Tom Petranoff
Master of event at nationals.
The Bangor Daily News - Monday, August  3, 1998
By John Holyoke, Of the NEWS Staff -- Masters Track &  Field - ORONO - At the USA Track & Field National Masters Championships,  there are hoardes of ''coulda-beens.'' They converse and compete with flocks of  ''almost-weres.'' And just as many ''never-wuzzes'' take in the ambiance and  give it their best shots. But mixed into the crowd of more than 1,200 athletes  at Beckett Family Track at the University of Maine were a lot of bonafide former  stars.
Petranoff's world record throw of 327 feet, 2 inches in 1983
Picture 45-year-old Jeff Kingstad of Winchester, Wis.,  pole vaulting 14 feet, 7 1/4 inches. Or Alta Loma, Calif., 52-year-old Stan  Whitley sizzling 100 meters in 11.38 seconds. Or any of dozens of other  eye-popping performances by amazing athletes. In all, eight world records and  another 20 American marks were set in four days. Even with that backdrop, one  man stood out. His name was uttered everywhere, and you never had to look too  far to find him. He is Tom Petranoff. And javelin throwers know him as a legend  of their sport. For four days, Petranoff alternated between comic, pitchman and  teacher to the delight of the throng. Some knew who he was, and some didn't. But  everyone listened to the rugged, energetic man. And after awhile, when Petranoff  would toss aside a small plastic Turbo Jav - the training aid he and his wife  sold out of a tent in the parking lot - for the real deal, people really  understood.
On Friday, Petranoff hefted a proferred javelin, asking  what kind it was. Then, feet still firmly planted, he heaved the spear. Just a  quick flex of the chest, a flip of his shoulder, and it was gone. A hundred and  seventy feet or so later, it landed.
People shook their heads. The owner of the jav,  wide-eyed, opened his mouth to speak. And Petranoff beat him to the punchline.  ''I think that's as long as that thing's ever going to fly,'' the 40-year-old  Petranoff said.
The javelin-owner agreed. He, you see, knew the truth.  This was the man who actually changed the landscape of an entire event.  Petranoff's world record throw of 327 feet, 2 inches in 1983 made track  officials rethink the event. A subsequent record by another man cemented the  deal. Picture Michael Jordan's dunks being greeted by a switch to 11-foot  baskets. ''They changed the rules,'' Petranoff recalled. ''They didn't want it  to be a spectator participation sport.'' Read that: track fans becoming javelin  catchers. And it's a good thing, he admits. There was that day in Eugene, Ore.,  to remind him of that fact. ''I threw a 95-meter throw, a 310-foot throw. It  landed in lane three and almost took out Alberto Salazar, who was running the  10,000 [meters],'' Petranoff said. The sport answered by moving the center of  gravity forward four centimeters on every men's jav, and thickening the tail,  making the implement drop from the sky sooner.
On Sunday, Petranoff was the biggest show in a meet  filled with stellar performances. With his wife and three of his four daughters  watching - the 6-year-old Kelly had an appointment with a friend in a nearby  sandpile - Petranoff did what he does best Though he said he still isn't  training very hard Petranoff threw the javelin 250-0, a world record. And like  the showman he is, he waited a good long time before doing it. The crowd of 100  - many of whom had talked track with him over the meet's four days - greeted him  with rhythmic clapping before his fourth attempt and for each throw after that,  but it wasn't until his sixth and final effort that he reached his goal. ''The  hardest thing to do is let it happen instead of trying to force it to happen,''  he said. Petranoff, who retired in 1993, said he's ''training recreationally,''  but is considering a run for a berth in the 2000 Olympics. In the meantime, he's  relearning an event he knows well. ''I don't have [an approach run]. But it's  still in the memory banks,'' Petranoff said. ''The chip is still a little bit  cloudy, and that's why I was a little bit inconsistent.''
Sporting a T-shirt that proclaimed him a ''Track  Maniac,'' Petranoff said that putting on impromptu clinics - which he did for  four days any time three or four interested people stood still long enough to  look at his Turbo Javs - is just his way to give something back to his sport.  But that doesn't mean he can't poke fun while he's doing that. ''I said to one  guy, 'I've been teaching so many of these damn people that I'm starting to throw  like 'em,' '' Petranoff said with a laugh. ''It's negative feedback.''
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