By ELLIOTT DENMAN
ALBQUQUERQUE, N.M. – After glory-filled, record-breaking runs at Manchester High School (of Ocean County, New Jersey), Seton Hall University and the 1988 and 1992 USA Olympic teams, Andrew Valmon took off his spikes and donned his coaching jacket.
Following a stint at Georgetown University, he took over the head coaching job at the University of Maryland. He was an assistant Team USA men’s coach at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin and now has an even bigger assignment – taking a week off from directing his Maryland Terps, he’ll be the head man of the power-packed American men’s squad headed for the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Doha, Qatar, March 12-14.
But he’ll be flying to the Middle East with a heavy heart.
Like a lot of other Seton Hall alumni and alumnae, he’s in stunned mourning at the planned elimination of the men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field programs at his South Orange, NJ alma mater.
“I was in total shock when I heard that news,” Valmon said at the Albuquerque Convention Center, where the USA Indoor Championships completed a two-day run Sunday night.
“I never thought it was possible. Never, ever. It came from out of the blue.
“After all that coach (John) Moon’s teams have achieved (in a 38-year career), all the great track history Seton Hall had in the years before that, to eliminate track is simply incredible.
“Basically, it’s a slap in the face to Coach Moon, all his staff, and all the tremendous athletes who ever ran for Seton Hall.”
Seton Hall athletes collected four Olympic gold medals – two apiece by Andy Stanfield (200-meter dash and 4x100 relay in 1952) and Valmon (4x400 relay, 1988 and 1992.) Twenty-two of Moon’s athletes competed in the Olympic Games and all of them teamed to rack up medals and trophies and honors in profusion on every possible level – all the way from the Metropolitan to the Big East to the IC4A to the NCAA to the USA National to the Olympic.
Arguably, track and field – and not basketball – has been Seton Hall’s most successful sport over the years.
“I’ll never believe this has happened,” said Valmon. “Sure we’ll all work to get it reversed. Sure it’s a longshot at this point. But we’ll never give up trying.”
In the meantime, he’ll focus on Team USA.
“I don’t want to get caught up in medal counts, that’s not the way I do things,” is the first thing he tells you.
“But I will say we have a very solid team, a great group of established veterans and young talents. I’m sure they’ll do well. But how well? Let’s just wait and see.”
But performances in the second and concluding day of the USA Indoor Championships Sunday – before a sellout crowd of 3,156 at the Convention Center – tell another story.
America’s team in Doha, men and women, is going to be very potent in a slew of events – the sprints and sprint hurdles, the 400, the high jump, pole vault, long jump, shot put and 4x400 relay. Then again, it seems quite vulnerable in a lot of others.
Sprinters Ivory Williams and Carmelita Jeter, high hurdler Terrence Trammell, 400-meter runners Debbie Dunn and Bershawn Jackson, and long jumper Brittney Reese delivered major triumphs Sunday.
Williams, Trammell, Dunn and Reese posted winning marks that are the best in the world this 2010 season. Jackson and Jeter weren't far off. But all these “explosive event” marks can be considered “alititude aided” in this mile-high city.
Williams got a blazing start and was never headed in route to a 60-meter dash victory in 6.49 seconds.
“I just came here ready to run, stay relaxed and come out with the victory, and that’s just what happened,” said Williams.
Trammell was never serious challenged in the 60-meter hurdles final, crossing the line in 7.41 seconds, leaving closest pursuers David Oliver (7.54) and Jeff Porter (7.62) in his slipstream.
“I still have time to improve before Doha,” said Trammell.
Dunn showed her speed in the two-section women’s 400 final. After world outdoor 200-meter champion Allyson Felix sped to a 51.37 win in the first, and slower-seeded race, Dunn came back to win the top section in the meet-record time of 50.86.
Reese, the 2009 women’s world outdoor champion, long jumped out to a 22-7 ¼ win.
Jackson – nicknamed Batman – registered a 45.41 400 win over Jamal Torrence (45.76.)
Jeter sizzled in the women’s 60-meter dash final, clocking a 7.02 win over Miki Barber (7.15.)
Ironically, Me’Lisa Barber, twin sister of Miki and a past world indoor champion, was knocked out of the final with a false start. The Barbers had been high school sensations at New Jersey’s Montclair High School.
Pole vaulters Lacy Janson (15-3) and Chelsea Johnson (15-1) posted performances that indicated they'll be medal threats back of Russian world record-holder Yelena Isinbayeva in Doha.
Shot putter Christian Cantwell needed a heave of 69-4 to hold off surprising challenger Ryan Whiting (69-0.)
All-around stars Trey Hardee and Bryan Clay settled for 10th and 11th places in the men’s long jump – but no matter. These two – Clay, the 2008 Olympic decathlon champion, and Hardee, the 2009 world decathlon king – are still expected to strike gold and silver – or silver and gold – in the Doha heptathlon.
With the world’s two best ready to go, Valmon knows he holds what seems to be an unbeatable hand.
Then again, nothing’s ever certain in this sport.
Just ask the Seton Hall track athletes who thought they had a future in Pirate blue.