Willie Banks representing masters track on USATF board

Willie Banks set a world record in 1985 — and again in 2001.

Yesterday’s track chatter was all about the new USATF Board of Directors. One name immediately leaped out: Willie Banks. Of course, I was thrilled to see my masters track friend and county neighbor named to the 15-member board. But then I gulped.  “I hope he does well,” I thought. “If he doesn’t, I’m in deep doo-doo.” Why?  Cuz I nominated him. Around 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008, the USATF Masters T&F Executive Committee was meeting at the Reno convention and brainstorming folks to nominate to the new Board of Directors. (Update: See my comment below for timeline correction.) They’d submitted Rex Harvey’s name as a placekeeper, but they needed a couple formal nominees. Although I was attending the session as an observer, I couldn’t help myself. I threw in a few names. One was Willie Banks. Everyone was familiar with Willie the Triple Jumper, but they didn’t know his more recent credits.  I explained that he had a lot of respect within USATF, had legal training (although he isn’t a practicing lawyer now), was an Olympic consultant and was active in the U.S. Olympians Association and USATF Alumni Association. (Check out his Web site.) Willie, a member of the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, has a special affinity for Japan (and he speaks the language). He even taught there for a while, according to this revealing interview in Osaka. In 2001, Willie discovered masters track. His comeback was spectacular: an M45 world record in his former open world record event, the triple jump.

Here’s what I wrote in The San Diego Union-Tribune in July 2001:

Willie Banks was raking the pit at a Long Beach track meet three weeks ago, watching a man his own age set a world age-group record in the triple jump. He thought: I could beat that.

So yesterday at the San Diego USA Track & Field championships at UCSD, the former Oceanside High star did — popping a hop, step and jump out to 47 feet, 8 3/4 inches to smash Dave Quick’s outdoor record for men aged 45-49 by a monster 10 feet.

Banks, wearing the same adidas spikes he used to make one of his three Olympic teams, was jumping in his first meet since retiring in 1992 — a career that included a world record of 58-11 1/2 that lasted 10 years.

“I’ve lost 6 pounds in two weeks,” said Banks, a Carlsbad lawyer with a sports consulting business helping Osaka, Japan, in its bid to host the 2008 Olympics.  “If I lose another 14 pounds (from his current 194), I could probably jump over 50 feet.”

An intermediate goal would be to beat the best M45 indoor triple jump ever — 48-7 1/2 by fellow UCLA alum Milan Tiff in 1995.

Arnie Robinson, the 1976 Olympic long jump champion who is recovering after his car was broadsided by a wrong-way driver in August 2000, was thrilled for his longtime friend.

“I think it’s great,” Robinson said of Banks’ masters comeback.  “It’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve seen since my accident.

That week, Willie was named USATF Athlete of the Week.

The Eugene Register-Guard also told his story.

Willie’s commitment to masters track is genuine.

In 2005, he posted a review on Amazon for “Racing Against the Clock,” our masters track film. Willie wrote:

Racing Against the Clock is a wonderfully uplifting and inspiring film. I really enjoyed the film from beginning to end. The way they weaved in the background of the athletes and made them come alive during their competitions was awesome. Thank you for making this film. It has motivated me to try even harder in, not only my athletic endeavors, but in all areas of my life. To hear the stories about the obstacles these women had to over come just to stay alive is enough to inspire me to do more each day. Again, thank you for making this film and I hope it will be seen by as many people as possible.

The story behind Willie’s ascension to the USATF Board of Directors is a little involved, but essentially he was chosen by a Nominations Committee from at least four candidates proffered by the USATF Associations Committee and the USATF masters committees. Other candidates were USATF president runner-up Dee Jensen, Alan Roth and Sandy Pashkin, according to my sources.

When we first learned that the chairman of the USATF Masters Track & Field Committee was off the board, it was scary bad for our niche.  Having a seat at the table is essential so we aren’t ignored, overlooked or compromised.

But the selection of Willie is wonderful. He won’t let the “Win-30-Medals-at-London” bus run over our interests. And he’ll be good for the sport overall as well.

Gary Snyder, our national masters track and field chair, updated his blog for the first time in nearly a month with the news that Willie was our Guy, saying: “USATF has announced the new Board of Directors which includes one (of) the Masters Track and Field Committee candidates, Willie Banks. Congratulation to Willie and we look forward to hearing from him soon.”

Rex Harvey, whose placekeeper name was withdrawn, told me: “Willie is good, and will be good!” on the board. 

I feel better now about nominating him. Let’s all wish him well on one of the toughest assignments of his life. 

Willie Banks jumps with joy at a 2007 SoCal meet.

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February 19, 2009

5 Responses

  1. Mary Harada - February 19, 2009

    This is a great pick to represent the interests of masters athletes.

  2. Ken Stone - February 19, 2009

    I erred on when Willie Banks’ name was introduced. According to minutes of the 11 a.m. Saturday general masters session at Reno, Willie’s name was suggested (by me, I’m pretty sure) for the Board of Directors. The minutes were recorded by new Masters T&F Secretary Jeff Brower.
    However, I vividly recall describing Willie’s bona fides at the Executive Committee meeting that afternoon.
    Here’s a link to the MT&F minutes of the Reno meeting, which sets a record for speed of posting Masters minutes of the 2007 annual meeting STILL haven’t been posted.

  3. Bob Weiner - February 22, 2009

    Have worked with Willie in the 1990’s when I was at White House Drug Policy Office and Willie was supporting youth anti-drug efforts… he is terrific, dedicated, mission driven. Have also been talking with him for last couple months about possibility of his competing at upcoming indoor national masters in Landover…he wants to but is injured, and is looking forward to later masters meets. He cares a lot about MTF and it looks like we’ll all have opportunity to talk with him about our collective goals. He is warm and responsive, as well as well-informed. He is a hero and leader in our sport and is an excellent pick.
    Bob Weiner

  4. Dr. Irene Eiko Jones, Ed.D. - August 3, 2009

    Dear Willie:
    Please e-mail me your phone & address.
    I was your Japanese Language teacher at
    Palomar College. I would like to getting in touch
    with you.
    Irene Eiko Jones

  5. Samuel Catalano - September 29, 2011

    Dear Willie,
    I have just completed my requirements for EAGLE SCOUT, and found your name among the list of famous Eagles. I am a senior in High School, among the top six cross country and track runners of my team. I am also a member of the national honor society and will have an AP degree when i graduate. I am currently 16th in my class. I would love to have you join me and my family for my Court of Honor Ceremony on 12/4/11. I hope and am working to be as successful as you.
    Thank you
    Samuel Catalano

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