Tuesday, July 12, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Jumping Jeff gets send-off

Leader sports editor

After winning the men’s long jump in the U.S. Olympic Trials, McAlmont’s Jeff Henderson returned home for a week with his family. He went back to his apartment and training facility in Chula Vista, Calif., on Sunday, but not without a sendoff celebration at his parents’ (Laverne and Debra Henderson) home on Saturday.

It had only been a week since officially becoming an Olympian, something he’s trained hard for since taken under tutelage by 1984 Olympic Gold medalist Al Joyner three years ago. Most of those in attendance at the party in his honor on Saturday were old friends, family and acquaintances, but in the short time since making the Olympic Team USA, the usually reserved Henderson is already experiencing a taste recognition.

“It started right away,” said Henderson from his parents’ living room on Saturday. “In the airport leaving Portland, (the trials were in Eugene, Ore.) all kinds of people recognized me and were stopping me, asking for autographs. It’s going to take some getting used to. I’m not that outgoing of a person. But it’s something I’m prepared for. My goal is to win a Gold medal in the Olympics, and I know that’s going to make me well known. So I’m ready for it.”

Henderson jumped a personal best 28-feet, 2-1/4 inches to win the trials, which was also counted as the 2016 U.S. Outdoor Championship. He says he can go farther, and, in fact, has done so. Only it was a jump that didn’t count because he stepped over the scratch line. He came down right in front of the 30-foot mark on the large measuring board that unofficially gives a quick indication of how long a jump is. The world record is 29-6 set by Mike Powell in 1992.

Despite the scratch at last year’s world championships, it proved to Henderson that he could go even farther.

“I landed right at the edge of the pit,” Henderson said of that jump. “Overall, that was a really disappointing meet for me. I had another really long jump but I took off from way back behind the board. I probably had the two longest jumps that day, but I finished like ninth or 10th or something. But it showed me how important it is to work on positioning, and also that I can still go even farther than I have so far.”Henderson had always been ahead of the curve in long jumping. He was a high school state champion and record-setter, but excelled more in sprints in college.

He continued to compete independently after graduating when Joyner noticed him and knew he could be an elite long jumper.

Henderson had always utilized the “hanging” technique of jumping, but blossomed into the two-time U.S. champion and Pan Am Games Gold medal winner after working with Joyner and switching to the “hitch-kick” technique, which resembles continuing to run after springing from the scratch board.

“Some guys still use the hanging method,” Henderson said. “There’s nothing really wrong with it. Most guys use the hitch kick. My jumps just kept getting longer and longer after I switched to the hitch kick. So now that’s all I work on.”

Henderson is so introverted, he spent a great deal of Saturday’s party in his honor inside the house with family members and a handful of his closest friends. When a family member walked in and asked him if he was hiding, Henderson responded, “I guess you could say that.”

It was easy to see why he waited. Once outside, dozens of people gathered for his attention, pictures and autographs. He accommodated everyone with calmness and an easy smile.

Despite his reserved nature, he does plan on providing some flash at the Olympics. An equipment mix-up at the trials turned into a blessing, and some new shoes.

Henderson packed his sprint spikes instead of his jumping spikes when he flew to Oregon, and while they are more flimsy and offer less support, they felt better off the board than his jumping spikes.

He signed an endorsement deal with Adidas last fall after winning Gold at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, and the shoe company agreed to design a new set of spikes for Henderson that will provide the support of his old jumping spikes, and the feel off the board that he liked from his sprinting spikes.

And they’ll be platinum.

“You know I got to bring some style into it,” Henderson said. “I couldn’t do gold because Michael Johnson’s already done that. So Adidas is making me a new shoe like I want, and they’re going to be solid platinum.”