The high jump was one of the most entertaining of yesterday, Saturday, June 30. With the youngest competitor, Gabby Williams, Amy Acuff, trying for her fifth team, as well as AR holder Chaunte Howard Lowe, the competition proved to be fun to behold. Here is how David Hunter saw it.
A Daily Journal From The 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials / Track & Field
Highlights From Hayward
By Dave Hunter
July 1, 2012
The near-capacity crowd that packed Hayward Field yesterday was treated to a rare viewing opportunity in the Women’s High Jump. Those in attendance were able to witness a high jump legend turn back the hands of time to make her fifth Olympic team; to marvel at the skills of a dominating jumper in the prime of her career; to observe the rapidly-improving heir apparent; and to catch a glimpse of the future while watching a 15-year high school sophomore tie a world age-group high jump record.
Chaunte Lowe erased any lingering doubts that her sparse 2011 competitive schedule due to her maternity leave would limit her comeback capability. Jumping flawlessly through the first seven heights from 1.79 through 2.01, Lowe, her electric lemon knee socks flashing, displayed the domination that marked her 2010 season when she set the American outdoor record of 2.05m and was ranked #1 in the country and 6th in the world. Stylin’ in the pit with patented dance moves after soaring clearances, the two-time Olympian was enjoying herself and entertaining the crowd. Lowe, at age 28, was making it clear: she is still the American Queen Of The High Jump.
At the same time, up and coming Brigetta Barrett – viewed by many as the heir-apparent to Queen Chaunte – was nearly matching Lowe’s errorless run through the heights. Busting a few nifty dance moves of her own after each successful clearance, Barrett showed she was ready for this day. As the bar was raised, the 21-yeard old jumper dazzled the crowd with two first-attempt PR clearances at 1.98 and 2.01. Barrett’s earlier first-attempt miss at 1.95 was the only blot on her otherwise-pristine record when, with only Lowe and Barrett remaining, the bar was raised to 2.04.
Lowe capture the Olympic Trials win when neither Lowe nor Barrett could negotiate the 2.04 height – although each had one tantalizingly near-miss, with an errant trailing ankle dislodging the bar in each instance.
After the win, Lowe was grateful and candid about what it took to reclaim the performance level that positioned her for her Trials’ victory. “I had to keep myself up emotionally. I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics, but my kids come first. Cooking for two children while trying to adhere to my dietary regimen is hard. I just prayed, constantly prayed. My kids had some health issues. But my kids got better and I started to compete. I went to Europe and got my butt kicked left and right. I am so competitive. And getting beat drives me to get better. I ended up with my first world title indoors. My attitude was to just get to the track. And that’s how it goes. You just need the grace of God.”
While the Lowe/Barrett battle was raging, two other important stories were unfolding. Gabrielle Williams, a 15 year old from Sparks, Nevada, came into the finals as the current American age group record holder at 6′ 1 Â½”. Displaying uncommon poise for a high school sophomore, Williams worked her way through the heights. And when faced with bar at 1.89m [6’2 Â½”] she cleared it on her second attempt to tie the world age group record. Her grace under fire impressed the Queen. “When I first saw Gabby the other day, I thought she was a senior,” exclaimed Lowe. “And I thought, ‘Well, she still has one more hurdle to go: the freshman fifteen.’ You know, the fifteen pounds that you gain as a freshman in college. Then I found out that she was only 15 years old and then I thought, ‘Oh, no, she’s going to be great.’ She’s absolutely going to be great,” predicted Lowe. “She still has a lot of strength left. She just has to stay composed. All of us were out there supporting her. We wanted her to do well.”
But the story for the ages is likely to be the performance of Amy Acuff. If Chaunte Lowe is the American Queen Of The High Jump, then Acuff is the Queen Mum. Last fall, Acuff, a four-time Olympian and a multiple-time national champion, decided to come out of retirement to see if a run at another Olympic team berth was even feasible. During her post-competition remarks, the 36 year old high jump legend commented about her comeback journey. “I started out working on general fitness. And then I thought, ‘I wonder if I can still run. Am I still flexible?'” explained Acuff. “I didn’t start jumping again until November. I was horrible, just awful, until some time in the middle of January. Then the temperature broke some, and the timing started coming back. I was kind of surprised when I had my first meet and I jumped so well.” Coming into the Trials having previously cleared the “A” standard [1.95m], Acuff had positioned herself to be a serious competitor. In the finals, her extensive big-meet experience shined through. The veteran survived by notching two third-attempt clearances at 1.92 m and 1.95m to capture third place and to cinch a spot on her 5th Olympic team – a feat accomplished by only a select few track and field athletes.
And so this royal trio – the Queen, the Heir Apparent, and the Queen Mum – are off to London for the 30th Olympiad, to aspire to new heights as they take on the world. They will need to be at their best to prevail against the likes of Russia’s Anna Chicherova. But should they succeed, they would further affirm their claim to high jump nobility.