VANCOUVER, BC - 2005 Newberg (OR) High School grad Rachel Yurkovich set a lifetime best in the javelin on Friday, July 1 at a meet in Vancouver, British Columbia, and secured her spot on the U.S. team going to the IAAF World Championships in South Korea in late August.
The former UO standout threw the javelin 198-2 at the Harry Jerome International Track Classic. The mark was a foot more than her previous best, and easily surpassed the "B Standard" of 193-7 for the World Championships.
Yurkovich placed second in the recent U.S. Track & Field Championships in Eugene, but, until Friday, she had not met the IAAF qualifying standard in the javelin so far in the 2011 season. With her new personal best, Yurkovich punched her ticket to Daegu, site of the world championship meet.
Before she left for Europe on July 4, Yurkovich said she knew she could reach the standard, and is excited about making her second straight trip to the World Championships.
"After the meet last week in Eugene, I was not happy with how I threw, but I was happy to be in a position to make the team and knew I would throw the standard. Usually I throw better with just a week in between competitions because things are still kind of fresh in my mind. So I hurried and got into that meet in Vancouver and it worked out.
"I think I have a bigger throw in me and I would love to PR again. And I would really love to make the finals (at worlds) a second time."
Yurkovich plans to train in Copenhagen, Denmark, in between competitions in Europe. She is hoping to compete in Madrid on July 9 th , though her entry to that meet was not yet confirmed. She will also compete at a meet in Germany on July 15 th , and perhaps a small meet in Denmark. She plans to return home in early August for a couple of weeks before she leaves for Korea on the 22 nd or 23 rd of August.
Yurkovich is bucking history in her attempt to make her mark on the world stage. In the 12 world championships held since 1983, no American woman has medaled in the javelin, and only two - Yurkovich in 2009 and Karin Smith in 1983 - have even made the finals in the event.
Part of the problem has been the lack of financial support for post-collegiate athletes, especially those who compete in the field events, which historically have not been fertile ground for American women.
"I think the biggest factor is getting someone to represent you," said Yurkovich. "It's almost impossible to get into meets outside the US without an agent, and it's hard to make any kind of money without a shoe contract. The lack of interest in throwing events in general and javelin, especially, is a huge factor in people not continuing after college . . . I'm one of the lucky ones (with a contract)."
Yurkovich, who won two NCAA titles at Oregon, is edging closer to the elite international level. Her 2010 season-best put her in the top 30 worldwide, and was just 11 feet out of the top 10.
Long-time friend and rival Kara Patterson, who hails from Vancouver, Washington, broke through in the javelin in 2010, setting a new American record of 218-8. Patterson, who was ranked sixth in the world last year, had 16 throws over 200 feet during the season.
While Patterson was exploding onto the world scene, Yurkovich, who previously had more than held her own with Patterson, was struggling. Like many college athletes, making the transition to training as a pro athlete was a challenging situation for her.
"The last two years have been a big adjustment. When you are in college, you have your hand held every step of the way, your coach is there at every practice and every meet to correct you. But after college you may be living in a different area than your coach, or even a different state, and you have to learn how to do it on your own."
This year Yurkovich made a change, moving from Eugene to Portland, and she is now coached by Don Babbitt, throws coach at the University of Georgia. She said she made the move for "personal reasons" and not out of unhappiness with her previous coach, Christina Scherwin, or her training partners. She wanted to be closer to family and friends, and she feels her life is more in balance now.
"There has to be a balance of being happy in my personal life and my professional life. Moving to Portland was something I did to be happy in my personal life and that is helping me be more motivated in throwing. It's going well now."
Yurkovich recognizes that having another U.S. woman with the same goals and career trajectory may be a plus.
"Kara and I are both very competitive people but at the same time we're both nice people. We understand our boundaries and understand we can have a good relationship outside of track and field. We know we don't have to be rivals and be butting heads 24-7. Last year I was having a rough season, and she was having a great season, and that was tough for me. I went into this season thinking this is a so much more relaxing relationship for me to be happy for her, and her to be happy for me no matter the situation. I think she has the same understanding. We're friends and we get along great.
"There is a bigger picture that we're trying to make progress for the US together so we're kind in that together."
Yurkovich's success in the 2009 World Championships in Berlin gives her confidence that the two throwers can make that next step.
"I was thrilled to make the (javelin) final in Berlin and it would be amazing to make it a second time in Daegu. . . for both Kara and I to make the final would be a big step in the right direction heading into the Olympics in 2012."
As focused as she is on her goals, Yurkovich says she wants to keep everything in perspective, and enjoy each step of the journey.
"This year I have just had the goal of having fun with the javelin and just want to have a good time (at worlds) and no matter what the end result is."