Tianna Bartoletta, photo by PhotoRun.net
Dave Hunter wrote this feature on Tianna Bartoletta and her return to the long jump, and her success in 2014, and her dreams for the future. Tianna Bartoletta is a prime example of elite athletes need for discernment in evaluating their careers. Tianna reached out to Loren Seagrave, who has not only helped her with her start, but the renewed speed has added to remarkable jumping in 2014, with her 7.02 meters.
Watch for some big ones in 2015!
Solving The Life Puzzles
Tianna Bartoletta Brings Insightful Approach To Sprinting, Long Jumping
As Tianna Bartoletta loaded into the blocks for the start of the USATF Indoor Championship 60 meter dash final earlier this month, her game face made it apparent she was bringing a level of mental preparedness she had not evidenced in earlier sprint races this indoor season. Aided by a text-book start she has been refining under the watchful eye of IMG's Loren Seagrave, the multiple-time global medalist swiftly and smoothly powered into her drive phase and halfway into the race the outcome was clear: Bartoletta would successfully defend her indoor sprint title with her first victory of the season. "I was discouraged about the indoor season all the way until we got to nationals. My start was probably the difference maker there. But there is some behind-the-scenes stuff that has to happen for me to be able to do that in the first 30 meters of the race."
Bartoletta has made a career out of detecting and resolving issues as they have come up in her life - and especially in her track & field career. Her latest adjustment was addressing the champagne problem of knowing how to step out of the stress-free catered training environment of IMG Academy and channel her competitive drive in competitions. "I have noticed that I am not always geared up emotionally for the challenge, of the effort I need to expend for the race," the reigning USATF 100m champion reveals. "Now my life is so stress-free, I have actually found it quite difficult to be able to tap into that kind of fire that I need to run in that kind of reckless way that I need to run. And I was only able to get to that point at indoor nationals when my 60m dash title was on the line. But I now know what that feels like and what I have to do to work up to that. So my season won't be as inconsistent leading up to outdoor nationals."
The track & field journey of Tianna Bartoletta has been one of insightful learning. After a sparkling prep career in northeastern Ohio where she won 9 state medals and set 2 state records, she enrolled at the University of Tennessee. Mired in the long jump during her freshman year with marks around 20 feet, Bartoletta received - and followed - performance enhancing advice from one of her UT coaches. "At the end of my freshman year, Coach Vince [Anderson, now at Texas A&M] took me aside and told me, 'With the speed that you have on the runway, you can't be scared to jump. What I see is that you are afraid of that speed when you jump,'" offers Bartoletta in explaining the scary aspect of jumping while running at full speed. "And then he told me, 'When you commit to taking that first step on the runway, you have to think of yourself like a Japanese Kamikaze pilot. Once you sign on for that mission, that's it. When you take that first step on that runway, there's no turning back; there's no slowing down; there's no getting scared.' And so I was able to start carrying tremendous amounts of speed to the board and not be scared. It was mostly mental." Just like that, the young long jumper was able to incorporate Anderson's suggestion into her attempts. Within a few short weeks, the UT freshman was jumping 21' 6".
Bartoletta's eye-popping long jump progression sent her coaches scurrying. Plans to compete in the World Juniors were scrubbed as the young jumper was redirected to the 2004 Olympic Trials. Competing in the Trials against Marion Jones, Grace Upshaw, and the rest of the nation's best jumpers, Bartoletta - barely 19 - was the youngest athlete to make the finals. The heady competition provided her with invaluable experience. And without hesitation, Bartoletta reveals, "I think that decision [to bypass Junior Worlds and compete in the 2004 Olympic Trials] completely changed the trajectory of my career." Indeed. Slightly more than a year later, the young long jumper was the World Championship gold medalist on the strength of her winning leap of 6.89m / 22'7¼".
Bartoletta soon incorporated sprinting into her repertoire - a pursuit complementary to the long jump and a welcomed respite from the punishing grind of the horizontal leap. Along the way, Bartoletta The Sprinter picked up dash hardware in global competitions - 3 World Championship medals in the indoor 60m [silver in '06 and bronze in both '12 and '14] and an Olympic gold in '12 while leading off the world record-setting USA team in the 4 x 100m relay in London. And last year, the sprinter/jumper's victory in the 100m at the USATF national championships represented her first outdoor national individual sprint title.
But the highlight of Bartoletta's 2014 outdoor season has to be her re-embrace of the long jump. After 7 years without serious jumping and a PR of 6.89m that dated back to 2005, the former world champion ventured back onto the runway.
Her long jump performance at the Oslo Diamond League gathering was especially memorable. "There were so many things going through my mind. It was the first Diamond League jump meet that I was nervous for," Bartoletta confesses. "Also, my husband wasn't there. I have gotten really spoiled with him being at all my meets with me. I was feeling like I was missing my better half." But the former world champion found a way to turn it around. "I told myself that I do have speed and this ridiculously competitive nature. So here I am basically back in that same caliber field with a 6.89 PR - a personal best which was not one of the top PR's in the field either. But I'm in the meet, so I want to win the meet. So I told myself I am the fastest jumper. I told myself to just run as fast as I can and just jump straight up in the air - not reach for anything, not do anything - just run and jump up." Bartoletta - who can span beyond 10 feet in the standing long jump - tore down the runway on her initial attempt and uncorked an amphibian-like leap: 7.02m / 23'¼". That jump - the world's longest performance in 2014 - led a season-total Bartoletta quartet of the four longest jumps in the world last year. Those performances helped propel Bartoletta to the 2014 Diamond League long jump title - and back into the LJ limelight.
Tianna Bartoletta is frank - not coy - about her dream board for the future. She hasn't ruled out some experimentation with a multi event. "I've thought about it," she admits. "But the thought of running the 800m - and training for it! - kind of scares me." But she gets serious as she reflects about her primary events. "I am trying to see how far I can take this before retirement - whenever that is," she states without hesitation. And she's specific: "For me that is running 10.7 in the 100m and jumping 24 feet. I want the individual outdoor medals: I want to get that world championship long jump medal back. I want to get an individual medal in the 100m," reveals Bartoletta as she taps on the table for emphasis. "I want to contribute my services to the 4 x 1 and bring home a medal in that as well - for the next three years. Not just this year - for '15, '16, and '17."
Bartoletta - who wants to do it all on the track and on the field - rules nothing out about her life after her sprinting and jumping career has concluded. So what will she tackle? "That's the hardest question of all!," she laughs. "The issue I am having is that I am interested in so many different things. And I would love to do so many different things that there isn't one thing that I would do that would probably maintain my interest for any long period of time." Stay tuned.
Performing as she is at the absolutely highest world class levels in both the 100 meter dash and the long jump, Bartoletta - who hates to rule out anything - is frequently asked which is her better event. Well, which is it? Bartoletta takes a moment to reflect. "I don't believe I have a better event anymore," replies the athlete who has captured global golds both as a sprinter and as a jumper. "And it's because both events aren't really just track and field events to me. They're almost like life puzzles," she adds with a smile. "And each event requires me to grow and change and learn things about myself that I otherwise would not have learned. The 100m demands a totally different set of character traits than the long jump does. And so I cherish them both now. In the past, I would have favored the long jump - it's more fun, it is not as intense. But now, being able to run with the best of them in 100m and being able to jump with the best of them in the long jump are both gifts that when I retire will have contributed equally to who I am as a person." Armed with all of the pieces, Tianna Bartoletta - dedicated, insightful, poised, ambitious, and tough - is assembling a full, rich, and complete life mosaic of her own design.