Local coach practices what he preaches, wins national title

It takes a lot out of a person to do a heptathlon, a combination of seven track and field events over two days.

Just ask Tony Giovannoni of Napa, the winner of the men’s 50-54 age group at the 2010 USA Masters Indoor Heptathlon Championships.

“The throws, sprints and jumps are all about maximum effort, and there’s nothing more taxing on the body,” Giovannoni said after returning home.

“By the end of the hep competition it was starting to look like a MASH hospital with all the wraps and tape and ice on people’s bodies.”

Fortunately for Giovannoni, the owner of HealthQuest Fitness Center of Napa, he not only survived each of the events, but amassed 5,061 points to win a national title and also set personal records in the 60-meter dash and pole vault.

The meet — which had four events the first day, followed by three the second day — was held Jan. 30-31 at the Tarble Athletic and Recreation Center at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

The 1976 Napa High School graduate claimed the 60 meters in 7.96 seconds and went 11 feet, 2 inches to capture the pole vault.

Not bad for a 51-year-old who hadn’t pole vaulted competitively since his high school days and had to borrow a pole when he got to the meet.

Going into nationals, Giovannoni had worked with a pole vault coach in Petaluma, but his practice time was limited.

“That really helped me,” he said. “To go 11-2, I was really quite happy with that. The first five, six, seven jumps I took back there, every one of them felt different and it was awkward.

“All of a sudden I hit a sweet spot there, where all of a sudden it kind of came back together.”

Giovannoni tied for second in the long jump, going 16 feet, 8 inches. He won the shot put with a throw of 39 feet. He wrapped up Day 1 by taking second in the high jump at five feet, one inch.

He returned the next day to finish third in the 60-meter hurdles — which were set up at a height of 36 inches — with a time of 10.11 seconds. After the pole vault competition, he won the 1,000 meters, clocking 3:36.

Giovannoni tried clearing 11-6 in the pole vault, but failed on his attempts.

“The events kind of take in everything that’s involved in track and field, so there’s speed, there’s strength, there’s agility, there’s spring, and there’s endurance,” he said. “Basically, all the notes get hit in one form or another.

 

“It’s difficult. There’s always compromises, because you start training for your endurance and you start losing some of your strength maybe. Trying to make the best of your time also, you’ve just got to pick and choose where you’re going to devote your effort.”

Giovannoni was presented with a medal for his championship. There were eight athletes in his age group. The meet featured the top multi-eventers in the country and beyond, with entrants from California to Florida, Texas to Canada.

“It was very, very rewarding,” said Giovannoni. “I’m very, very fortunate and very, very pleased with what I’ve been able to do.”

Masters track starts at age 35 and divisions are broken down into five-year age groups.

The oldest competitor in Wisconsin was 82. There was a 71 year-old that almost cleared eight feet in the pole vault. 

“It was definitely challenging — I can’t say it’s easy,” said Giovannoni.

He earned All-America honors in the 60-meter dash.

Giovannoni said one of the biggest challenges you face as a masters track athlete is staying healthy.

“Once you’ve reached middle age, you’re always going to have some physical limitations. I’ve got a hamstring that’s been hampering me for over a year, and elbow and shoulder issues that bother me when I throw and vault. A huge part of my success has been learning to read my body, figuring out what I can and can’t do, and manipulating my training so that I get the most gain with the least amount of pain.”

He has remained close to the sport, serving as a Napa High assistant and coaching with the Napa Track Club, an organization made up of youths who compete in the spring and summer months in local, regional, state and national meets.

Giovannoni is also a board member with the club.

“I’m training much more consistently now than I ever did when I was younger,” he explained. “I’ve been working out six to seven days per week for the past 21⁄2 years. The first year of that was just spent on general conditioning, but the last 18 months of that has been primarily focused on getting myself ready to compete in the track events.”

Giovannoni’s win at nationals comes after a successful 2009 season, in which he earned medals in five events at the Western States Masters Track and Field Championships at UC Davis, won the silver medal in the pentathlon during the USA Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships in Washington, D.C., and won four events at the 35th annual Club West Masters Track & Field Meet in Santa Barbara.

“I found that while I enjoy competing and it provides me with a lot of personal motivation, I get far bigger thrills from my coaching responsibilities,” he said.

“Winning this championship was very satisfying, but it’s pretty far down on the list of my most memorable track moments. Sharing a meaningful personal record or a big win with an athlete you coach is a feeling that’s hard to top.” 

As published in the Napa Register

Lauren McClure