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Championship Belt

Berkeley Springs grad blossoming at Louisville

Berkeley Springs grad blossoming at Louisville

June 19, 2007|By ANDREW MASON

Starring in three sports at Berkeley Springs High School hardly prepared Tone Belt for the world of track and field that awaited him at the University of Louisville.

"The practices were harder than any other practices I'd ever had, even football and basketball," said Belt, 20, who recently completed his sophomore year with the Cardinals. "My first day I was ready to quit. Everyone was like, 'C'mon, Tone.' And I was like, 'Leave me alone.'

"But I stuck with it and just took off from there."

Where Belt will eventually land is anyone's guess. He hopes it's in the Olympic finals in either the long jump or high jump next summer in Beijing.

"I want to make it to the Olympics and make it to the finals and get on TV. That's all I want to do," said Belt, already a four-time All-American at Louisville. "If I can do that next year, then four years after that I'll look forward to competing for an Olympic gold medal.

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"It's one step at a time."

He's made monstrous leaps since graduating from Berkeley Springs in 2005 - especially considering that he began the summer of '05 with plans to join the West Virginia University football team that fall as a freshman walk-on.

"When I was a senior in high school, all I wanted to do was catch touchdown passes," Belt said.

An 11th-hour visit to Louisville that summer changed everything. The Cardinals had some scholarship money to give to Belt - a two-time West Virginia Class AA state champion in both the long and high jumps - if he would continue to jump.

"One of the things I told my mom in high school was that I didn't want her to pay for my college," he said. "At West Virginia, I wasn't going to be able to hold up my end."

Belt has more than held up his end at Louisville. Earlier this year, he became the Cardinals' first NCAA champion in track and field, winning an indoor title in the long jump. This spring, he placed second in the long jump at the NCAA outdoor championships. As a freshman, he placed fifth in both the long and high jumps at the NCAA outdoor meet.

While his personal-best jumps in high school were outstanding - 24 feet in the long and 6 feet, 9 inches in the high - his marks now are world class. As a Cardinal, he's jumped 26-1 3/4 and 7-3 3/4, already qualifying for next year's U.S. Olympic Trials in both events.

But Belt's far from satisfied.

"I feel I can do more," he said. "I don't want to just be good. I want to dominate. It's like in high school. I didn't want to just win AA, I wanted to be the best in the state.

"When I'm done, I want to be considered one of the best collegiate jumpers there ever was. I want to do this after I graduate (professionally), so I need to put my name out there. And you put your name out there by jumping a foot farther than anybody else.

"I've got a lot of work to do."

Belt, who's 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, is set to compete in both jumps this weekend at the 2007 AT&T USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Indianapolis. He's seeded eighth in the long jump and 17th in the high jump. He's ranked 46th in the world in the long jump.

The top three in each event this weekend can qualify for the world championships, to be held in Osaka, Japan, from Aug. 25 to Sept. 2. But the top three only advance if they've met the "A" standards - which are 26-11 (8.20 meters) in the long jump and 7-6 1/2 (2.30 meters) in the high jump - sometime between Jan. 1, 2006, and Aug. 13, 2007. They're the same standards Belt will need to meet by July 23, 2008, to make next year's Olympic team.

"It's not impossible, but I'd have to PR by a good bit to make it to the world championships," Belt said. "It's tough for collegiates because we're just coming off nationals. We were supposed to peak (nearly two weeks ago), and the pros, this is what they train for."

He said his most realistic goal for the weekend is to qualify for next month's Pan Am Games in Brazil.

Last summer, he placed second in the long jump at the world junior (19 and under) championships in Beijing with a then-personal-record leap of 26-1.

"That was big, probably the best experience I've had, getting to go over there with the whole U.S. team," Belt said. "I want to do the same thing with Pan Ams and get a big PR again.

"The big goal is to get the 'A' standard. Next year is the big year. Once you get that 'A' standard, it's about who shows up that day (at the Olympic Trials)."

Will it be Tone - or "Tony" as Belt's name was spelled before college?

"My real name is Antone," he said. "At the big college meets, they just took the 'An' off, and it stuck.

"It doesn't matter to me, as long as it says Belt up there."

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