Georgia has a rich tradition in throwing the javelin.
But this year a pair of relative newcomers will spearhead the effort when Georgia travels to the Southeastern Conference Track and Field Championships.
Freshman Allison Updike is the top seed in the women’s javelin, while sophomore Braydon Anderson is the men’s No. 5 seed in just his second season of full-time training and competing in the event.
“I’m a little nervous since this is my first SECs,” Updike said. “But I feel ready. I trained great all through the fall and spring. Everything’s kind of been thrown at me with moving away from home, starting college and going through a different type of training. But I But I feel like I’m prepared for SEC as much as I can be.”
The SEC meet starts today and runs through Sunday at LSU’s Bernie Moore Track Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
Georgia has won five of the last 10 SEC javelin titles — both men and women.
But the Bulldogs’ javelin corps will be missing one of its best in school history because an elbow injury knocked out two-time defending conference champion Brian Moore. He is out for the rest of the NCAA season, but there’s an outside chance he could recover in time the Olympic trials in about two months.
“Unfortunately, we just found out Brian tore his elbow and that’s a big disappointment,” Georgia throwing coach John Babbitt said. “He’s the two-time defending champion there and that’s tough for him to take. He hurt it in the last home meet. We rested it a couple of weeks, but when he went to throw again, there was a problem. It’s disappointing. He was in really good shape he was right up there with the top guys in the country.”
Without Moore, Anderson becomes Georgia’s top-ranked javelin thrower among the men. Anderson is seeded fifth in the conference with a distance of 222 feet, 5 inches. Last year, Anderson was a surprise third-place finisher at SECs in his first year of javelin competition.
“Having gone to SECs and having gone to the (NCAA) regionals last year, I feel like this year I’m a lot more cool-headed than I was last year,” Anderson said. “I feel a little more calm and collected. I’m more confident in my abilities as a javelin thrower. The great thing about javelin is you can throw well and throw (personal records), but every now and then everything really comes together. Everything really lights up and you throw something big.”
Anderson had never thrown a javelin until he came to one of Babbitt’s camps after he’d finished high school at Sprayberry. His size (6-foot-8) and his natural mechanics impressed Babbitt enough to offer him a spot on the team. Anderson would have to wait until after his two-year Mormon mission before he could start at Georgia.
“I didn’t really have time to train then,” Anderson said. “It was a full-time mission, so all-day, every day I was in a white shirt and tie out teaching people and doing service. So I did about as much training as push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups will do for you. It wasn’t collegiate training, but I did what I could.”
Updike is even newer to major meets than Anderson. The freshman from Nesquehoning, Pa., missed her senior season in high school because of a knee injury. She is only now feeling back to normal. Updike is the women’s No. 1 seed with a distance of 167-0.
“It was kind of like riding a bike,” Updike said. “It was like if you didn’t ride it for two years then you get back on and you get the feel for it again. At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t doing as well as I really wanted to. I had really high expectations for myself. It was kind of like an eye-opener. This is reality. But now I’ve gotten used to that sort of thing. I know what’s expected of me and what I expect of myself.”
Much of Georgia’s javelin success can be traced back to Babbitt, who was a javelin thrower himself at UCLA.
“Whenever a program does really well in a certain event, you can always trace it back to a coach on that staff who used to do the event,” Georgia head coach Wayne Norton said. “Coach Babbitt is the throwing coach but also used to be a javelin thrower. Each coach is going to have the event that they love. When you think about it, if you used to do the event and you’re out there training somebody, you can get out there and move around and show them all the tricks and it feels natural to you because you’ve done it before.”