by Frank Bertucci
PHILADELPHIA - One of the historical wonders of the Penn Relays is the number of Olympic Games athletes who have performed at Franklin Field since the first Summer Games in 1896.
This year will be no exception, with American, Jamaican, Bahamian and other athletes who have worn their national uniforms in recent years running and throwing around West Philadelphia. And now, thanks to Vikas Gowda of Frederick, Md. and the University of North Carolina, you can add a new country to the list of those represented by Penn Relays/Olympic Games performers: India.
Gowda returns to the Relays to defend the College Discus Championship he won last year, when he also was chosen the meet's Outstanding Male Individual Events Performer.
A UNC senior who was born in Bangalore which is near the southern tip of India and came to this country with his family when he was five years old, Gowda competed for his native country in Athens in 2004, and finished a very respectable 14th in the discus competition. He finished second in the discus in the Asian Championships in South Korea last year, and will again represent India in the Asian Games in Qatar next December.
"I always planned it that way, that I would compete for India," he explained. "There wasn't one moment when I decided to try out for the Indian team. I've always kept my Indian citizenship. When I was younger, I had to go to India to compete to make the team, but now that I proved that I'm one of their top guys, I can just tell them how I'm doing."
Gowda's best discus mark is 212-feet, 3-inches, and his shot PR is 64-3.
At 6-feet, 9-inches tall and 265 pounds, Gowda could easily be a starting power forward for India, but has never been a basketball player except for pickup games.
"My dad was a track coach so track has always been there for me," he said. "I actually started as a sprinter/jumper, but as I grew I made the transition to the throwing events."
Gowda's championship last year was actually his second at the Relays; as a junior at Frederick High he won the High School Boys Discus Championship at 183-02.
Gowda will graduate from UNC next month with a degree in Mathematics, then expects to become a track gypsy for awhile.
"I have only a small window to do this," he said. "After the NCAAs, I expect to compete in a few meets in Europe during the summer. It's always important to be hungry, to want to achieve more. I've been all over the world. That wouldn't have been possible if not for track and field."
Vikas Gowda will defend his title when the Championship Discus event is held on Friday (Apr. 28) at 12:15 PM.