Participating in track and field over the past three years, Nik Iwankiw saw only limited action as the COVID pandemic played havoc on the schedule, forcing the cancellation of many meets along the way.
Consequently, Iwankiw, who competes in both the discus and shot put, was unable to put in a full season up until this spring when the South Pasadena High senior finally was able to showcase his talents, culminating it with a trip last weekend to the CIF State Track and Field Championships in Clovis, outside of Fresno.
“Nik is going to get a lot better in college,” said C.B. Richards, the Tigers’ longtime track coach, who looks forward to the day when Iwankiw moves on to compete for U.C. Berkeley. “He came out for the sport as a sophomore and with COVID cutting everything short for a number of years, it has been difficult.”
In addition, Richards recognizes “boys get taller, faster and stronger from the age of 19 to 25,” he added, “and I know he has a bright future ahead of him. He’s going to a college that does well in field events, so I know he’ll be really good at Cal.”
In his sophomore year, the virus limited Iwankiw’s action to only three meets. The number increased to 10 as a junior, but when he was able to finally blossom during his senior year, taking part in 20, Iwankiw made his ultimate high school athletic dream come true by taking on the state’s top competitors at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium.
He had a toss of 59-feet-10 inches on Saturday in the shot put, which was good enough for third, and his throw of 196 feet in the discus sent him home with a sixth place medal in that event. His previous best in the discus had been 182, “so it’s almost a 14-foot PR (personal record),” said Richards, noting he’s proud of Iwankiw’s tremendous progress, especially following the abbreviated sophomore and junior track campaigns.
“For some reason, a lot of the competitors didn’t do well as we’re used to seeing in the shot put at state,” said Richards, explaining there was little recovery time between the discus and shot put events, which featured some of the same athletes. “So, a lot of the kids didn’t do great. We see most of those kids throw all year round. In the shot put none of them did their career best, so the event this year was down a bit where the discus was way up. So, while he finished third in the shot put, Nik showed the most improvement in the discus.”
Another top athlete who will be departing South Pasadena High to compete at the collegiate level is senior Noah Leider, headed to U.C. Santa Barbara in the fall to throw the discus and shot put next track season.
“Santa Barbara’s head coach is also the throws coach, so usually when the head coach oversees the event it means the athlete is in good hands,” said Richards about Leider’s anticipated good fortunes. “I think both Nik and Noah are going to improve a lot in the years ahead. I’m looking forward to following them.”
Competing at the state’s highest level in both the discus and shot put, Richards said the experience showed that Iwankiw was ready for the big stage under immense pressure. “He did amazing with that, being able to go to the medal stand twice,” said the coach. “I think he learned a lot about performance in probably the biggest and best track meet of its kind in the country. He competed against the best. There were no divisions, just one grouping of the top discus and shot putters. It just shows you how great he performed. We’re the only state that doesn’t have divisions, and for him to handle the pressure under those conditions was fantastic.”
Iwankiw, a top student at SPHS, is fully engulfed in the two events, Richards saying he is focused on learning, eating a healthy diet and likes the idea that a solid coaching staff puts him in the best position to win. Add it all up and it translates to high achievement.
“As the architect of it all, as the track coach, we were able to bring in a real good throws coach at the high school,” explained Richards. “I was then able to introduce him to a private outside coach, and with all of us on the same page, we were able to push him to reach his potential. We as coaches did a lot, but the drive itself has to come from the athlete and I think he has that internally. He wants to do well at it, to succeed, and get better. While his drive is internal, we just gave Nik the right path to help him develop the skill to be successful.”
And, well, for 2022, at least, to be known as the third best high school shot putter and sixth top discus thrower in California.
“I’d say that’s pretty good,” said a smiling Richards. “Nik did a great job!”