Tuesday, August 1, 2017

V 7 N. 53 (11) Jon Hendershott's Favorites - Women's Jumps


Women’s Jumps.

by Jon Hendershott

Among the slew of things (not sure how many a “slew” is, but it’s a lot!) I love about our sport is that there are young athletes constantly coming to the fore to challenge the established stars. Nobody ever gets to rest very long on his or her laurels.

In thinking about my most memorable high jump, I certainly harkened back to the ’72 Munich Olympics when young West German teenager Ulrike Meyfarth upset the world to take the title. And she returned no less than 12 years later in Los Angeles to win again.
Ulrike Meyfarth

Meyfarth in Munich

How unexpected was Meyfarth’s first win? At the age of 16 years, 123 days, she became the youngest-ever winner of any individual Olympic track & field medal. Yikes.

But my most memorable high leaping was produced by an athlete two years older than Meyfarth, but endowed with the same spring in her legs and steel in her disposition. Nevada high schooler Vashti Cunningham began making headlines in ’14 at age 16 when she cleared 6’3” (1.905) to set the still-standing prep sophomore class record. In ’15 as a junior, she first cleared 6’4¼” (1.94) at the Mt. SAC Relays, a jump I saw and was duly impressed by, of course. That summer, she climbed over 6-5 (1.96) to set an American Junior Record.
Vashti Cunningham

Jumping at World Indoors  in Portland 2016
The talent inherent in the rail-thin, lanky Cunningham shouldn’t have been a surprise: her father and coach is former All-Pro football quarterback Randall Cunningham and her older brother Randall Jr. won the ’16 NCAA for USC.

Vashti turned pro to begin the ’16 indoor season of what would have been her senior year in high school. But she seemingly doesn't subscribe to any theory that an athlete so young “shouldn’t” be jumping as high as she does and achieving what she has. Thanks goodness for that as her unflappable attitude helped contribute to my best HJ memory.

The ’16 World Indoor Championships in Portland were Cunningham’s first major-team international, yet she competed like a cool veteran. Of course, she had every reason to be confident: just eight days before the Worlds, she topped an undercover World Junior Record 6’6¼” (1.99) to win the U.S. Indoor title and set her career-high.

At the Worlds, she faced eventual Olympic champion Ruth Beitia of Spain but confidently cleared her first four heights on her initial attempts while the Spaniard needed two at 6’5”. That was enough to secure the global gold for the youngster.
Cunningham went on to take 2nd at last year’s Olympic Trials, making an outdoor PR of 6’5½” (1.97). She had a tougher time at the biggest show, finishing only 13th at the Rio Olympics.

But she is back strongly in ’17 after winning the U.S. outdoor title by matching her 6’6¼” best. She will now jump at the outdoor Worlds in London.
Of her quiet demeanor on the apron, Cunningham said, “I’m excited on the inside but keep it quiet on the outside.” Perhaps so, but she still adds an element of youthful excitement to the high jump and I look forward to seeing her jump high (and higher) for many seasons to come.

Stacy Dragila

What is better than one World Record? Why, two on the same day, naturally—and by the same athlete. Women’s vault pioneer Stacy Dragila treated me to both on a sun-splashed June 9 of 2001, at the Peregrine Systems Invitational meet at Stanford.

First a 5488-point heptathlete at Idaho State before being directed toward the vault by respected PV coach Dave Nielsen, Dragila began making history almost from the start of her vaulting career. She won the ’97 World Indoor title, the inaugural vault crown for women. She then tied the 15’1” (4.60) World Record to win the ’99 Worlds, the first  women’s outdoor vault championship. In 2000, she upped the mark to 15’1¾” (4.62) indoors before topping three more never-submitted heights ahead of elevating the record to 15’2¼” (4.62) to win the U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento.

Dragila next etched her name in Olympic history by again clearing 15’1” to claim the first-ever Games gold for women vaulters. Then during the ’01 indoor campaign, Dragila set four more WRs, the highest at 15’5” (4.70), a setting she equaled in her first outdoor meet of the season. Her next meet was the Stanford affair.

Dragila handled her first three heights on first attempt before needing a pair at 14’9½” (4.51). She made that on her second jump and notched the next setting, 15’1½” (4.61), again on her first attempt. Then Dragila asked for the WR mark of 15’5½” (4.71)—and she negotiated that record on her first try, as well.

Not content, the ever-competitive Dragila had the bar raised to another record setting: 15’9¼” (4.81). She missed her initial attempt, but then cleared cleanly on her second vault for the eighth outdoor record of her life and 13th overall.
She knew she was on a roll, so Dragila next had the bar raised to the unprecedented height of 16’0” (4.88). She made three solid attempts but her nine previous jumps caught up with her as she missed all.

But Dragila, just turned 30 two months earlier, had given a superb example of an athlete at the prime of her career. She would defend her world title later that summer in Edmonton, compete in three more Worlds and another Olympics and win a World Indoor silver.
Stacy Dragila - Best Moments

Dragila ultimately raised her personal best to 15’10” (4.83) in ’04. As the ’17 season began, she still stood at No. 4 on the all-time U.S. list, a testament to her dominating excellence in the early years of the new millennium.


She is nicknamed “The Beast” and with good reason. Give Brittney Reese the slightest prod of motivation and she will come back and beat you—sometimes on the last jump of the competition.
Brittney Reese
The native of Gulfport, Mississippi, who turned 30 last September, has an amazing knack for rising to the occasion when a major victory is up for grabs. I once asked her what is behind her uncanny ability to produce her longest jump when she needs it most and Reese replied, “After I got 5th in the ’08 Olympics, I broke down in tears on the bus back to the Athletes’ Village.

“I never wanted to feel like that again. I told myself that I would find any way possible within myself to get my best jump, to make sure I never had that feeling again.”

I was lucky enough in 2016 to twice witness Reese’s fierce determination come to the fore. First at the World Indoors in Portland, she led after four rounds thanks to her 22’10½” (6.97) opener. But then, Serbian star Ivana Spanovic hit a then-PR 23’2½” (7.07) on her fifth try to take over the lead.

Reese’s fifth effort taped out to 22’11¾” (7.00), not enough. When Spanovic failed to improve on her last jump, it was all left for Reese on the competition’s concluding leap. Exhorting the capacity Oregon Convention Center crowd to clap rhythmically for her, Reese pounded down the runway and hit the board perfectly.

She cut into the sand at a prodigious 23’8¼’ (7.22), the No. 2 U.S. indoor LJ ever behind only her own 23’8¾” (7.23) that won her the ’12 World Indoor title—naturally, on the last jump of that competition.

Afterward, Reese said, “It puts you in a tough position but it’s never intentional—I promise. I just always say to myself, ‘Last one, best one.’ If you’re going to win you have to put it all on the line.”

Brittney Reese Winning Jump Portland 2016

Three-and-a-half months later, Reese found herself in a similar predicament at the Olympic Trials. ’05 world champion Tianna Bartoletta, returning to serious long jumping after several seasons of 100-meter sprinting, led with her opening-round 23’½”w (7.02). Reese got close on her first effort of 22’11¼” (6.99), but then fouled her second and reached a paltry 17-feet-plus on her third.

But on her first jump in the finals, Reese did it again: hitting the board ideally, she soared out to a career-long 23’11¾” (7.31) for the lead and a share of No. 2 American all-time. Neither she nor Bartoletta improved and Reese had defended her Trials title.
Said Reese, “I knew in the qualifying yesterday when I jumped 7.01 [a windy 23’0”] easily that today would be special. I proved myself right.” Reese has proven again and again her amazing ability to respond. It has made for utterly memorable jumping.


On August 10, 1995—three days after Britain’s Jonathan Edwards twice broke the triple jump World Record at the World Championships—the same runway in Göteborg’s Ullevi Stadium witnessed more history. This time the author was then-28-year-old Ukrainian Inessa Kravets.
Inessa Kravets

But as the ’93 World Indoor champion readied for her third attempt in the finals, she was in trouble: she had fouled her first two jumps. She confirmed later that she couldn’t adjust to the hyper-fast runway that had carried Edwards to not only his two global records in the men’s event, but also to history’s first—and so far only—60-foot leap.

So Kravets lengthened her approach run, then proceeded to bound down the runway and hop-skip-and-jump out to a totally unexpected 15.50:
a World Record 50’10¼”. She thus became the first woman to exceed 50-feet as she extended the WR by 41cm, or 16”. Russia’s Anna Biryukova had become the first woman to exceed 15.00 (49’2½”) with her record 15.09 (49’6¼”) to win the previous world title in Stuttgart.

Iva Prandzheva
Anna Biryukova

Prior to the monster leap by Kravets, history’s only 15-meter jump had been Biryukova’s record. But by the end of that day in ’95, there had been four more as Bulgaria’s Iva Prandzheva bounced out to 15.18 (49’9¾”) on her fourth effort to overtake the 15.08 (49’5¾”) Biryukvoa had produced on her third effort. Prandzheva added a final-round 15.00.

Kravets' WR in Gotberg

Biryukova's WR in Stuttgart

Bringing together history’s three-longest jumpers had resulted in a massive rewriting of the all-time list. Kravets, who went on to win the ’96 Olympic crown, also revealed after her record that she had been inspired before her historic leap by no less than a photo of Edwards’s record. It was the most spectacular day of women’s triple jumping ever seen.

(Next: women’s throws & heptathlon)

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