Friday, December 18, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Henderson signs with Adidas, set for big year

Leader sports editor

Except for a select few, track and field is not as lucrative as the other more popular sports, but McAlmont’s Jeff Henderson is finally making a living doing what he’s best at. Henderson, the 2015 Pan Am Games long jump gold medalist and No. 1 ranked long jumper in the world, recently signed a three-year deal with Adidas Apparel Company that will pay him approximately $70,000 per year. The deal also includes incentive bonuses, which, if reached, would total another $200,000.

“It’s not get-rich money, but at least it’s a decent living,” Henderson, a 2007 graduate of Sylvan Hills, told The Leader on Tuesday.

Since moving to the Olympic athlete training facility in Chula Vista, Calif., just outside of San Diego, Henderson has had his apartment and training paid for, but has made very little money, and has subsisted with the help of a charity fund for elite amateur athletes who need to train full time to stay at the top of their respective sports.

He’ll no longer have to depend on that fund. The Adidas money will be paid as a regular weekly salary, meaning Henderson will, for the first time in years, have a steady income.

“It’s nice actually having a little something,” Henderson said. “For a long time I didn’t have anything. I mean nothing. I’m thankful that my basic needs were taken care of, but it still got a little frustrating sometimes not having anything for yourself.”

Next year is a big one for the 26 year old. It’s an Olympic year, which means this year’s USA championships will double as the Olympic trials. Unlike other sports, almost everything for Olympic hopeful track and field athletes rides on that one meet. And as Henderson learned in last year’s world championships, bad luck in one meet can cost four years of hard work in an Olympic year.

Henderson produced a world best 8.52-meter jump for 2015 at the Toronto Pan Am Games. It was the United States’ first long jump title in the Pan Am Games since Carl Lewis did it in 1987. He went on to Olympic Gold in 1988.

But in the world championships in Beijing a month later, Henderson three times jumped farther than the winning jump by Great Britain’s Greg Rutherford, but two were fouls and one was from a takeoff point of nearly 30 centimeters behind the board, and went down officially as just 7.95 meters.

Rutherford won gold with a jump of 8.29 meters, which was shorter than Henderson’s preliminary qualifying jump of 8.36.

The USATF just announced their qualifying standards for 2016, and for men’s long jump, it will be 8.05 meters, or 26-feet, 5-inches. There is one way a long jumper can make the Olympic team even if he doesn’t finish in the top three at the Olympic trials. If Henderson, or anyone else, jumps the standard before the trials and doesn’t finish in the top three. If any of the top three at the Olympic trials did not meet the standard, and had not in any meet leading up to the trials, the athlete who has met the standard makes the team.

Henderson is also one of the best sprinters in America. Though he hasn’t turned in the same kind of worldwide elite performances in sprints as he has in long jumping, he has been right on the verge of breaking into that echelon.

Henderson has also been cross training for the last several months. A lifelong lover of football, Henderson has been receiving interest from a handful of NFL teams who want him to attend combines after the 2016 Olympics.

He’s worked out with two NFL teams in the past, but never gave a potential football career his full focus. With the culmination of all his years of work in track and field almost at hand, he has begun working towards a possible football career.

“Football is what I’ve always dreamed of playing,” Henderson said. “I’ve been training for football, sprinting and long jump – cross training. Coach (Al Joyner) is OK with it and I feel great. At first I was really sore after football combines, but this time it hasn’t been that way.”

Henderson will run sprints and catch some passes for three different NFL teams in February, but he didn’t want to say yet which teams they were. More tryouts could succeed the track and field season.