FAIRFAX, Va. -- It wasn't that long ago that Tony Barton was a student and reluctant hurdler at Milford Mill High School. Thanks to an astute observation by then-indoor track coach Jeff McDaniel, Barton switched to the high jump for his senior year.
Four years later, Barton, a senior at George Mason University, is challenging the world's elite high jumpers. Yesterday, Barton's 7-foot, 5-inch leap placed him third behind 1988 Olympic silver medalist Hollis Conway and world indoor and outdoor record-holder Javier Sotomayer in the fourth annual Mobil 1 Invitational at George Mason.
Conway and Sotomayer cleared 7-7, with Conway awarded first because he was successful on his first jump. Sotomayer, 1/8 1/8 TC Cuban and the only man to clear 8 feet (outdoors), needed three attempts. Neither competitor came close at 7-9 3/4 .
Ten world record-holders participated in the meet, where there were no real surprises and no new world bests. Four world record-holders won their events.
Barton was a hurdler who "hated running," when one day McDaniel noticed the 6-3 senior jumping to high-five clocks in the school halls.
At McDaniel's request, Barton changed events, and he says he remembers clearing 5-8 in his first high school tri-meet at the Fifth Regiment Armory, "jumping in my tennis shoes and looking real clumsy," he said.
Soon, Barton got a pair of spikes and set a record of 6-8 3/4 in winning the county championship.
Barton has bests of 7-7 outdoors and 7-6 1/2 for second in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Indoor Championships last March.
"I was just living life. I didn't expect anything really big," said Barton, who also placed third in a comparable field in Friday's Millrose Games in New York.
"I pray a lot now. This whole thing has made me religious. After every jump, I say thank you."
Yesterday, Barton glanced the bar at 7-5. It shook, but stayed put. He seemed to have the height to clear 7-7 but came down short.
"It was my butt [that knocked the bar off]," Barton said of his final attempt. "I knew how [the field] was going to be. I was in the lead going to 7-7. I kept telling myself I didn't see anybody jumping better than me. I thought too much. I wasn't relaxed like my earlier jumps. On my 7-3 jump, I think I would have had a chance at [clearing] 7-7."
In one of the day's featured matchups, Michael Johnson, ranked first in the world, ran 46.23 seconds in the 400 meters to beat world record-holder Thomas Schoenlebe of Germany, who was timed in 46.38.
"This is different than anything other meet I've been to before," said Johnson. "It's a combination of world class and collegiate. There's sort of a team feeling here."
In the women's 60, where the order of finish had to be determined by studying the film with a microscope, Pauline Davis of the Bahamas ran 7.26 to nip U.S. indoor and outdoor champion Michelle Finn (7.27) and American Gwen Torrence (7.28), the world record holder at 55 meters.
In another tight finish, Andre Cason (6.58 seconds) edged Ray Stewart of Jamaica (6.63) in the men's 60. Cason and third-place finisher Daron Council had recently beaten Ben Johnson.
Greg Foster, despite being "not pleased with my start," delighted the crowd with a meet-record 7.45 seconds in the 60-meter high hurdles, edging Tony Dees (7.56) to match his triumph Friday at the Millrose Games. Foster's world indoor mark of 7.36 has stood since 1987.
Three other world record holders won: German Christine Wachtel, whose 2:01.29 was one second better than teammate Ellen Kiesling in the women's 800; Kenyan Paul Ereng, whose 1:48.06 in the men's 800 was .59 seconds better than Canadian Simon Hoogewerf; and Romanian Doina Melinte, with the world's best at 1,500 meters, ran 4:32.89 to edge teammate Margareta Keszeg (4:33.41) in the women's mile.