Archive for Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Black has eventful overseas trip

July 25, 2001

Aside from a nine-hour plane trip that turned into a three-day ordeal, Eric Black returned from competition in the World Youth Championships in Debrecan, Hungary, a happy young athlete.

"It was great," said Black, who will be a senior at Baldwin High School this fall. "How often do you get to something like that? It's not every day someone gives you a free plane ticket across the ocean, a bunch of free stuff and then takes you to a track meet. It was great."

Black was one of 1,335 athletes from 166 nations to take part in the championships which started July 11. Of those, 50 athletes were from the United States.

"They took 50 track athletes and he was the only Kansas kid," said Mike Spielman, Black's high school coach. "It's a heck of an honor to be chosen to compete in something like this."

Black competed as an octathlete. He wound up finishing 24th out of 42 athletes with his personal-best performance. That came despite not arriving in Debrecan until the night before the competition was to start and after spending three days trying to get there.

He left Kansas City International Airport on July 9 and flew to Atlanta. The next stop was to be Amsterdam, but ended up being New Foundland, Canada, because of a mechanical problem with an engine.

"The plane had a leak in an engine," Black said. "We did lose the left engine, but had enough power with the right one to make it to New Foundland. We went in the airport there and set there for four or five hours. They came back on the intercom and said they had fixed the engine, but there wasn't an inspector to okay it to go overseas.

"We were going to go back to Atlanta, but then they said we were going to JFK. They put us in a nice hotel, fed us and we got six hours sleep," he said. "After we got up and back on the plane, it was delayed an hour again. Then we set on the runway for three hours waiting to take off.

"We finally took off Tuesday night and got to Amsterdam. Then we ended up in Budapest at 7 p.m. and the hotel at 9:30 p.m. the day before the competition was to start," he said. "We missed the opening ceremonies."

That was just the start of the adventure. The octathlon was the opening event and Black found himself on the track, ready to run the first event the 100-meter dash.

"It was kind of weird at first. I was in the very first 100 heat. Out of all the hundreds of athletes and all those from the U.S., I was the first to go," he said. "I heard this loud voice scream and everybody was in their blocks. Then another load scream and everyone was set and then there was a 'puff' and it was the starting gun.

"All of the instructions and everything was in Hungarian," said Black. "It was supposed to be in English or French, but it wasn't. That was kind of weird. I was looking around seeing what everyone else was doing and followed suit."

Soon Black found that while the instructions were in Hungarian, the meet was still run incredibly smooth. The high jump was a good example.

"They had boards with names and numbers on it," he said. "They didn't say a word, it was just flashed on the board and either you jumped within a minute or it was too bad. It was a trip.

"It was straight up track and field," said Black. "That's all that was in common. It was tough competition. It was the best track and field meet I've ever been to. Everything was on time and ran flawlessly. They didn't have anything go wrong. It was amazing."

Not all of the U.S. athletes who endured the three-day trip chose to compete as a result of fatigue, etc. One of those was Donovan Kilmartin, who was the pre-meet favorite in the octathlon. Spielman says it shows what character Black has to shrug off the misfortune and move on.

"That's what's kind of neat about Eric," said Spielman. "He had an understanding that things aren't always going to go your way. He's not going to make excuses.

"Just a handful of people get the honor to wear that U.S.A. uniform," he said. "You're representing your country. There's a little more to it than just if you feel like running or not."

Black got to see and experience the talents of athletes from all over. There were two that really stuck out to him, one a 6-foot-8 athlete from Germany.

"It was extremely intimidating," said Black of the giant German and others. "But then there was this 5-6 South African who ran the hurdles in 14.6, ran the 100 in 11-flat, long jumped 23 feet and ran a 51 or 52 in the 400. It just blew my mind."

He also met and talked with many athletes from around the world but mostly those who spoke English.

"There were a couple of guys from Canada, Australia and New Zealand I got to know," he said. "We got to be pretty good friends with the Australians. I talked to the New Zealand coach about the plane ride out. He and others mentioned how well the Americans were outfitted. He asked me how much it cost us to come and couldn't believe it was all paid for. It cost each of them $5,000 to come."

Of course, Black has become somewhat of a world traveler. He went with the Baldwin High group that toured France and Switzerland as a part of their French class. After touring there and his Hungarian experience, Black likes the U.S. just fine.

"Yes, definitely, the U.S. is the place to live," he said. "France was nice, but, no, Hungary was an up and coming country. They redid the town for the event. They tried to fix it up."

But what's that they say about no place like home? Black isn't so sure.

"Hungary looked exactly like Kansas," he said. "We were in a train and the country side was just flat. You could look out and all you could see was corn and wheat.

"It was hot there, too, and there wasn't any air conditioning," said Black. "It was 110 degrees our third day. I was watching the 1,500 on the last day and a Kenyan won it with no shoes on. I took my shoes off to put my cleats on and I couldn't stand on the track it was so hot. I don't know how he did that."

Black was deserving of the trip, his coach said, and also gave credit to his parents, Larry and Jeanne Black.

"Eric spent a ton of time in these things. It all paid off for him," said Spielman. "His parents are a big part of it, too. They gave him the opportunities."

His latest opportunity will be the U.S. Junior Olympics in Sacramento, Calif., this week. It's at the track where the Olympic Trials were held. From there, who knows? Black was happy to return from Hungary, but hopes there's more world travel in him.

"Once we got to Georgia, it was U.S. soil and I said 'I'm home,'" said Black. "But I hope I'm not done with world travel yet."

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