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Banks Triple-Jumps 57-11 3/4, Shows He’s the Second Best Ever

Times Staff Writer

Willie Banks said he was eager to prove something to a shoe company that withdrew its sponsorship and, perhaps, to people in general.

What he proved Saturday in an ARC0-sponsored meet at the Coliseum is that he is the second-best triple jumper of all time and unsurpassed at sea-level.

Banks leaped 57 feet 11 3/4 inches on his last attempt to break his own American record of 57-7 1/2 established in 1981.

Only Brazil’s Joao Oliveira has jumped farther, setting his world record of 58-8 1/2 in the thin air of Mexico City in 1975.

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It was an especially gratifying performance for the former UCLA star who finished a disappointing sixth in last summer’s Olympic Games at the Coliseum.

Banks is seething because he was dropped from the Nike-sponsored Athletics West team last April.

“They said, ‘We no longer want you,’ ” Banks said. “They claimed that I wore another team’s jersey at a meet in Arizona last March. I didn’t. It’s just part of the mass exodus of shoe companies that were supporting athletes during the Olympic year.”

Banks also implied that he was no longer regarded as a valued member of the Athletics West team because of his poor showing in the Olympics.

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But Banks, who was ranked only sixth in the world last year in his specialty, has returned to form at age 29.

“I showed people that the old man isn’t dead yet,” he said. “It felt great considering that some people were running away from me, shoe companies and some promoters.”

Banks had to be at his best because Mike Conley, the silver medalist in the triple jump, went into lead at 57-3 1/2 on his fourth jump. Banks came back to jump 57-4 and then the big one at 57-11 3/4. Conley, who had a wind-aided jump of 58-1 3/4 last week in the NCAA meet at Austin, Tex., fouled on his last two attempts.

Banks, always a crowd favorite, came through in grand style on a warm and smoggy afternoon in a meet that was an artistic success but not a financial one.

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The turnstile count was only 6,347. But, at least, the meet outdrew crowds that watched the L.A. Express this spring at the Coliseum. There were some creditable performances considering the oppressive heat and also an accident that seemed serious at the time.

Pole vaulter Brad Pursley was attempting to clear 19-0. But, after planting his pole, he only went a few feet up in the air, lost control and flipped face down, hitting his head on the edge of the pit.

He was unconscious for two minutes before being removed from the track in an emergency vehicle.

Dr. Eugene Osher, medical director for the meet, said that Pursley suffered a concussion.

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“There is no evidence of paralysis,” Dr. Osher said. “He was feeling good later, and he was alert. I would say his condition is good.”

Pursley, a former Abilene Christian vaulter, was taken to Orthopaedic Hospital for X-rays.

A hospital spokesman reported that Pursley didn’t suffer neck or spinal injuries, only abrasions to his face. He was released after a short stay.

Reportedly, all he wanted to know was whether he won. He did, at 18-8.

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His mishap put a damper on the event. Mike Tully passed his final two attempts at 19-0, and Joe Dial, the American record-holder at 19-2, just ran through the pit instead of vaulting.

Other notable performances in addition to Banks’ jump:

--Dennis Lewis and Brian Stanton each cleared 7-7 in the high jump and then missed three times at an American-record height of 7-8 3/4.

--Innocent Egbunike of Azusa Pacific won the 400 in a stirring race with Darrell Robinson. Egbunike’s time of 44.66 seconds was the fastest in the world this year.

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--USC’s Darwin Cook won the 100 in 10.23, barely beating Houston’s Kirk Baptiste and Missouri’s Chidi Imoh, each at 10.26. It was redemption for Cook, who was sixth in the NCAA 100.

--Andre Phillips won the 400-meter hurdles in 48.37, best time in the world in 1985.

--Jamaica’s Merlene Ottey-Page won both sprints, taking the 100 in the stadium-record time of 10.93 and the 200 in 22.16.

--Baptiste barely held off two Texas high school stars, Roy Martin and Joe DeLoach, to win the 200 in 20.21.

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--Kenya’s Sammy Koskei won the 800 in 1:44.63 as Johnny Gray, the American record-holder, finished seventh and last in 1:54.60.

Banks said he had planned a different scenario for Saturday’s meet.

“It was to go something like this,” he said. “The young upstart from Arkansas, Mike Conley, would break my American record, and I would go into the TAC meet (June 14-16 at Indianapolis) as the underdog. Then, I would come back and break the world record in that meet. But Conley blew it.”

Conley led Arkansas to the NCAA title by winning the long and triple jumps and placing second in the 200.

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“I didn’t expect to jump far in this meet. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling,” he said. “I was happy with my jump of 57-3 1/2. I’ll jump a lot better in the TAC meet.”

Banks, wearing a gray warmup suit provided him by his high school, Oceanside, said that when he felt the wind at his back on his last attempt he just took off.

“I just wanted to concentrate on keeping my head up and bringing my left knee high to get height and distance,” he said. “The adrenaline was really flowing, but my knees were wobbly before I jumped.”

Banks, who said he is injury free for the first time since 1982, proved that a 58-foot jump a sea level is, indeed, possible. But the record jump wasn’t his greatest thrill.

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“There is nothing to compare with my final 55-1 jump that won the USC meet in 1975,” Banks said. “I was only a freshman and didn’t know what I was doing.”

Track Notes No-shows included UCLA heptathlete Jackie Joyner and her brother, Al, the Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump. . . . Gabriel Tiacoh of the Ivory Coast, the Olympic silver medalist in the 400, finished seventh in 45.84 Saturday. The first three finishers were under 45 seconds--Innocent Egbunike, Darrell Robinson and Ray Armstead. . . . Steve Scott had a strong kick to win the 1,500 in 3:36.82. . . . Scott said that Nike didn’t want him as a member of its team this year. “They said, ‘We’re looking for a visible athlete who can talk, is consistent and so forth.’ And I said, ‘And you don’t want me?’ ” Scott is a quotable, articulate athlete.


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