SUCCESSFUL JUMP START : Keeping Good Company Helped Dan Raatjes Get Airborne in a Hurry

It was easy to distinguish teacher and student when Leo Williams and Dan Raatjes went through their paces in the high jump pit on a recent wind-swept day at Balboa Stadium.

Williams, the NCAA champion in 1981 and fourth-place finisher at the most recent Olympic Trials, likes to talk.

Raatjes, who leads the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics with a jump of 7-feet-1 for Point Loma Nazarene College, prefers to listen--especially to anything Williams has to say.

Perhaps because the two are so different, their relationship has developed beyond that of occasional training partners and into friendship.

Williams, 29, has been jumping for 20 years and won the NCAA championships while competing for the Naval Academy. Raatjes, 21, had never jumped until two years ago but heads into the NAIA District 3 championships at Point Loma Friday and Saturday as the favorite in an event in which he finished sixth in nationally last year.

Raatjes and Williams have come from opposite directions and met on common ground in front of a high jump bar.

Their first meeting, however, gave little clue to what was ahead.

"I think (PLNC) Coach (Jim) Crakes said he had this basketball player who was high jumping that he wanted me to look at," Williams said.

And Williams' assessment?

"I said 'He's a basketball player, coach.' "

Raatjes, 6-3, played center on the junior varsity basketball team his freshman year at Point Loma, but after surgery to repair stretched ligaments in his left ankle, he decided against continuing with the sport. As his sophomore year rolled around, Raatjes found himself in an athletic void.

"I was getting bored," said Raatjes, who was a three-sport letterman at Greenway High School in Phoenix. "I was so used to doing something. In high school, I played basketball, baseball and golf, and the seasons would overlap."

While trying to find something to replace basketball, Raatjes happened upon the high jump pit at Point Loma Nazarene.

"I'd never (jumped) before, but it looked like fun," Raatjes said.

Raatjes was long on jump and short on technique but caught the eye of Crakes.

"I said 'You might make a pretty good high jumper if you put your mind to it,' " Crakes said. "I didn't see him again until the following fall."

By that time, Raatjes had decided he wanted to try it. And that's when he noticed Williams working out at Point Loma Nazarene.

Williams and Atsushi Inaoka, the Japanese national high jump champion, usually worked out at Balboa Stadium but would go to Point Loma for a change of pace.

Raatjes spotted Williams and his smooth style. He watched, and he listened.

"We'd go out on Saturday, and he'd be there," Williams said. "He would just watch. Then he'd ask questions, but he'd never jump with us. When we were done, he'd ask us when we would be back out.

"He was so naive because he didn't know anything about the sport. But he picked up a lot through osmosis."

Raatjes was a little in awe of Williams at first. Eventually, he got up the nerve to start asking questions.

"I told them I was pretending I was a high jumper for Point Loma," Raatjes said. "After the first couple times, I was more bold, and I could talk to him. Now I look at him as a friend."

Williams gave Raatjes some high jump video tapes, which Raatjes watched over and over.

He went out for the Point Loma track team the following spring and jumped 6-8 in his first competition. By the end of the season, Raatjes had gone 6-11 and was rated the No. 2 NAIA jumper in the country.

Thanks partially to an off-season weight training program, Raatjes jumped 7-0 early this season and pushed his personal best to an NAIA-leading 7-1 at the Pomona-Pitzer meet last month. He has already qualified for the NAIA national championships at Azusa Pacific May 25-27.

Raatjes has his eye on 7-3, which would give him both the NAIA national record (7-2 1/2) and the school record (7-2 1/4 by Chris Branham in 1985).

Raatjes is a sophomore athletically but a junior academically and will get his degree after next season. He said he doesn't think he'll stay at Point Loma for a fifth year and will instead concentrate on the high jump. Raatjes is looking to hit 7-5 in the next three years, a level that he says might qualify him for the Olympic trials for the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

"I need four inches for Olympic qualifying, and I have three years to see what I can do," Raatjes said. "I think it's possible if I keep training.

Crakes, however, has been trying to make Raatjes aware that sooner or later, he will hit a plateau.

"It's easy to train when you are doing well, but (Crakes) is trying to prepare me," Raatjes said. "But that's probably the time you need to focus and train harder. I can see that may happen. I haven't hit it yet, but coach keeps preparing me for it.

"I mean, hopefully I haven't hit it yet."

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