Master’s Spotlight - Gwen Wentland-Mikinski
They call some athletes naturally gifted. It is a cliche overused by announcers, analysts and writers to describe the world’s most captivating competitors. But natural is the only word to describe her.
Gwen Wentland-Mikinski (W40, Manhattan, Kan.) will compete in her first USA Masters Outdoor championships this weekend in Olathe, Kan., in the high jump where she will make a run at the American and world records in the 40-44 age group. She will jump on Saturday in pursuit of the world mark of 1.78m.
Wentland-Mikinski will look to make the transition from elite athlete to masters athlete. If history is any indication, the jump should seem flawless.
Wentland-Mikinski, the natural athlete
Her freshman high school basketball coach at Grand Blanc High School in Michigan discovered a world-class talent. Coach Andy Taylor stumbled upon the athlete who would accomplished a first in the school’s history 25 years later.
Wentland’s natural competitive nature led her to the hardwood floor during the fall of her freshman year. The basketball tryout marked her first time playing the game. Growing up she spent her time in dance classes and playing soccer.
She donned warm-ups most of the games. Her coach selected for her one reason: She was a 14-year-old who could touch a 10-foot rim. After her first season, he asked her about joining the track team. She was skeptical. Taylor assured she would make the varsity team.
She joined the team looking for a way to occupy down time after school. Winning was not in the cards as a freshman, but she was very competitive finishing in the top three several times. Her highest clearance was 4-10. Greater heights were to come.
Wentland experienced a magical senior season. She captured a Class A state title clearing 5-10, setting a new Michigan high school record in their highest classification. The high school All-American in the high jump also garnered Michigan’s Gatorade High School Track & Field Athlete of the Year honor. The colleges started calling.
She made official visits to Texas, Louisiana State and North Carolina. All of the schools fell in line with Wentland’s desire to be in warm weather for college. Kansas State snuck on the radar, but it’s location placed it at the back of the pack.
“Going to college in the state of Kansas seemed like the middle of nowhere,” Wentland said. “[Coach Cliff Rovelto] kept calling me. He was like the boyfriend who won’t go away. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll take a visit.’”
She decided to take her last official visit to Manhattan. A trip she will never forget.
She trained under Coach Rovelto, then an assistant coach for the Wildcats. Success quickly followed. Four times she was a collegiate All-American and runner-up for the national championship in the high jump. Her days at the top of the podium were near.
At the start of her final collegiate season in 1995, Wentland approached the season with a refined mindset which paid dividends. She won her first USA Indoor national championship with a personal best of 6-5. Another indoor national title would follow.
“Coach Rovelto couldn’t be there. I had to focus on analyzing my jumps on my own,” Wentland said. “It was one of those days you were just in the zone and you had that feeling of flow. Everything seemed to be on. It seemed like slow-motion. I could click off exactly where I was.”
After receiving her undergraduate degree, she remained at Kansas State as jumps coach alongside her mentor. She continued to compete as an elite athlete even when she accepted the same position at the University of California-Irvine.
In 2001 Wentland married Rod Mikinski and the couple had their first child, Paris, three years later. She maintained her focus throughout the pregnancy, eyeing performing at the 2005 Indoor national championships. Her training would be compact but intense.
“When I walked out on the track for the first time after I had Paris it was really difficult,” Wentland-Mikinski said. “I was doing bounding drills and it was not working. So I just focused on regaining flexibility and becoming more lean.”
Wentland-Mikinski struck gold in Boston. Her second indoor national title represented more than standing alone at the top of her event, it showed persistence in pursuing her passion.
Kansas State elected her to their Hall of Fame a year later. Wentland-Mikinski while excited, experienced mixed emotions.
“At the time I was still competing professionally and I was like, ‘This is really amazing,’” Wentland-Mikinski said. “I felt extremely honored, but I was still high jumping. Is this too soon? The class I went in with was definitely elite. I’ll never forget it.”
The Hall of Famer achieved the ultimate prize of every athlete six years later: going to the Olympic Games. Wentland-Mikinski flew to London as a coach for the jumpers at the 2012 Games. The first person from her high school to participate. She enjoyed sharing her wisdom with all her athletes, but one stands out.
“Brigetta Barrett has the best attitude,” Wentland-Mikinski said. “She brought her podium medal stand suit with her. She said, ‘I ironed it. It’s ready.’ She knew before she ever stepped on the track she was going to win a medal. Her attitude directed her abilities.”
The next step in a career surrounded by persistence and natural ability will be the masters outdoor championships. Read more about the 2013 USA Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which continue through Sunday, on www.usatf.org.