Friday, April 21, 2006

Russian Jayhawks runners-up

Record-holding Agafonov, Tarasova second in hammer toss


Egor Agafonov heard mention of Kansas University while growing up in Togliatti, Russia - a town located 621 miles southeast of Moscow.

"It is (the) home of basketball," Agafonov said Thursday, referring to KU. "People in my country know of basketball. It's a great school."

Agafonov has found that out for himself since January, when he arrived for second semester classes on Mt. Oread.

The 23-year-old Agafonov, who knew not a word of English when he arrived in Lawrence, immediately enrolled in English as Second Language courses.

He also has been an instant sensation in track.

KU's record holder in the hammer, Agafonov won the Big 12 Conference indoor weight throw title and placed second at the NCAA championships.

He placed second Thursday in the Kansas Relays hammer throw with a heave of 222 feet, 2 inches. Nick Welihozkiy of the Pac-Bay Track Club won his third straight Relays crown at 222-8.

"When I came here I understood nothing. Now I think my English is better," said Agafonov, who is a sophomore in terms of eligibility. "I understand many people now. I have good teachers, good teammates who help me understand."

Agafonov arrived at KU at the same time as 19-year-old freshman Zlata Tarasova, another hammer thrower from Togliatti, recruited by first-year KU throws coach Andy Kokhanovsky.

Kokhanovsky was born and reared in Ukraine and has been in the U.S. the past 12 years. Tarasova also notched second on Thursday in the women's hammer at 194-1. Laci Heller of Kansas State won the event with a throw of 197-4.

"Bad," Tarasova, the school record-holder in the indoor weight throw and outdoor hammer said, asked her feelings of placing second. "Next time I'll do better. I do feel good that I have records here."

Kokhanovsky, who came to KU from the University of Louisiana at Monroe this season, recruited KU's Russian duo by phone after checking their accomplishments via track Web sites.

"I'm happy with his performance," Kokhanovsky said of Agafonov.

"Every day he has five to six hours of schooling, and he goes to the tutor four to five times a week, three to four hours a night. He practices about three hours a day. He works very hard and is very dedicated. He will be really good."

Ditto Tarasova.

"She's worked hard and done very well since she arrived here," Kokhanovsky said. "She's been very consistent. She should do well at conference. Most of the top throwers in our conference were here today."

Agafonov would have won the event Thursday if two of his throws hadn't clipped the right overhang net of KU's hammer cage, which was damaged in the recent microburst in Lawrence.

Not yet fixed, the net obstructs the right-hand foul line. A Kansas State coach mentioned the net-overhang problem to event officials, who indicated nothing could be done to fix the problem this year.

"I don't hit the net often. Sometimes I need correcting. I make mistakes," Agafonov said. "I did not see the tornado. We were not here. We were at (NCAA indoor) the championships. People say a tornado has strong winds. I've never seen one."

He isn't a fan of sometimes stormy Kansas weather. He really likes one thing about the U.S., though.

"Food is good," he said with a grin. "There are many choices. I can eat what I want. I really like the food here."

The event winner was Stanford graduate Welihozkiy, who knew of Agafanov's reputation coming in.

"This year, I came in as the underdog," Welihozkiy said. "I knew it was going to be an all-out war, and I was going to have to be above my game. I wasn't expecting to win."

Lawrence High senior Scott Penny was allowed to compete in the hammer via special invitation. He placed 13th, bettering his own school record with a throw of 165-9.


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