By Mark Soltau
EUGENE, Ore. - Brianna Bain didn't set out to become the best women's javelin thrower in NCAA track and field. She just threw herself into it.
A sophomore from Beaverton, Ore., Bain played every sport imaginable as a youngster. Her first love was softball, but she was always open to possibilities.
"I was involved in pretty much any sport you could think of," she said. "I just liked to experiment. My parents were great. My mom always told me, `If there's anything you want to try out, we'll find the means to get you involved.' ''
Both work for Intel, so they had to juggle schedules to transport Bain and older sister Sarah to various practices. When Bain entered Aloha High School, she starred in water polo and basketball, but had to choose between softball and track, since they conflicted in the spring.
"I figured there's bound to be something I'm good at because of all the events," said Bain. "I actually threw the discus when I first started and I was really bad. I'm rotationally challenged. Picked up the javelin and I was just a natural." Her first introduction to the javelin was in middle school.
"It's called a turbo javelin - it's about half the size," she said. "It's like a huge dart. I played a lot of sports growing up, so I had a decent arm."
A four-time captain of the Aloha track and field team, Bain set the school record with a toss of 164-1 and became a two-time All-American. But she was only getting started. Last year, Bain won the Pac-12 championship as a freshman and finished second in the NCAA Championships, throwing a personal-best and Stanford record 180-2 on her final attempt, and was named a first-team All-American.
This year, Bain bettered her school record in the Big Meet against Cal with a heave of 183-10 - the longest throw among collegians this year and the No. 2 mark among all Americans - and repeated as Pac-12 champion. She'll look to improve that mark Wednesday in the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.
"It is unusual for a freshman to throw as far as she did, and she's continuing to progress," said Michelle Eisenreich, associate head coach at Stanford who works with the throwers. "She has strong technique and understands correct movements."
Bain, who will major in psychology, decompresses by painting and playing the piano. She is genuinely baffled by her success.
"It's honestly so surreal because I still feel like I'm relatively new to the sport," she said. "Throughout high school, it was just another thing I did. It didn't really become my main focus until the spring of my senior year and that summer. I feel like I have so much potential."
So does Eisenreich.
"Javelin is weird," said Eisenreich. "It can be linear at first, then you have a huge personal record. She's in really good shape to throw very well this weekend, both physically and technically. Anything's possible."
Winning an NCAA title is first on her mind. Later this month, she will compete in the U.S. Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, where she hopes to secure a spot for the World Championships in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 10-18. Her ultimate dream is to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2016.
"It's honestly so surreal because I still feel like I'm relatively new to the sport."
"It's such a confusing process," she said of the world and Olympic `A' and `B' standards for making the U.S. team. "Nobody has an `A' throw (205-5) right now, and the `B' standard is 196-10. I pretty much have to win the USA's to go, so that's the goal."
Last year, Bain didn't really have a starting point with the javelin.
"I went into every meet thinking, `How far can I throw it today?' `'said Bain. "Whatever happens is going to happen."
This year, she has a better understanding of what she is trying to accomplish.
"I have set standards and numbers I'm trying to hit," she said. "But I still think I need to get back to the state of mind of, `How far can I throw it today?' ''
Bain credits sister Sarah for inspiring her love of athletics and competition. Sarah excelled in four sports in high school and was a setter on the volleyball team at Dominican University in San Rafael, Calif., where she recently graduated and is now studying to become a chiropractor.
"She was always my idol," said Bain. "She is such a genius. I think she got one B at Dominican and majored in biology."
While Bain was heavily recruited, surprisingly, the University of Oregon did little to pursue her.
"I never invested the time looking around," she said. "When I finally did, I realized there is no better school than Stanford. Whenever people ask me why I chose Stanford, the first thing that comes to mind is, `Well, it's perfect.' Just the combination of athletics and academics, and it's the perfect location. I love all the people. The professors are great. I can't find anything wrong with it."
Her favorite place on campus is Memorial Church. "It's just so beautiful," Bain said.
Angell Field ranks second.
"No matter what the weather is like on campus, the track is always 75 degrees and sunny," she said.
Bain estimates she throws the javelin about every other day. The majority of her preparation is cross-training.
"Track is very unique in that our training for our sport is other people's conditioning," said Bain. "I do a lot of sprints, medicine ball drills, lifting and swimming. Pretty much everything helps."
Bain said so many factors are involved in throwing the javelin, she can't pinpoint one key.
"It's really a body motion," she said. "Just a lot of repetition and strengthening the position I'll be in when I'm throwing. Just a lot of muscle-memory stuff, so when I get in competition, it's all connected and I don't have to think about anything."
For the record, Bain may be a natural, but early on, but it took a while to get the hang of it.
"It was very awkward at first because it's not like throwing a ball," said Bain. "It's very long. You can't throw it the same way as a ball or you'll injure yourself or it'll go any which way."
Bain has a handle on it now and looks forward to returning to Oregon this week to compete in front of family and friends. No Stanford woman has ever won an NCAA javelin title. The last Stanford man to accomplish the feat was Leo Long in 1954.
"I probably competed there 20 times in high school," Bain said. "It's like a home meet. I feel like I have unlimited potential right now and I'm really excited to see how far I can throw in the future."