By Linda Chalich
Ian Waltz's imposing 6'3", 275-pound body fits in well in the WSU athletic weight room. There are many young men in the room with similar body builds, all heaving bars heavy with weights to their chests and up and over their heads. Their brute strength apparent in their muscular arms and upper torsos.
While all these gentle giants compete in a crimson and gray uniform, only Waltz does so without a helmet.
Crazy? Yes, but not dangerous, because Waltz is a Cougar track and field athlete. A six-time All-American thrower, specifically. And even though he is capable of throwing an offensive lineman out of the way, he has established a national reputation for himself wearing a singlet and shorts instead of pads and a helmet.
Because of his stature, Waltz is continually asked why he doesn't play football.
"I played (football) in high school and was all-state at defensive end my senior year and I played fullback," Waltz recalls. "I really enjoyed it and the first year here I kind of missed it. But I enjoy individual sports because I can get all of the glory or if you screw up it's all on you. I like how your work ethic shows."
Work ethic are the two words almost everyone who knows Waltz uses to describe him.
"Ian (pronounced EYE-an) gives 100% everyday in the weight room," Cougar throws coach Debra Lombardi Farwell said. "If we have a running workout he gives it 100%, or if we're throwing inside, he gives it 100%. He doesn't ever slack off."
Waltz didn't start throwing until the end of his freshman year at Post Falls High School. "The coach saw me and said, 'You're kinda big, why don't you come outside and throw?'" Waltz remembers. "I started staying late at practice and got better and better. I never thought I'd get a college scholarship for it."
Several smaller schools sent letters of enticement for Waltz to play football but it was too late.
"I developed a pretty tight bond with my high school coach, Dan Nipp," Waltz said. "He had a huge influence on me. He would stay after practice a couple hours to work with me and was always thinking of ways to help me throw farther."
"We initially recruited Ian out of high school as a shot putter because his discus marks weren't that great," Cougar head coach Rick Sloan said. "He has developed as an outstanding discus thrower - the best in school history and one of the tops in the entire nation."
His freshman year at WSU, Waltz was second in the discus at the Pac-10 Championships. He threw a freshman school record 189-7, fifth best in all-time WSU discus marks. That summer (1996), he was second in shot put at the USA Junior National Championships in Ohio, and at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Australia, Waltz finished fifth in the discus and sixth in the shot put.
As a sophomore, Waltz won the both the discus and shot put at the Pac-10 Championships and finished eighth in both events at the NCAA Outdoor Championships at Bloomington, Indiana.
Waltz's junior season had a great start with a career-best indoor shot put throw of 63-5 1/2, for fourth place at the NCAA Indoor Championships. After finishing second in the discus and third in the shot at the Pac-10 Conference meet, Waltz fared better at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, grabbing third in the discus and fifth in the shot. He threw a lifetime-best and national collegiate-leading discus mark of 211-5 at the prestigious Hartnell Throwers Meet in Salinas, Calif. It surpassed Jon van Reenen's 1970 mark of 208-10 as WSU's all-time discus thrower. That summer, Waltz placed eighth in the discus and 16th in the shot at the USA Outdoor Championships in New Orleans.
His collegiate career was temporarily halted with an injury his senior year. A torn tendon between his middle finger and palm on right (throwing) hand, subsequent surgery and the successful rehabilitation forced Waltz to take a medical redshirt season. Although he could have still thrown the discus, it would not have been at the level he was accustomed to, and the shot was impossible.
"My hand's still a little sore sometimes after practice and lifting," Waltz said. "That indoor shot is so darn big, it puts a lot more stress on your hand. But I'm happy the way this year's started out."
In the indoor season, Waltz has thrown the seventh-longest collegiate shot put 63-feet, 2 inches, for an NCAA automatic qualifying mark and ticket back to the NCAA Indoor Championships, March 10-11, at Fayetteville, Ark. Waltz finished fifth with a throw of 62-5 3/4, earning another All-American certificate.
Known as a "big meet" thrower, Waltz lives for the competitions where he can go against the best throwers. "I've never had to worry about him getting into a big meet and performing well because he does," Farwell said.
"It gets you pumped up more to throw far," Waltz said. "I never throw far in practice and smaller meets I don't do real well in. I've always come through in the bigger meets. The US Nationals is the only time I've gotten nervous."
Does he have a favorite between the shot and discus? "It depends on which one I'm throwing farther," Waltz said. "I think I'm better at discus. I think I'll be able to excel more in the discus."
As for future goals, Waltz wants to throw the discus consistently beyond 200-feet this year and is definitely shooting for the national champion crown. As for the shot put, that may be tougher but he realizes the potential is there. And finally, of course, this in an Olympic year with the Trials July 14-23 at Sacramento.
"I don't know, it's a big goal but I'd like to make the Olympic team," Waltz admits. "It's all a matter of throwing well on that one day but I have the potential to do that. A little more likely might be the 2004 games, but you never know what could happen."
Sloan is optimistic. "He's already throwing very well and I've seen some of his technical throws indoors that look very good - much improved. Ian is a great competitor. He always brings his level of competition up to the level of the people that he's meeting and above in most instances. This will be a good experience for him and I don't put anything past him."
Between possible Olympic participation, Waltz will move to Tucson with friend and competitive foe from the University of Washington, Ben Lindsey, to train with coach Mike Maynard. Grad school may be a possibility but work and fulltime training is a more likely scenario.
Until then, Waltz will continue to rewrite the WSU record book and serve as the Cougar men's team captain, which is a challenge for a man known for his few words. Asked if he had anything to discuss at the first team meeting of the year, Waltz replied with his customary, "Nope." After hearing the verbose women's team captain, Francesca Sewell, and after some encouragement from the coaches, Waltz was much more wordy at the second team meeting. His offering, "Good luck."
"He's not a very strong verbal motivator but his actions speak much louder than his words," Farwell offers.
Sloan agrees. "He leads by example with his work ethic and is also an outstanding student. The team members all respect him and what he stands for. He's a good lead for them to follow."