EUGENE, Ore. – As the collegiate outdoor track and field season moves forward and the IAAF World Junior Championships draw near, thrower Cullen Prena is proving to be an athlete to keep an eye on. At 19 years old, Prena is eligible to compete at the IAAF World Junior Championships that will take place this summer, July 22-27, at Hayward Field.
Prena first caught the attention of University of Oregon throws coach, Erik Whitsitt, during his junior year at Walled Lake Central High School in Walled Lake, Mich.
“Somebody with his talent stuck out right away,” Whitsitt said. “He had shown early on that he was going to be somebody on our radar and it was obvious that he was our type of kid.”
Prena ended his senior year as the national high school leader in the discus with a state-record throw of 210 feet, 1 inch. He won individual state titles in the shot put, discus and indoor weight throw. He was also named a prep all-American by Track & Field News magazine.
When it came down to choosing a college, Prena was drawn to the unique track and field atmosphere which exists in Eugene, also known as “TrackTown USA.”
“We have thousands of people coming out for just a dual meet which is unheard of,” Prena said of the local track and field culture. “I think the passion of the fans here is wonderful, and we have a solid coach.”
Although he is now training and competing with the UO team, Prena plans to redshirt this season to further develop his strength and talent as an athlete.
“Looking at his development, we wanted to bring him up the right way, slowly, so we didn’t have to backtrack and fix things later,” said Whitsitt. “We just wanted to be by the book so he can have a long, healthy future for us.”
That doesn’t mean Prena isn’t getting a chance to compete at the collegiate level this year.
He recently competed unattached at the Pepsi dual meet against Arizona. Although he wasn’t eligible to score any points for the UO team, he won the discus competition with a throw of 178-2, and finished second in the shot put, behind teammate Ryan Hunter-Simms, at 56-3 1/4.
Throws like that are making the IAAF World Junior Championships a solid option for Prena. At the Oregon Preview last month, he qualified for USA Junior Nationals in the discus (179-5), shot put (55-0 ¼) and hammer throw (181-0).
“His very first meet he qualified for Junior Nationals,” Coach Whitsitt said. “I think he’s got just as good a chance in all three events to make that world junior team.”
The top two finishers in each event earn a spot on Team USA that will compete at the IAAF World Junior Championships as long as they have hit the qualifying standards.
“That (World Juniors) is something that has been on my map for a while,” Prena said. “I went my to nationals my junior year in high school, and unfortunately, I came 34th out of 35, so to put a World Juniors on the map for me is huge. I’m really excited to come back out here for U.S. Junior Nationals.”
Prena believes the college training and competition experience he gets this season is something that will be helpful on the world stage.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a high-schooler make it to junior worlds in discus or shot put, so I think it’s a huge advantage being a collegiate athlete,” Prena said.
Whether he ultimately makes it to World Juniors this summer or not, Prena will use this season to prepare for next year when he can wear the Duck uniform for the first time and score points for his school.