Petros Kyprianou continues respect quest for UGA track and field

UGA Track
Georgia head coach Petros Kyprianou cheers on his UGA Bulldogs during the Spec Towns Invitational.

You likely missed it. What’s more you probably don’t care, in that if you are a sports aficionado, you likely are most attracted to traditional events where a ball is engaged—football, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis and now gathering momentum, soccer—that the record of Georgia legend Spec Towns was broken a little over a week ago.

After 81 years. Track and field, the heart and soul of the Olympics, traditionally, doesn’t get much respect these days except for the competitors themselves and those who are in tune, for whatever reason, with the competition involving the symbol of five interlocking rings.

Even with Towns’ remarkable legacy, the sport has never flourished at the University of Georgia, but what strikes a raw nerve is that the current track coach, Petros Kyprianou, is as good of a coach as there is in the country. He is trying desperately to gain respect for his Georgia program.

Right under everybody’s provincial nose, he is recruiting the best athletes and giving them the best training and expects to soon be competing for a national championship. I predict that someday in the foreseeable future, he will turn heads in his sport to the extent that he will bring national acclaim to the Bulldog program. This is a man who slept on a brick floor to earn an American education. He loves Athens and the college town environment. He knows the Spec Towns legend, and it was he who told a young man from Atlanta that he could be great like the famous UGA Olympian.

If a small-town diamond-in-the-rough like Spec Towns can achieve greatness, why can’t other native Georgians follow in his footsteps? Petros goes to work every day espousing that gospel to kids across the state and elsewhere. He believes that Georgia has the potential to compete with Oregon which draws over 20,000 fans to dual track meets.

Petros became such good friends with NFL touchdown hero, Randall Cunningham, that he would have signed Cunningham’s sensational daughter Vashti but it was too attractive for her to opt for a professional career out of high school.

Nonetheless, Petros provides training expertise to Vashti.

If Petros called Randall Cunningham for a favor, it would be as forthcoming as a wink. He has rapport with the big names in track, and he has made a special effort to become friends with Georgia’s track luminaries — Herschel Walker, Gwen Torrance, Champ Bailey and others.

He has chess instincts when it comes to recruiting. When he was recruiting Devon Williams, who broke the Towns record, he had his eye on Devon’s younger sister, Kendall, one of the best women’s track athletes in the country.

Looking one move ahead, he knew the Williams’ kids were close and that signing Devon bode well for the possibility of Kendall taking up residence in the Classic City. The familial influence was poignantly showcased last year when Kendall competed in the Olympics at Rio and the entire family was in attendance for the competition.

Petros gives the William parents, Blane and Terri Williams, high marks for their training routine and coaching of their kids. “Devon and Kendall came here well prepared for competition,” Petros says.

Everybody connected with UGA track has been on a high since Devon ran 13.37 to break Spec Towns’ record run at Bislett Stadium, Oslo, Norway following the ’36 Olympics. The mark (13.7) stood for 14 years, but think about Spec’s record in these terms. If he had been the beneficiary of electronic timing devices instead of the hand operated stop watch, he might have been the first man to run the 110 yard high hurdles in less than 13 seconds. (The world record in the high hurdles is :12:80.)

“When I came to Georgia,” Devon said last week, “I wanted to break the Towns record. “I would like to have known him. He must have been a tremendous athlete.”

Devon listened intently as he was informed about Spec’s legacy and running techniques. The hurdles of Spec’s day were the wooden inverted “T” style. Hit one and you were likely out of the race. Spec placed a book of matches on the hurdles which were ½ inch thick and became skilled at knocking the matchbooks over without hitting the hurdle.

As good as he is as a hurdler, Devon’s forte is the decathlon (Kendall’s best event is the heptathlon) which means that at the NCAA championships in June at Eugene, Oregon, he won’t be able to compete in the high hurdles.

My old coach would be pleased with Devon’s performance and the ambition of Petros. If you like exciting competition, make plans next spring to mix in track and field with your “ball” sports. There is room for both You won’t be disappointed if you make the effort to see what Petros is doing.

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