June 16th - 17th , 2006
By Pete Cava
For long-time fans of track and field, the agate has a familiar look:Javelin: 1st – Petranoff
A two-time national javelin champion, Tom Petranoff was the runner-up at the 1983 World Championships. Now 48 years old and a Rhode Island businessman, Petranoff throws mostly for recreation these days.
But Tom’s daughter, Leigh Petranoff, is one of the country’s best prep javelin prospects. The sophomore from Cranston (R.I.) High School will compete in the National Scholastic Sports Foundation’s Nike Outdoor Nationals, June 16-17 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
If her career stays on course, Leigh – and her dad – may someday join elite track and field company.
Tom Petranoff didn’t pick up a javelin until he was 19 years old. The Illinois native was a baseball pitcher in high school. As a freshman, he joined the track squad at Palomar College in San Marcos, California.
The results were prodigious. Petranoff won the 1977 U.S. junior title and a year later he placed tenth at senior nationals. He won back-to-back national titles in 1985-1986 and competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. In 1983 he placed second to East Germany’s Detlef Michel at the World Championships in Helsinki.
After the 1988 Games in Seoul, Petranoff was suspended for competing in South Africa – a violation of international track federation rules at the time. Tom and his family moved to South Africa, where he continued to throw the javelin. On May 16, 1989, Leigh Amber Petranoff was born in Johannesburg.
Sanctions against South Africa were lifted in 1991 and, in time, Tom resumed international competition – this time wearing a South African singlet. He returned to the U.S. about eight years ago and eventually founded Turbo Zone, a company specializing in field event throwing products.
“If we stayed in Africa, I wouldn’t have been a javelin thrower,” said Leigh, who has dual citizenship. “I would have been a swimmer. That was my first sport. Later, I played basketball and softball.”
One of Tom’s innovations is the Turbo Jav, a soft-tipped implement that serves as a training aid for neophytes. “I threw it when I was little,” said Leigh. “I didn’t start throwing the real javelin until I was 13. Everyone said, ‘You do the javelin? That’s weird!’ I don’t think I would have if my dad didn’t have something to do with it.”
Like her father, Leigh turned out to be a quick study. “Last year at the state championships I set a freshman record [144-7],” she said. “But it was broken this year.”
On May 20 she took first at the Rhode Island state high school meet in South Kingston with a throw of 138-2. “Her mechanics are excellent,” Tom told reporters. “That’s from doing drills and drills in order to find that stroke. She’s had four meets over 137, and we’ve had terrible conditions. She’s due for a 10- to- 15-foot jump, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she went more. She just needs some good conditions and some good weather.”
Leigh believes the incessant rainfall in New England this spring has held her back. “I haven’t thrown a lot,” she said. As a result, she’s already thinking about college . . . in California or Texas. “Somewhere where the weather is nice,” she added.
Only a handful of state high school federations include the javelin, and Leigh is one of the few throwers coached by a former world record holder. “When I was younger, I always thought he was hard,” she said. “But when I’ve had a rough week, he’s great. We had four meets in a row a couple of weeks ago. It was tough, but he gave us a couple of days off to relax and get back into it. He’s pretty funny. All my friends love him.”
Throughout his competitive years, Tom’s preoccupation with the javelin was notorious. “He’s definitely obsessed,” Leigh confirmed. “With him, everything has to do with the javelin. He’ll watch some baseball pitcher and he’ll say, ‘This guy should be a javelin thrower!’
Leigh admits she shares her father’s passion for the event. “I can understand why he’s the way he is,” she said. “I guess I might be that way, too. But not as bad as him.”
Carolynn Petranoff, Tom’s wife, said Leigh isn’t as flamboyant as her father. “Ice – that’s her nickname,” said Carolynn, a figure skater in her native Canada. “Leigh is always under control and she handles everything very well. Nothing fazes her. She’s a special kid. But she’s very competitive.”
Leigh will be competing at the Nike Outdoor Nationals for the first time this year. She also plans on Junior Olympic competition this summer – she won last year’s 15-16 year-old national crown – and hopes to compete at the U.S. Junior Championships next month in Indianapolis. “I love going away to track meets,” she said.
Like her famous father, Leigh’s goal is the Olympic Games. If she makes it, she and Tom would be in select company.
In the history of American track and field, only two parent-child tandems have competed in the Olympics. The first was Alice Arden (1936 women’s high jump) and her son, Russ Hodge (1964 decathlon). Next was Charlie Jenkins (1952 400, 4x400) and his son Chip (1992 4x400).
Inger Miller, a 1996 gold medalist at the Atlanta Games (4x100) is the daughter of Lennox Miller, a two-time Olympic 100-meter finalist (1968 silver, 1972 bronze). But while Inger ran for the U.S., Lennox competed for Jamaica.
“The Olympics is something I live for every day,” Leigh said. “It means everything. Especially to follow in my father’s footsteps. That would be so cool.”