Story Poster
Photo by Catharyn Hayne / KLC fotos

Cal's Mykolas Alekna: The Best There Ever Was

April 14, 2024
1,602

RAMONA, Okla. – There is a scene in a famous baseball movie from 1984 called The Natural, starring Robert Redford as aging breakout star Roy Hobbs, where he and a dinner companion banter across a candlelit table in a dimly-lit restaurant. The romantic setting belies the nature of the conversation – one where Hobbs single-mindedly insists that he can be something special in the sport.

“I know I got it in me,” Hobbs says to the lovely Memo Paris.

“What do you hope to accomplish?” she responds, incredulous.

Without missing a beat, Hobbs says, “When I walk down the street, people will look at me and say, ‘There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.’”

Mykolas Alekna is no baseball player, and certainly could not be described as “aging”. At just 21 years of age, California track & field’s biggest star – redshirting this year as he prepares for the Olympic Games in Paris – is, in fact, very young for his particular specialty.

“Discus is a sport for older people,” Mohamad Saatara, who leads Cal’s throws group and coached Alekna to multiple collegiate records in his first two years as a Golden Bear, said. “The best throwers in history have been throwing well into their 30s and 40s.”

Outwardly, Alekna does not have much in common with the fictional Hobbs. After Sunday, however, there is a comparison to be drawn – perhaps the most important one.

The best there ever was.

Alekna, competing unattached this year as he prepares for the Olympic Games in Paris, opened his season just last weekend at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational in Berkeley. Unusually for a first meet, he posted the best outing of his life, with his farthest throw sailing 71.39m (234-2) to thrill fans and athletes from both Cal and other schools alike who stayed late into the afternoon just to watch him compete. That mark – a world lead, a meet and stadium record – moved him up to No. 10 in world history and closed the gap between him and his father, two-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist Virgilijus Alekna, whose career best of 73.84m (242-4.5) stood as the family record and second best on the planet.

Despite the vocal admiration from the crowd during the competition, the younger Alekna stayed relatively unaccosted afterward as he climbed into the stands to sit with his friends. Although he certainly stands out in a crowd – 6-foot-4, hair a striking blond – his quiet demeanor allows him to keep a low profile. It’s alright with him – he is not the type to demand recognition.

“Pretty good opener,” he posted to his Instagram that night.

Eight days later, he was competing again at a tiny town in Oklahoma. Millican Field, based in Ramona, opened less than two years ago and quickly became famous for its swirling winds, which many throwers have been able to take advantage of for massive personal bests. Unlike the sprints or horizontal jumps, the throws do not account for any help that wind may provide; all marks, whether posted in gusts of one or 40 miles per hour, are legal.

After Alekna’s season opener, all eyes were on him as he headed out East, with the 1968 world record of East Germany’s Jürgen Schult (74.08m, or 243-0) officially on watch. Notably, Schult’s record had also been set in windy conditions; a new top mark was not out of the realm of possibility.

Alekna instantly set a new personal best in his very first throw of the meet – a mark of 72.21m (236-11) – but a breakdown in his technique left him notably displeased, shaking his head and pressing his hands to his eyes. It was still enough to move him up to No. 4 in world history, surpassing 2023 world champion Daniel Ståhl and 2022 world champion Kristjan Čeh.

Attempt number two also crossed 70 meters (70.32m/230-8); his third throw soared further, much to the vocal delight of both Alekna and his spectators, who yelled when the discus hit the ground at 72.89m (239-1). He’s not quite as happy with his fourth throw, a 70.51m (231-4).

Then came the fifth round.

Ramona had no stadium lights for Alekna to shatter, no triumphant swelling of brass and timpani in the background as the discus soared through the air and Alekna silently raised his hand to the sky. The spectators watched quietly, with only a few people clapping – the rest waited with bated breath as Alekna walked calmly out of the ring. Perhaps they knew what they had witnessed, but wanted to wait until the announcement came.

“74.41.”

That’s when the crowd screamed, whooped, whistled. The other throwers ran, yelling and leaping, to a smiling Alekna. The meet is paused for a steel tape measurement, which shaves six centimeters off the laser reading to 74.35m (243-11). It’s still good enough to shatter the former world best by 11 inches.

“He nailed that throw,” Saatara said. “Earlier this year, we talked about being really stable for the season. As you get into better shape and your speed goes up throughout the year, you have to be dialed in to keep that stability and win medals at major championships. This year, he’s more mature, more powerful, more experienced, and still evolving in the way he’s working with the throw. We aren’t necessarily chasing these big marks, but getting all of these great results is just a byproduct of all the things we’re doing to set it up.”

Now, Alekna stands alone, surpassing Schult, surpassing his own father. He is the first Cal track & field athlete to set a world record since Eddie Hart in 1972, when he topped both the 100m and the 4x100m lists, and just the second Cal field athlete in history to do so (Eddie Beeson, 1914 high jump).

Could Alekna stretch that record out even further? “As long as he stays healthy and focused,” Saatara said. “He works really hard and takes care of business. He’s very dedicated to his sport and to school. Balancing the mental part and the skill part is so challenging – being able to do it at this young age makes him a once-in-a-lifetime kind of person, a truly generational talent.”

Alekna will fly back to the Bay Area on Monday. He will get off the plane, go back to his apartment, then head right back to practice the next day – after all, his next competition is in six days, when he will travel south to Walnut for the Mt. SAC Relays at Hilmer Lodge Stadium. There will be no massive throng of adoring fans waiting for his return, no band playing a triumphant march for the returning hero. Back home in discus-loving Lithuania, he is frequently recognized; here, outside of the track, he’s just another guy.

Still, maybe this time, someone in Berkeley will notice him and say it.

“There goes Mykolas Alekna, the best there ever was.”

Cal's Mykolas Alekna: The Best There Ever Was

1,595 Views | 3 Replies | Last: 1 mo ago by Basketball Bear
Polodad
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Great article! Kudos to the writer.
Intuit
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Harborview
Basketball Bear
How long do you want to ignore this user?
I will put my NIL money on him next. Great story.
Refresh
Page 1 of 1
 
×
subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.