More than anything else, 2007 was the Year of Greg Billington in DODDS-Europe track and field. The Lakenheath senior, a member of the U.S. junior national triathlon team, won the 1,500- meter and 3,000-meter championships last May, breaking a 21-year-old mark in the 3,000.

But peeking out from Billington’s shadows in the last European championships was a collection of five freshman champions. Four of them are returning to defend their titles, and if they do, they just might make 2008 the Year of the Sophomore.

Of the five freshmen to win European championships last season, only girls high jump champ Itsuka Shiotani of Frankfurt International School is voluntarily vacating her crown.

She is, however, bowing out gracefully.

“Unfortunately, Itsuka will not return,” FIS coach Matt Battani wrote in an e-mail.

“She is focused on ballet.”

The other four — Marche Bobbs of Kaiserslautern (girls 800), Rebecca Borner of Wiesbaden (girls 300 hurdles), Michael Wallace of Ramstein (boys high jump) and Taylor Wright of Lakenheath (girls triple jump) — will be back when the season opens Saturday at Ansbach, Brussels, Heidelberg, Naples and Wiesbaden.

“Michael is back and looking to better his personal record in the high jump,” new Ramstein coach William Buckley wrote of Wallace, who won the high jump by clearing 6 feet, 2 inches.

Buckley added that his squad seems well-positioned to defend the boys team title.

“As usual, we have a very strong distance team, and should be very competitive in the 800, 1,500 and 3,000 along with the longer relays,” he wrote of a school that has won every cross-country championship this century. “We also have 16 athletes working out for the shot put and discus.”

Lakenheath coach Tami Anderson predicted a busy season for Wright, who jumped 34 feet, 9¼ inches to win her triple-jump gold last May. Anderson expects Wright to enter the 300 hurdles (Borner territory), 400 meters and the long and triple jumps.

“She will also rotate throughout the season in other events such as the 4x400 relay or the 100-meter dash, in order to increase her chances of qualifying for multiple events,” Anderson wrote in an e-mail.

Bobbs, who upended reigning champ and teammate Colleen Smith to win the 800 in 2:25.87 is eyeing a 400-800 double this season and hopes to help Kaiserslautern to its third straight girls title.

Of last year’s non-freshmen champs, Heidelberg senior Patrick Hess, who won the discus with a throw of 125-1½, was the only one from a DODDS school sure to return in 2008. All other 2007 winners were either seniors, have left Europe or were from international schools.

The 2008 European championships are again scheduled to be hosted by Wiesbaden, this year on May 23-24.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now