- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

Nobody dreams of being a hammer thrower not even track athletes.
Tamika Powell was no different. She grew up in Virginia Beach as an all-around track star, competing primarily as a sprinter in high school. In her senior year, on the advice of her coach, Powell began concentrating exclusively in the shot put and discus.
Her Olympic dreams never involved the hammer. In fact, Powell never even picked up the 8-pound, 8-ounce weight until she was a freshman at George Mason University. And when she did, she wasn't crazy about it.
"I hated it the first year I did it," Powell said.
Now the 24-year-old Powell, a Silver Spring, Md., resident, is on the verge of representing the United States in the very event she once despised.
Powell will compete for a spot on the American team at the U.S. track and field trials starting Friday in Sacramento, Calif. It will be the first time the Olympics will hold the hammer throw for women.
"It's very exciting," said Powell, who designs engineer circuits at Worldcom. "I think I have a very good chance of making the team. It will come down to whoever has a good day."
Powell's best day came last year at the U.S. championships with a throw of 210 feet, 10 inches, good for second place. Her coach, Harold Connolly of the Reebok Enclave, said she will go to Sydney if she matches her best throw at the trials.
"If she has her personal best, she'll be on that team," Connolly said. "She is a good competitor."
The competition will include the top woman hammer thrower in the United States, Dawn Ellerbee, who holds the American record at 230 feet.
"It will be a tough battle, but I have as good a chance of anyone to make the team," Powell said.
The 5-foot-7 Powell certainly has the credentials to back up her confidence. She was a two-time Colonial Athletic Association athlete of the year at George Mason, winning the conference titles in the hammer throw, shot put and discus in 1996 and 1997. She consistently has been among the top finishers at national and international competitions. For instance, at the Pan Am Games last year, Powell was second among Americans and sixth overall with a throw of 58.90 meters.
There were signs Powell would be a top field competitor when she was at Floyd E. Kellam High School in Virginia Beach. She grew up in a military family, born in Georgia and moving around a lot.
Powell said her father, Jules, has been an avid track fan since she began competing, but her mother, Ruby, has not until now.
"She wants to go Sydney," she said.
Powell got involved in track and field as a result of her eighth grade physical education teacher, who was also the track coach at the high school.
"I did it because it was something to do after school to pass the time," she said.
She competed in track and field events, but Powell said her coach recommended she stick to the shot and discus in her senior year because those events would be her best chance to secure a scholarship.
Powell won state titles in both the shot put and discus in 1993 and landed a half scholarship to George Mason, where she reluctantly discovered her potential path to the Olympics: the hammer throw.
"I had never even seen the hammer throw before I got to college," Powell said. "But the team needed some points in it, so they made me do it.
"I was hesitant at first," she said. "In fact, I hated it the first year. I couldn't get the concept of the turns. The hammer is a little more technical than the shot put and discus."
By her sophomore year, though, Powell began grasping the technique. With her power, it was just a matter of time before she became one of the dominant performers in the event.
"I was still doing the shot and discus, and the discus was my favorite event coming out of high school," Powell said. "I made it to the nationals in my sophomore and junior years in the discus, but I was getting better and better in the hammer, so I made that my concentration."
By her senior year, Powell placed fourth in the NCAA meet. She continued to compete after graduating but rested during the past indoor season.
"I had some lower back injuries," she said. "That comes with the territory. I laid off the indoor to save up for the outdoor season."
She trains several hours a day, sprinting, lifting weights, throwing and, at this point, fine-tuning her technique.
"That's the hardest thing now," Powell said. "It's the little stuff that really counts. Holding your head up a certain way can get you five feet."
Or it could get you to the other side of the world, competing for the United States in the 2000 Summer Olympics.

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