Track and Field

Flathead Track and Field Trio Heads to Olympic Trials

Three track and field athletes from Flathead Valley high schools are headed to compete against the nation’s best on Friday

By Micah Drew
Decathlete Lee Walburn, formerly of Carroll College, practices at Whitefish High School on June 8, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“Citius. Altius. Fortius. It means Faster. Higher. Stronger. It’s been the motto for the Olympics for the last 2500 years,” Donald Sutherland says in the opening scene of the film “Without Limits,” in which the late actor portrays legendary Oregon track and field coach Bill Bowerman. “But it doesn’t mean faster, higher and stronger than who you are competing against. Just: Faster. Higher. Stronger.”

Starting Friday, three athletes who graduated from Flathead Valley high schools in 2019 are aiming to emulate that principle as they take part in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. Over two days of competition, Whitefish grad Lee Walburn will take on the 10 events comprising the decathlon; Ben Perrin from Flathead will run in the 10,000m; and former Wolfpack star Evan Todd will throw the javelin.

Whitefish High School graduate Lee Walburn finished 7th in the decathlon at the NCAA Track and Field Championships on June 7, 2024. Courtesy photo

Lee Walburn

 “Lee capped a wildly successful senior season with the first state championship of his career, winning the 300-meter hurdles in a season-best 39.83 seconds” ~ Flathead Beacon Best of Preps Spring 2019

As a successful multi-sport athlete in high school, Lee Walburn was initially recruited to Carroll College to train for the hardest track and field event — the decathlon. The intense two-day competition involves competing in 10 different disciplines: the 100m, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m, 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500m run.

Walburn rose to the challenge immediately, winning the NAIA national championships as a redshirt freshman in 2021, and defending his title in 2022. He then transferred to Division I Washington State University and earned All-American honors finishing seventh at the NCAA Outdoor Championships this month.

“Last season I ended at the conference championships and was frustrated and disappointed with my first year as a Division I athlete,” Walburn said. “I went home for two weeks, went fishing, and then came back and started training.”

Lee Walburn, one of Flathead County’s top spring 2019 prep sports athletes. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Over the summer, Walburn said he would arrive at WSU’s track and field facilities at 9 a.m. and wouldn’t get home until 4 or 5 in the evening.

“The goal every day was to make nationals, become an All-American, and since it’s an Olympic year, I wanted to make it to trials.”

With two goals accomplished, Walburn is now prepping for the bonus round. Competing in two decathlons just two weeks apart is a Herculean task, but one for which Walburn has prepared all year.

At the collegiate championships, Walburn was at peak performance. He had personal bests in four of the 10 events, with an overall score of 7,816, another lifetime best.

His highlight from that competition was his 400m race where he dominated his heat and broke 49 seconds for the first time. “For most of the multi events, the results you see are directly related to the work you put in. We worked so hard this year on the 400, I can’t even tell you how many times I threw up during training. It was so much relief, and pain, to see that time at the finish.”

Walburn is entered as the 14th highest-scoring decathlete in the field, and has his sights set on a cumulative score around 8,000 points, a good jumping off point to talk to agents about a professional career and earn consideration for the U.S. team at other international meets this summer.

“When I did my first big decathlon for WSU, I was a little bit shellshocked and didn’t feel like I belonged at the same meet as those athletes. The top Americans now are the same guys I was looking up to when I first started doing this, but I’m not shellshocked to see them on the track anymore. I’m excited to be looked at as a competitor, and not as a fan.”

The first event of the men’s decathlon will begin on Friday, June 21, at 10 a.m. PST. The full meet schedule can be viewed here.

Ben Perrin competes in a meet for Montana State University. Courtesy of Montana State Athletics

Ben Perrin

“The Gatorade Montana Cross Country Runner of the Year followed up that season with a nearly flawless year in track, winning state titles in the 1,600 and 3,200” ~ Flathead Beacon Best of Preps Spring 2019

It can be hard to stand out in a family of uber-talented athletes, but that’s exactly what Ben Perrin has been doing for the last few years at Montana State University. As the youngest of the three Perrin brothers, Ben has had a big legacy to live up to, including that of his eldest brother, Zach, who ran a sub four-minute mile in college, and his middle brother, Jake, who set two Montana all-class state records that stood until just a few weeks ago.

Ben has surpassed his siblings in their track prowess. Two years ago, he broke the indoor 5,000m record for MSU (multiple times) and came within a few tenths of a second of the school records in the outdoor 5,000m and 10,000m this spring — both records are held by former Bobcats who went on to professional careers running for Nike.

Flathead’s Ben Perrin. Best of Preps on Nov. 29, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

It was Ben’s 10,000m time of 28:09.73, run at a California meet in late March, that stamped on the extension of his season.

“Outdoor track is really interesting because you try to hit qualifying times early in the season and then just wait around for championship season,” Ben said. “I ran personal bests in my events early on and then was just focused on conference and regionals and making it back to the national championship.”

One of the weird things about collegiate track and field is that the national competitions can be harder to qualify for than, say, the Olympic Trials. Ben had a rough day at the West Regional championship and failed to advance to the NCAA Championships. He said it felt strange to see his season end, but still have an outside chance of his 10,000m time earning him a spot on the starting line for Trials. When the final list of qualified athletes came out last week, Ben’s name was on it.

“Having the chance to get out on the track one more time and end the season on a more positive note is really nice,” he said. “I’ll be happy with a solid race and staying committed to competing the whole time. Even though it’s the Olympic Trials, there’s less pressure on this race than most of the ones I did this year.”

As far as more specific goals go, Ben would like to finish higher than his seeded position (18th) and has his eye on getting the MSU school record in his final track meet in a Bobcat uniform.

The men’s 10,000m final will be run on Friday, June 21, at 7:27 p.m. PT.

Montana senior Evan Todd competes in the javelin during the Montana Open track and field meet at Dornblaser Stadium on Friday, April 19, 2024. Ben Allan Smith | Missoulian

Evan Todd

“With five of six throws in the rearview mirror, Evan stepped up for one final heave at the Class AA state meet in Great Falls and catapulted the Wolfpack closer to the school’s first-ever team championship with a title-winning toss of his own.” Flathead Beacon Best of Preps Spring 2018

Glacier High School Evan Todd. Best of Preps 2018. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Evan Todd odd won the Class AA javelin title as a high school junior and finished runner-up as a senior, one of the last state champion throwers guided by former Glacier javelin guru Stuart Levitt. It was an early mentorship in the sport that still serves as a motivator for Todd today.

“One of my favorite things to do, still, is to give Stu a call. He gets so fired up and just loves talking about javelin, all things javelin,” Todd said in an interview from Missoula this week. “I’ve been exposed to a lot of high-level experienced athletes and coaches over the years, and not just javelin throwers. Each of them has helped me get to where I am.”

Earlier this month, Todd competed at the NCAA Track and Field Championships to cap off his college career throwing for the University of Montana. As a Griz, Todd was a three-time Big Sky Conference champion in the javelin and set the UM school record this spring at the conference meet with a mark of 246-6 in early May. It was that throw, just over 75 meters, that qualified him for the Olympic Trials.

“It wasn’t necessarily on my mind until I finally broke the 70-meter barrier this year and I realized it was a possibility that I could make it to Trials,” Todd said. “It definitely became the dream I was chasing, which caught me by surprise.”

Todd said that, despite his success in high school, he didn’t know enough about track and field to realize what opportunities abounded in the sport. He had nationally ranked throws as a junior and senior, but never competed in a national meet because he didn’t know competitions existed outside of the school-sanctioned season.

At the NCAA championships, Todd finished in 22nd with the one of the shortest throws of his season. The subpar results “sparked some fire in my belly. I’m excited to get back to Eugene and have one more shot at it. I’m going into this meet cool, calm, collected and with a lot more confidence ready to lay it all on the line. It’s really just a victory lap to cap off an incredible season.”

After Trials, Todd will be moving back to the Flathead Valley where he plans to continue training, noting that many of the world’s top-ranked throwers are around 30-years old. “By no means do I think I’m tapped out potential-wise, so I really want to keep working at it.”

A huge boon to his future training program? Glacier High School just installed a brand-new synthetic javelin runway, making it one of the few schools in the state with a national-caliber practice arena for Todd’s discipline.

The men’s javelin competition will begin on Friday, June 21 at 4:30 p.m. PT. Todd enters as the 13th-best American javelin thrower this year. The full field of competitors will take three throws on Friday with the top eight marks returning on Sunday for the finals.

The full schedule for the U.S. Olympic Trials can be viewed here. The meet will be broadcast on NBC each night and streamed on Peacock throughout the day.