Sha’Keela Saunders is an American long jumper, who took 3rd in the long jump, in the 2017 US Championships, and won the 2018 US Championships with a leap at 6.54m. In 2019, Sha’Keela Saunders was 9th in the Doha World Championships. Sha’Keela Saunders’ PB is 6.90m in the LJ.
This is Stuart Weir’s interview with Sha’Keela Saunders.
Ten questions to Sha’Keela Saunders
Sha’Keela Saunders is a long-jumper who has represented the USA at the last two world championships. We introduced her last week with her fun-take off of the idiosyncrasies of long-jumpers.
On twitter I asked if long-jumpers were prima donnas. Kori Carter assured me that jumpers were “as cool as a polar bear’s to nails”. So now you know! This week we get to know Sha’Keela a bit deeper. I have to say that there have been interviews which has started better. I felt I needed know about her intriguing first name. She replied ” I am not sure that my name has any historical significance but my nickname, growing up was Keela but now my nickname is Shak, which coach Flo created” I was so glad I asked that question!
1. How did you get involved in Track and & Field?
Growing up from about four years old I was a basketball player. I played in the neighborhood. Some of the boys would play tag football and I joined in. One day, when I was about eight, I was running in the cul de sac and there was an AU coach who lived there. I was out-running all the boys and the coach stopped me and asked if I would like to run track. I said I needed to ask my mom and he walked home with me. My mom said she didn’t care and from then on I have been running track.
2. Why long jump?
My first event was 400m and from nine years old all the way through high school. But in middle school and high school I would do extra events for extra points, sometimes 400, 100, 200, long jump and triple jump. When I was 15 years old I jumped 18 feet [5.49m] then I was long jumping 19ft 8 inches [5.99m], pretty consistently and but in my senior year in high school, I tore my ACL. Going into college I was recruited only for heptathlon. However, the coaches at the University of Kentucky were all fired by coach Flo, when he came in. When he had a look at me, he told me I would become a long jumper. While I was recruited for heptathlon, I never ever tried it!
3. Wasn’t it hard doing a 400m so young?
One of the things that Coach Flo values about me is my work rate. I feel that I’m at a disadvantage as a jumper because of my height and my size. So my work ethic has got me really far. I can thank the 400m for that. Running the 400m just makes an athlete a little tougher.
4. You have done some triple jump
I wish I would have taken triple jump more seriously. I always did triple jump for extra points – at college, at nationals and at conference. In high school I did it for extra points at the state championship. I feel that my bounding compared to my triple jump marks don’t add up. While I wish I’d taken it more seriously, I think I’ve missed my time.
5. What was your college highlight?
The highlight was definitely 2017 at indoor nationals. In my freshman year and all the way through I have always placed second or third at nationals. In 2016, at the Olympic Trials, I placed fourth as a junior on the track and a senior in college. So I was fourth in the Olympic trials after placing third at NCAA in 2016. I decided enough is enough and I’m going to cut everything out and everybody was on board really helping me to focus for the 2017 season – my contract year and my senior year. And I said “I’m going to win NCAA” and I jumped 6.90 to win the indoor, the second best all time NCAA performance. I missed the collegiate record by 1 cm.
6. What is coach Edrick Floreal like?
I like to say that Coach Flo is an armored shield on the outside and a teddy bear on the inside! And in public, he only lets people see his hard side. But his athletes know the real Coach Flo and he’s very encouraging. He can be very stern and realistic with us but I think that keeps me on track. It gives me a toughness. He’s very technical I would say that if I put in as much time as he does, I would probably be world champion by now! He puts in a lot of time, day in day out. You get a workout videos from Coach Flo at 3:00 AM! And you are like “what’s he doing up at this time studying my workout videos?” but it’s his passion and he puts 110% into his coaching.
7. Who is in your training group?
Kori Carter, Kendra Harrison, Teahna Daniels
8. What is a training week like?
Mondays and Fridays are the days to dread! On Monday you have a long interval session and you can expect your gluts to burn at the end of practice. Tuesday and Thursday are very technical days. Wednesdays are active recovery days, a pool workout or just some stretching, skipping and jogging. Mondays and Fridays are the intense days where we have broken 400s or repeat 200s.
9. What do you mean by very technical?
Believe it or not my long jump days are grouped with my long runs on Mondays and Fridays. First of all, the long jump and then I have to do the running with Kendra Harrsion and the sprinters we have here. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I am working on my speed mechanics (doing things like hurdles and before a meet we’re doing bungees). We are working on block starts. Tuesdays and Thursdays are very mechanical days and Mondays and Fridays my jump technical days – anything from short approach jumps to hurdle drills, from just practicing take off to full approaches. Lately we have been doing one step jumps, working on the penultimate step. We also lift weights at 6:00 AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
10. US champs top five for the last five years, does that impress you as much as it impresses me?
Here’s the thing. Typically before USAs, I’m doing an evaluation of the whole season and I’m making the appropriate changes that I feel need to be made before the championships so that I make sure I get myself on to the team. And afterwards when I make the team I get really frustrated with myself and think “you know the things you have to do to jump far enough to make the team, so why weren’t you doing them all year?” I think that during the year, especially in February to May, I tend to settle too easily for less than I’m capable of. I seem to fall asleep during the season when I should be getting down to the things that I need to do earlier. So, I finish up panicking and rushing myself in my preparation. It’s late May and early June before I’m preparing for USAs.