Tuesday, June 29, 2021

You should know who this man is and what he accomplished


In an Olympic year such as this, we're almost inundated with amazing athletic performances. The world's best amateur athletes (probably the best athletes, period) get together and do things that, unless you're very familiar with their particular sports, are difficult to fully appreciate.

Take gymnast Simone Biles, for instance. It is next to impossible to hear too much about her, because she is a generational  probably once-in-a-lifetime  talent. She does seemingly superhuman things so often that casual fans of gymnastics like me quickly lose perspective on just how uniquely gifted she is.

The same is true of track and field, long one of the marquee sports of the Summer Olympics. What track athletes accomplish in terms of speed, skill, and hardcore competitive spirit is breathtaking. I could watch Olympic track events all day.

Which is why I feel like you and I should know the name JuVaughn Harrison. That's him flying through the air in the photo at the top of this post.

Over the weekend, this 22-year-old from Huntsville, Alabama, qualified for the Olympics in both the long jump and high jump at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in baking-hot Eugene, Oregon.

We could stop right there and his achievement would be historic. No one has competed in both of those events in the same Olympics in more than 100 years, since the great Jim Thorpe did it. Technically speaking, they are very different events and require very different talent, skill, and execution.

But get this: Harrison not only qualified for the Olympics in both events, he won both events. If you're a non-track person, I'm not sure I can describe for you just how mind-boggling this is. He beat out a long list of highly trained specialists to take first place in both jumps.

That's...unheard of.

For the record, Harrison long jumped 27 feet, 9 1/2 inches (8.47 meters) and high jumped 7 feet, 7 3/4 inches (2.33 meters). Try measuring out those distances sometime and marvel at the fact that a single human being could leap horizontally and vertically that far/high.

I won't get into it here, but it's interesting to note how the quality of long jumping has diminished since the 1980s and 90s, when we as fans were absolutely spoiled by the likes of Carl Lewis, Mike Powell, Dwight Phillips, Ivan Pedroso, etc.

There are a lot of theories as to why the top long jumpers don't go as far as they used to, but that doesn't take away from what JuVaughn Harrison accomplished in Eugene, and what he could accomplish a month from now in Tokyo.

Remember his name.

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