Whether he’s in the classroom or the stadium – excelling in honors courses or competing against track and field’s elite – South Pasadena High’s Nik Iwankiw is on a mission.
He simply wants to shine in both.
“Nik is very smart and extremely focused when competing,” praised C.B. Richards, the school’s longtime track coach, talking about the school’s A-student who is also a multiple SPHS record holder in both the discus and shot put.
Combine the two, says Richards, and you’ve got all the makings for big success, the kind Iwaniw looks to achieve as he sets his sights on the CIF California State Track and Field Championships at Buchanan High in Clovis, just outside of Fresno, starting Friday.
“He’s got a great work ethic,” noted Richards, who knows first hand that Iwankiw is a prized athlete with plenty of scholastic achievements behind him. “That’s why he’s going to Cal Berkeley in the fall.”
Earning an athletic scholarship, Iwankiw will head up north to become a Golden Bear following his impressive academic efforts and athletic prowess as he looks to continue earning high marks in both over the next four years.
For someone “who didn’t have any shot put or discus experience” when he came out for the sport as a sophomore, according to Richards, “his growth has been amazing.”
Faced with the onslaught of COVID-19 at the time, ending the track season after only three meets, Iwankiw consistently practiced, picking up what knowledge of sport he could. As a junior, he and his Tiger teammates went through a similar pattern when the pandemic cut short parts of the season, as Iwankiw “didn’t have too many big meets to go to,” said Richards.
Every step of the way throughout an abbreviated high school track schedule, Iwankiw looked for an opportunity to showcase his full potential. He finally got it this spring, winning his share of meets in both competitions as Richards now believes Iwankiw has what it takes to walk off with a medal on Saturday.
“He had a big will to improve,” said the coach about Iwankiw’s early training in the shot put and discus. “This year was his first full season in high school track and field and things added up really well in his favor.”
In an odd way, the Tigers’ coach believes COVID “really allowed Iwankiw to focus and practice a lot in the two events, especially on technique,” explained Richards. “Strangely, not having a lot of meets to go to the last two years helped him improve.”
Iwankiw lives by the old motto that practice really does pays off, and as a result is a two-time CIF Division 3 shot put champion and was a scoring member of the Tigers’ boys CIF-Southern Section team championship in 2021.
In this year’s Masters Meet, preceding State, Iwankiw had a toss of 62-feet, 11 inches that ranks him second among shot putters going into this weekend’s action. He’s also ranked the state’s fifth best discus thrower heading into Friday’s prelims with a toss of 189 feet.
Reaching the prestigious state meet in the two field events means there won’t be divisions, as all the competitors will be grouped together. “He’ll be going up against the whole state,” said Richards. “There won’t be two or three or fourteen divisions like most CIF sports have, just one individual champion in California and, who knows, it could be Nik.”
And why not? Richards says Iwankiw, a young talent who has family ties to Ukraine, is a real gift to the local high school.
“He has broken down the physics of the shot put and discus, spending a lot of time working on the technical part,” said Richards of Iwankiw, who steps on the scale at about 215 pounds with his 6-2 feet height. “Along with the strength side of being in the weight room with his spin move, he’s getting better and better.”
Making sure he does, joining Richards, are Iwankiw’s on-campus throwing coach, Deborah Vogel, who competed at Harvard, and private tutelage in the two events coming from Coach Nick Garcia, out of Sherman Oaks. “He’s the guru of shot put and discus,” said Richards. “There has been a great coach relationship between myself, our coach Vogel at the school and his outside coach Garcia. We all work well to get the best out of Iwankiw.”
There are roughly 30 competitors from around the state in each competition with 12 advancing to Saturday’s finals, which Richards believes Iwankiw has a strong chance of doing.
“If he gets his best throws out there in both events, he has a shot of being on the medal stand,” said the Tigers’ coach. “It depends on how things shake out that day, but he has the ability to do it. He has a shot of being in the top three in California and possibly could be in the top 10 in the nation. That’s saying a lot.”
South Pasadena has another highly talented shot putter and discus thrower in Noah Leider, a senior, who will be heading off to U.C. Santa Barbara for his college stop.
Iwankiw and Leider were among 12 athletes, including six from track and field, who were ceremoniously honored during a college-signing day Tuesday on the SPHS campus. Included in the lot, of course, were Iwankiw and Leider.
“Just like Nik, Noah is phenomenal,” said Richards. “He’s amazing in his own right, obviously if he’s going to UCSB. He had a shot at going to state as well, but kind of had a back injury at the end of April, pushed through it, but never really fully recovered even though he threw at the CIF Finals. He’s another guy like Nik who has a great work ethic. There’s a lot of upside with him. He’s got a bright future.”
There’s no question in Richards’ mind that Iwankiw and Leider will be among the best in the shot put and discus at the collegiate level.
“I think they’re both going to have crazy success,” said the coach, “so we’ll have to keep our eye on them in the years to come.”
In the short term, one – Iwankiw – will be going up against the state’s finest at the high school level in the two events with one mission of bringing home a medal.
“I like his chances,” insists Richards. “Nik has really worked hard for this and I think he has a chance of doing it.”