Watching the women’s high jump finals on a drizzly Saturday afternoon, a Washington, D.C. reporter offered up a suggestion.
“If they want to make track and field cool, put a person that height out there for them to jump over,” he said.
His logic is hard to argue. For the fans, a bar stretching horizontally over a mat is pretty abstract. But if they saw different people – perhaps even celebrities at the taller heights – it would be easier to accept just how impressive these athletes really are.
On that drizzly Saturday, the opening height was 5 feet, 10 ½ inches. Eleven of the 13 women in competition cleared that height. Those 11 women all jumped right over my head, with an inch to spare.
In the same breath, the man mentioned you could put a bus out in the horizontal jump pits. A school bus is usually 36-40 feet. Christian Taylor triple jumped 57 feet, 10 ¼ inches on his first attempt Saturday. He scratched on his second try, then passed on his final four for the win.
Seeing a man travel that far in three bounds is unbelievable. Seeing it with some context would further help people grasp this greatness.
Whereas Taylor came away with a relatively uncontested win, the women high jumpers put on a dazzling display of competition. Even without the helpers standing under the bar, they made track and field cool.
It started with the lineup competing.
There’s Amy Acuff, two weeks shy of her 37th birthday and a veteran of four Olympic games already.
There’s the youth movement in college superstar Brigetta Barrett and 15-year-old high schooler Gabrielle Williams.
And there’s the crowd-pleasing showman, Chaunte Lowe.
“Honestly I told Amy when I first met her, I was fighting the urge to have like starstruckness. Because both of these two, I spend ridiculous amounts of hours studying their film over and over and over again. To see them in person, especially [Acuff] in person for the first time ever, it’s really hard to keep your composure when you’re competing against her,” Barrett said. “It’s an amazing experience to have two of your mentors and track heroes jumping with you.”
Lowe’s boogeying during introductions and throughout the competition brought big-time cheers from the Hayward Field crowd, but they were nothing compared to the ovations reserved for Williams, who just finished her sophomore year of high school.
As the competition wore on, it was clear Lowe and Barrett were on top of their game.
Acuff and Williams, on the other hand, were up to the competition but needed more tries to make their clearances.
When Williams made it over the bar at the third height – 6-2 ¼ – the fans in Eugene erupted. They then sent her off with another huge cheer when she missed at 6-3 ½. Williams finished fifth in the competition — not bad for someone who can’t yet drive a car.
Acuff later made her fifth Olympic team by clearing 6-4 ¾ on her third and final attempt at that height.
She couldn’t match the theatrics put on by the other two, however.
Lowe cleared the bar on each of her first seven events. As the number of competitors still alive dwindled, Barrett began immediately following Lowe. As soon as Lowe would sail over a bar, Barrett would do the same.
That went on until they had each cleared 6 feet, 7 inches — the same height as Clyde Drexler.
In the process of getting over that height, both Lowe and Barrett surpassed Louise Ritter’s previous meet record of 6-6 1/3. While they were doing it, all eyes were on them – much to Lowe’s delight.
“I absolutely loved it. Usually when you go to Europe, you get that type of attention. But I want to say, even in Europe, I’ve never had that type of concentration. All the people that came out for the Olympic Trials, they were into it, they were watching us. So many people went out there and did their very best. That was really unique and exciting. I absolutely love the crowd here, I wish I could take them all to London,” she said.
After watching a competition as fierce as this one, I don’t think there’s any need to worry about making track and field cool: These athletes have a pretty good handle on it.