Wednesday, March 31, 1999
gets a leg up on
The holder of the state 300-By Pat Bigold
meter hurdles record has come out
the blocks a step ahead of
Natasha Kai lives in Kahuku, and that's football country.
No ifs, ands or buts about it.
The track -- if you can call it that -- that surrounds the Red Raiders' football field is dirt, and often mud.
Not exactly the laboratory for a sprinter.
And that's what makes Kai somewhat extraordinary.
As a freshman, she broke the 300-meter hurdles record at the state meet at Kaiser in a sizzling 45.37 seconds.
No one beat her in that event all year.
She's come out of the blocks in her sophomore year looking very much like a girl who could dominate the spring meets.
"By her senior year, she should be able to set state meet records in every event from the 400 on down," said Jumanne Washington, Kai's sprint coach at Kahuku.
Washington was a collegiate sprinter, and he set Hawaii state meet records in the 100 and 200 in 1991.
Kai's promise was evident in the last state meet. Besides winning the 300-meter hurdles, she was second in the high jump, third in the 100 and third in the 200.
"There will be a lot of college letters coming in for her at this time next year, and she's already gotten a few," Washington said.
Kai's current approach to competition is what impresses her summer track coach, Duncan Macdonald.
"She's not afraid to lose," said Macdonald, a 1976 Olympic 5,000-meter competitor. "She's looking for the best race she can find now, and that's a real sign of maturity and growth in an athlete."
Kai's first participation sport as a youngster was soccer.
"Then in the sixth grade, my mom took me to summer track in Kailua," she said.
There, she met Macdonald and began learning how to run.
Macdonald said he finds the 26-year-old Washington to be "an excellent coach" and credits him with Kai's development as a sprinter this year.
"I just shoot out low, keep my head down and go faster and faster," said the 5-foot-7 Kai, who has begun weight work on her calves and thighs to develop more power.
Sprinting seemed to suit her metabolism.
"She lives to race, if you ask me," Washington said. "She can be hurt all week, but at meet time, she just performs."
Washington said he finds it hard to believe the energy Kai is able to expend.
"She just keeps going all the time," he said.
Kai ran cross country in the fall, and earned all-star honors as a forward for the Red Raiders' girls soccer team in winter.
Two weeks ago as the spring season opened at Radford, she won five events: 100- and 300-meter hurdles, the 100 and 200 dashes and the high jump. Last weekend at Iolani, she won four events, looking untouchable.
"She actually has the stamina of an 800-meter runner," said Washington.
In the high jump, Kai has outstanding agility, according to Macdonald. "She can clear the bar basically almost touching her head to her heels," he said.
Kai said she watches international meets on TV and her hero is Marion Jones. She is thinking of the larger picture these days, and driving herself.
"She's ready to become one of the best female sprinters Hawaii has ever produced," said Washington.
With more than two-and-a-half seasons left to compete on Hawaii's tracks, Kai has plenty of time to reach that pinnacle.
And with her attitude that it's the quality of the race that counts more than the win, she is bound to accelerate.
This week, Kai will be in her element, as she gets a chance to take on some of the state's best sprinters and hurdlers at the Punahou Invitational.