Travis Thompson fulfilling his legacy

42 years ago a man made a decision that he has regretted. Oregon State runner Terry Thompson passed on running at the Olympic Trials even though he was one of the favorites to make the Mexico City Olympic Team. Missing that opportunity has motivated Duck Travis Thompson to higher levels in the same event, the 800 meters.

In 1967 Terry had decided that he couldn't stay from the fishing boat he had bought as a high school junior, the "Aurora". He had gone to the University of Missouri to run and ran 1:48.6 but every summer he would fish and with maintenance needs it was too hard to stay that far away from his boat in Newport. He was a third-generation fisherman who started fishing on the ocean with his dad at the age of six. At 14 he fished full-time in addition to going to school so he could make enough money for his own boat.

At the same time he set a national freshman record in the mile by running 4:32 while at Newport High School running for Paul Ward. His father sold industrial equipment and felt that his son would improve under the legendary Lou Deloretto at South Salem high school. He ended his high school career with a 4:10 personal record in the mile and was part of a 4x800 meter relay national high school record.

Missouri gave him money so he went but the boat beckoned and when he called Oregon State Beaver coach Berny Wagner his wife answered and Terry told her he wanted to transfer and that his pr was 1:48.6. Berny thought the message was incorrect, 1:58.6 maybe. Berny checked track and field news and realized that it was correct. Coach Ward and his assistant at Newport also convinced Coach Wagner. Because Missouri would not release him he had to redshirt in 1967. The next year he won the 800 meters in the Oregon dual meet, won the Pac-10 meet and was the US leader in the 800 meters. At the NCAA meet he was nipped at the line in Eugene during the final at the NCAA meet losing to Jamaican Byron Dyce of New York University, 1:47.3 to 1:47.4.

That summer Terry planned to do what he always did, fish, even though he was one of the top 800 meter runners in the country. He knew nothing about the Olympics, "I just didn't understand the significance of the Olympics. I was never really exposed to the big meets." There was no media coverage in Newberg. Also, he was worried about losing his boat. He had a loan to pay on the boat. He was worried about being drafted to go to Viet Nam, "Viet Nam was a big factor. I wanted to get as much money as possible to kept the boat."

The Newport community responded to him when they found out he wasn't running at the Olympic Trials. One of his buddies, an old fisherman named Al Bertelson, had his boat the "Baracuda" docked next to him and said, "What are you doing here most people would give anything to run at the Olympics. You've got the rest of your life to go fishing." He had a conversation with his banker and told him, "I needed to go fishing." The banker said, "If you need money we will get a campaign for you to go to the Olympics." The wife of his first high school coach, Judy Ward, was the most upset.

For Terry though he knew fishing, not the Olympics, "Fishing was going to make me a living. We just went in the ocean, there were only a couple of laws (not like now). We could start April 15th and close October 21st. A completely open way of life."

Marsha came into Terry's life and they married when he was 42 and she was 36. After Travis came along, Marsha found some of Terry's medals in a drawer and decided to put them up on a bulletin board. Travis saw this and was never pushed into running but joined his friends playing basketball. Travis is very athletic and although he didn't run all the time he did show he loved to run after a race in Depot Bay at the age of ten, "He smiled after the race and that was important," Terry remembers.

Travis didn't start running until his junior year of high school as Travis said, "Partly to just give it a try and also partly due to a knee injury (patellar tendonitis) in basketball that year which prevented me from jumping on it."

He had someone whispering in his ear to give it a try, his dad, "He always told me I needed to just give it a try, because he believed I could be ‘one of the greats.' I am definitely a long ways from that point." Travis has gained confidence from his dad and knows that getting to where he wants to be will take a lot of work, "If I keep working hard and put my heart and soul into running I feel as if I can accomplish great things."

The hard work he believed in he knew would pay off in success even though he ran 53 seconds for his first 400 meters, "The coaches said it looked as if I had a lot of potential, and I loved the competitive side sports."

He also decided that he could take be in control of his own destiny in track, "With basketball it was not only about you that determined your performance, but also the team around you. With running I soon realized that if I was the person working harder than anyone else, the combination with this along with the ability passed down to me by my father could let some amazing things happen in years to come."

The next year he won the state championship at 400 meters in 49.94 and went to George Fox, for two days, but felt that, "no college really gave me a chance." Without a place to go he was given an opportunity, "Coach Grady O'Conner game me a full scholarship about three weeks before school started. I feel very lucky to have been coached by Grady, and also given the opportunity to compete at Lane."

Throughout the years Oregon has had many great performers from Lane Community college and this year there are many athletes on the roster. Coach O'Conner developed Duck javelin thrower Cyrus Hostetler athletically, former distance coach Ross Krempley guided Duck Jordan McNamara to his only full, healthy season, Duck redshirt Bryan Harper won the NWAACC 400 meter title last year, triple jumper Alex Pattinson just completed his eligibility, and Kevin Godfrey is joining the Ducks next year in the Decathlon.

Travis worked directly with Grady and says, "He taught me a lot about what it is to truly be great on and off the track. I won the NWAACC championship my freshman year at lane (48.2)." Coach O'Conner saw the potential to have him run the 800 meters and started having him run more miles. Unfortunately he developed a stress fracture. Coach O'Conner told me last year that Travis had great potential in the 800 meters. Last year Thompson joined the Ducks with three years of eligibility left, "With still no colleges really looking at me, I decided to come to Oregon and prove I had what it took to wear an Oregon jersey." That summer he worked with Chad Barlow with the though of racing in the 400 meters. Typically coach Dan Steele likes to have his 400 meter runners run an 800 meters and Travis ran his first 800 as a collegian in his first meet. He ran 1:55.28 on January 17th at the UW Indoor Preview and neither Steele or Travis were that excited. He ran 400s on a 4x400 and distance medley relay two weeks later during the UW Invitational, running high 47, low 48 second splits. Nearly a month later (February 28th) he ran at the MPSF meet and finished ninth in the 400 meters at 48.62 and helped the 4x400 meter relay team to a 3:10.40 third place finish. It seemed set that he would run the 400 meters. Outdoors he ran two 400s (49s) three 4x400 relays and an 800 meters (1:52.16 for third at the Pepsi Team Invitational) showing his great kick but when it came time for the UCLA meet coach Steele was thinking 400 meters.

His relay performances and his competitiveness in big meets indicated he might run a good 400 against a fairly weak 400 group from UCLA but he wanted to run in the more competitive 800-meter race. Steele said later, "He begged me to run in the 800. The indoor race had not been very good but I finally relented. I am so happy for him." Travis shocked everyone by staying with the leaders and finishing well to get third in 1:50.09 and he suddenly had a new event.

Travis knew the 800 was his future, "I am thankful everyday that things worked out this way, and that I have proven to myself and my coaches that I have what it takes to run at this level. My motivation to move up to the 800 is honestly purely because of what my dad has very silently been whispering to me for years. ‘you could be one of the greats' has stuck with me." Travis knows his limits, "The 800 fits me great, because I lack some of the flat out 100/200 meter speed it takes to be great in the 400, but I feel as though I have more speed endurance than a lot of people around me."

The next week he ran 1:49.18 at the Oregon Relays but in a competitive Pac-10 meet he was third in his preliminary race at 1:51.43 and fifth at the NCAA west regional meet in 1:49.11. Over the summer Coach Steele left and now Thompson would work with coach Robert Johnson. Johnson is known for his plyometric workouts and Thompson has progressed under Johnson's tutelage and he is another year separated from his stress fracture.

Travis started this season with an excellent time in the 600 meters at the UW Indoor preview, 1:18.35, finishing just behind freshman Elijah Greer. He had relay duty all indoors. He ran 1:50.26 at the Texas A&M challenge to get fourth against good competition. At MPSF he was tenth in 1:51.23.

Outdoors he ran in the 4x400 meter relay and the 1,000 meters (2:25.98) at the Oregon preview and then ran a pr 48.10 at the Stanford Invitational in the 400 meters. He steadily improved throughout the season and at the Oregon Relays changed his race plan by taking the lead and held on for a 1.17 second pr in 1:47.94 to finish second behind Andrew Wheating. Admittedly he was tight at the Pac-10 meet and ran 1:49.33 for fifth but ran 1:47.60 at the West Regional meet to qualify for the NCAA meet.

In the end Travis is reaching his potential through hard work. Even his father said that maybe, "getting hurt might have been a blessing," because now he had a chance to rest. So far the results have been excellent.

Last year the Duck team went through the same thing Terry did, for the Ducks though it was not knowing what an NCAA championship took and what it was about. This year, like Travis, it is all about focusing the energy and competitiveness for the most important competition, and getting REDEMPTION. Oregon had a great opportunity last year and fell short on the road in uncomfortable heat, humidity, and unexpected weather breaks. This year the Ducks will be in familiar surroundings and know what it is all about.

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