Last friday night, Kamy Keshmiri of Reno stepped into the ring at the University of Oklahoma's John Jacobs Track for his fifth throw in the discus competition at the U.S. Olympic Festival. This had already been a year of celebration for Keshmiri. In June he won the discus at the TAC championships with a throw of 218'2". That not only made him, at 20, the youngest U.S. discus champion this century but it was also the culmination of a remarkable comeback after what looked like a career-ending leg injury in '88. Keshmiri had become, once again, the bright young hope in an event that has been dominated for years in the U.S. by hulking graybeards like Mac Wilkins, 38, and John Powell, 42.
But now Keshmiri faced a challenge by John Nichols, 19, the NCAA champion from LSU, who minutes earlier had grabbed the lead from him with a toss of 206 feet. The air was heavy and still—not at all conducive to throwing the discus a long way. "I thought I was done," said the 6'3", 235-pound Keshmiri. "Like a drowning fish."
He spun round the circle and flung the discus high against the black sky. He yelled something that sounded like "Ahhhh! Go!" and the discus obeyed. It fell to earth in the wet cinders more than 200 feet away. Keshmiri raised both arms. "I felt that pull, that torque," he said. "I knew before it landed that that discus was going to go."
When the distance was announced—211'10"—Keshmiri did a gleeful dance. Nichols got closer in the final round with a 209'1" toss, but Keshmiri's throw held up for the gold medal. "Not bad for dead air," he said afterward.
Keshmiri's performance was one of the highlights of the festival, which has showcased aspirants in Olympic and some non-Olympic sports since its inception in 1978. There were others: Kathy Arendsen, 30, of Holland, Mich., pitched the first perfect Softball game by a woman in festival history. Diver Mark Lenzi, 21, a junior at Indiana University, executed, though somewhat sloppily, the first four-and-a-half front somersault tuck from the three-meter board. And Hollis Conway, 22, a senior at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, high-jumped 7'10", one-quarter inch better than his eight-week-old American record. There were also a few unavoidable snags during the ten-day festival, which took place in and around Oklahoma City: Portions of several cycling and yachting events had to be canceled because of too much rain or too little wind. But if you didn't mind the Oklahoma heat and the cavorting festival mascot. Boomer, who looked like a steroid-fed prairie dog, it was easy to enjoy the first major gathering of U.S. Olympic athletes since the '88 Games—and the national debut of many hopefuls who could end up as stars in 1992.
Throwing the discus is, in a sense, Keshmiri's inheritance, passed down to him by his father, Joe, who was a hero in his native Iran in the '60s. Not only did Joe, then known as Jalal, represent Iran in four Olympics and set the national record of 200'4" in the discus, which still stands, but he was also a goalkeeper on the national soccer team. Even after he moved to the U.S. in 1963 in hopes of improving his throwing, Joe continued to compete for Iran internationally. Indeed, it was watching his father win the discus at the 1974 Asian Games in Teheran that made Kamy want to be a discus thrower. From the time Kamy started throwing the discus at age nine, Joe has been his only coach.
Their partnership has been fruitful. In 1987, as a senior at Reno High, Keshmiri had the kind of season that only a handful of high school athletes have ever experienced. In the space of 11 weeks, he had 20 throws longer than the previous national high school record of 213'6", which had stood for seven years. At the Golden West Invitational, his six throws averaged 218'4", and the longest of the bunch, 225'2", is still the national high school mark.
Keshmiri headed off to UCLA with a full scholarship and a bright future. But his freshman year was a nightmare. During a weight workout, a teammate picked him up in a playful bear hug and dropped him on the concrete. The impact hyperextended Keshmiri's left knee and cracked the tibia. The first doctor he saw told him his career was over. "When I heard that," Keshmiri says, "my whole body froze."
So he got a second opinion, which was far more promising. Three months later, Keshmiri dragged his by-then flabby body to the U.S. Junior Championships in Tallahassee, Fla., where he finished second, and then to the World Junior Championships in Ontario, where he learned a little about his own raw talent by winning the silver medal.
Keshmiri decided against returning to UCLA last fall, because he hadn't received the personal attention there he was used to getting from his father. Instead, he enrolled at Nevada-Reno, and he has been subjecting himself to five-hour workouts and making a staggering 300 throws a week. He takes special pride in his abdominal workouts, which have helped trim his body fat to 4.6%. "I don't want to be one of those heavy throwers," he says. "I want people to have to guess what event I do."