards ahead of Blenkiron. He came down heavily. Recovering, he took two quick strides and leaped for the tape at 100 meters.

“His first leap had enabled him again to equal the record for 100 yards. The two together gave him the record for 100 meters. Two such leaps as these made it appear that the boy must have had wings or a kangaroo hoof.”

Three years later, in Paris, it was Abrahams who outdueled the Golden Streak of the Golden West for the gold. Paddock took the silver medal back to America.

There was a third Olympics in 1928 at Amsterdam. No medals. No finals. In 1943 at Sitka, Alaska, Paddock perished in an airplane crash. Nearly 43. Born in Texas. He was a U.S. marine. Thirty-eight years later, his memory flashed forward in “Chariots of Fire.”

It was curious that Paddock was California’s prep 220-yard champion in 1916, 1917 and 1918 for Pasadena High, then supplanted by Redlands’ Bob Allen in 1919, then again in 1921. By that point, Paddock was USC’s Golden Streak.

It brought back that Redlands Connection.

 

 

A TIGER INVITATION I’M GLAD I DIDN’T TURN DOWN

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

There they were, lined up, one shot apart among the leader board at the 1997 “Augusta Invitational.” It’s called The Masters.

Tom Kite had Tommy Tolles beaten by a stroke after 72 holes, 282-283. At 284, there was a legend, Tom Watson, a multiple major tournament champion. He was followed by a pair of golfers at 285, Constantina Rocca and Paul Stankowski. Previous Masters champion Fred Couples, two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer, British Open champion Justin Leonard, PGA Champions Davis Love III and Jeff Sluman closed out their tournament with identical 286s.

At 270 stood Tiger Woods. A dozen shots ahead. Dominant. A record 18-under par. Augusta would never be the same.

He’d won The Masters.

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Tiger Woods, shown here winning the 1997 Masters. Sixteen years earlier, a 6-year-old Eldrick “Tiger” Woods showed up to play a 9-hole exhibition match at Redlands Country Club. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

It would be the lead story in the April 14, 1997 Redlands Daily Facts.

The local angle was simple.

Sixteen years earlier, Redlands Country Club head golf professional Norm Bernard had called me with an invitation. Maybe it was an assignment. Or a request. Maybe he was begging.

Little Eldrick Woods, already known to the world as Tiger, had been invited to Redlands for a 9-hole exhibition match. He was about to turn six.

Norm and I started a little verbal sparring. I didn’t necessarily want to be there. He very definitely wanted me to be there.

“I don’t know, Norm. A 9-hole exhibition?”

Would our readers even care?

“What else have you got going on?” Norm asked.

In truth, he was correct. Nothing, at least locally, was taking place. School was shut down for winter break. Except for the San Bernardino Kiwanis Tournament, a basketball extravaganza for Redlands High, nothing of a sporting nature was taking place.

It just seemed like I could be working on something more meaningful that day.

“Aw, Norm.”

“C’mon. I’ll buy you lunch.”

He was being as gracious as possible. While being demanding. Charming. A little pushy. Norm was always under fire at that club. Private golf members can be demanding. They want their privacy. They also wanted a little publicity when it mattered.

Redlands CC was full of private club members that were movers and shakers in our community. One of them, Bill Moore, had been my publisher. There had long been rumblings and grumblings about country club coverage in our local pages.

The women’s club had its set of demands.

Of course, there was the club tournament.

Weekly twilight play, results in the summer. Usually, it was the same names.

It was Norm’s job to process results for newspaper publication.

No resentment from me. All part of the job. Bowling had its own set of demands. So did recreation tennis. We had local motorsports. The soccer people were always on the move. The sports section is for everyone. Any achievements should be duly noted.

That was the undercurrent of the relationship between the local country club and the local newspaper.

The year was 1982, just after Christmas. Bill Moore, who’d sold the paper a year or so earlier, was gone. His country club cronies were no longer bugging him to light the fire under me. Meanwhile, they’d light the fire under Norm. No longer were there job-related demands hanging over my head. This was truly my decision. I had to admit I was a little curious.

The next day would be little Tiger’s sixth birthday. Already, the little guy had been celebrated on television, once on the Mike Douglas Show as a three-year-old that could amazingly swing a golf club. Bob Hope, an avid golfer in his own right, was also a guest that day.

Another appearance came on ABC-TV’s “That’s Incredible,” hosted by John Davidson, Fran Tarkenton and Cathy Lee Crosby.

Norm had known Tiger’s dad, Earl Woods. Because of that association, he’d invited Tiger to play golf at Redlands.

Fourteen-year-old Michele Lyford, who would one day go on to win the girls’ CIF golf championship, was selected to be Tiger’s playing opponent on that day. There was a small gallery as Tiger finished the nine-hole round by shooting 47.

Lyford was also the champion of the 1986 Junior World in the older 15-17 age category, an event held every summer in San Diego. It should also be pointed out that other yearly winners included Carolyn Hill, Kim Saiki, Brandie Burton (who was from nearby Rialto) and Christi Erb – future LPGA professionals.

Tiger, of course, was the headliner at Redlands on Dec. 27, 1981.

The highlight of the day was, perhaps, the final hole. Tiger had knocked his ball smack into the bunker, smack dab against the lip – an impossible shot for even the most experienced of golfers.

The kid was poised even then.

One day shy of his sixth birthday, Tiger took out his club and hit his shot backward, into the chipping area in front of the green.

Then he knocked the ball in position for a double bogey. Even then, he was trained to minimize trouble. Of the 30, or so, people in attendance for this little showcase match, they had to be awestruck at his club selection.

No one discussed the shot. No one told him what to do. The kid was left alone.

His father, Earl, wasn’t present. His mother, Kultilda, was watching quietly nearby.

This little golf prodigy had played bogey golf throughout the match. That in itself was incredible, John, Fran and Cathy Lee!

Afterward, the club gave him a birthday party.

Afterward, I’m embarrassed to say, I handed this little guy a piece of paper – and a pen. Yes, I asked him for his autograph. He made his letters carefully, his little tongue sticking out the corner of his mouth while he wrote, “Eldrick Woods.”

Wish I still had that little slip of paper.

Sixteen years later, he won the Masters. That was just the beginning.

I forgot what Michele shot that day.

My column on April 14, 1997 was all about Tiger. Redlands. Winning the Masters. My reluctance to cover it. I’d written, “I’m glad Norm convinced me to come.”

Norm called later to recall the memories.

Any more birthday parties you want me to cover, Norm?