Facebook Twitter



Like millions of other people around the world, Anu Kaljurand, a 21-year-old student at BYU, read the headlines with a mixture of emotions earlier this month. ESTONIA CLAIMS INDEPENDENCE. First there was surprise, and then there was joy and then there was . . . worry.

"I haven't called home yet," she said. "I think it's a good thing, what is happening. But I hope there are not going to be any problems. They might close the borders and not let anyone out."These were more than mere casual musings. Kaljurand comes from Estonia, the northernmost of the three Baltic republics that were swallowed up by the Soviet Union a half-century ago, but that have since, one by one, proclaimed their independence.

For Kaljurand, independence had come early. Because of glasnost and perestroika and all the other landmark events of the past year, she managed to come to the U.S. last January - with or without Moscow's knowledge - to pursue her education and her athletic career. With her school year coming to end, she was preparing to return home for the summer in a few days, but then there were those headlines.

"She's fearful about going back," says BYU track coach Craig Poole. "She might not be able to return to the U.S."

So it goes for a young co-ed breaking yet more new ground in a time of vast changes. A world-class long jumper, Kaljurand is believed to be the only Soviet athlete competing in the U.S. collegiate ranks. And, curiously, the Soviets might not even know it.

"I don't think anyone in Moscow knows I'm here," says Anu.

Or perhaps no one cares. Soviet athletic officials seemed to have given up on Kaljurand and her tiny, brittle feet, never mind that she was once the most promising of junior-aged long jumpers in the world.

"They don't know she's here, and they won't until they see the results here," says Poole. "Then they might care."

That's because, in the brief time Kaljurand has been in the U.S., she has tried several new events for the first time in her life, and produced some prodigious marks. In her first (and only) heptathlon, she finished third in the Texas Relays last month with a score of 5,468 points - the fourth best collegiate mark in the nation. In the fourth 100-meter hurdles race of her life, she clocked 13.97, a mere .5 of a second off national-class territory. This year Kaljurand also has tried, for the first time, the high jump (she cleared 5-7), sprinting (12.04 for 100 meters) and the javelin and shot put (42 feet and 142 feet) - all in the space of four months, with only limited training because of a recurring foot injury.

"She is a phenomenal athlete," says Poole. "We haven't begun to tap her talent."

So versatile and athletic is Kaljurand that at the High Country Athletic Conference championships two weeks ago in Fort Collins, Colo., she was scheduled to compete in the 100-meter dash, 100 hurdles, long jump, triple jump, javelin, 4 x 100 relay - and the heptathlon. Alas, a back injury forced her out of the competition. This weekend she will compete in the heptathlon in the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Durham, N.C.


Sign of the times: there's a Soviet attending school in Provo, and hardly anyone seems to know about it. Most of her classmates - presumably not geography majors - have never heard of Estonia. As a concession to such ignorance, Kaljurand must explain that her home is in the Soviet Union.

At least now she can explain. When Kaljurand first arrived in Provo, she was barely conversant in English; she is now fluent in English, not to mention Russian, Estonian and Finnish.

"She is a very good student," says Poole. And a very serious one. Take note, spoiled U.S. collegiate athletes: "One reason I wanted to come here was because I can study and train at the same time," she says. "At the (Soviet) camps, we never studied. We went to school when we were home, but I didn't learn anything. The teachers didn't demand anything, because they knew I would be gone again. Sport is a small part of my life. Then I have to have my education. I want to prove I can do both."

So far she is proving just that. Kaljurand, who majors in language (what else?), pulled a 3.8 grade point average last semester (she also has applied for a job to proofread Russian translations of the Book of Mormon).

In the meantime, her athletic career has found new life, although it procedes with caution. Kaljurand reinjured her foot during a February hurdle race and missed most of the indoor season. It is largely because of continued foot problems that she has devoted less time to the long jump and more time to other events. Her best jump this season is 19-11 1/4.

"I still have a fear of it (the foot) when I long jump," she says. "That's one reason I haven't jumped as well this year."

If anything, Poole, who blames the Soviet training regimen for her injuries, is undertraining Kaljurand to preserve her feet. "It was just too much for her to handle," he says. "They gave a 25-year-old's training routine to a 19-year-old. They had her doing jumping drills every day."

Looking ahead, there seems to be little doubt Kaljurand can improve significantly. She is still a baby in the heptathlon. And she has rarely lifted weights. "My strength is natural," she says.

Kaljurand plans to return to BYU next year, but that is not so much the question at the moment. The question is, can she go home again? Poole, for one, hopes the doors remain open both ways. "I'm going to recruit all those Eastern Bloc countries in the future," says the coach. "Those athletes are less expensive than American kids, and you know what else? They're thankful for the opportunity."