Three centimeters. That's how far long jumper Jimmy Johnson has to go to get to Detrort and the NCAAs.
He almost made it last weekend at the Big Three meet Johnson leapt 24 ft. 10 in his personal best by more than three inches but tell half an inch short of the school record, and a little less than an inch shy of the NCAA qualifying distance.
He will have two more opportunities to qualify this weekend, the first at the Heptagonals in Ithaca, and the second a week later at the IC4As. He will spend all this week working on his approach.
"In long jumping the approach is everything, "the leggy leaper explains." "You have to combine accuracy and speed."
The long jumper's greatest danger is that he will step over the take-off board by mistake and disqualify his jump. In the GBCs Johnson leapt well over 25 ft. but was disqualified. In fact he fouled twice in the preliminary round and nearly didn't qualify for the finals.
Johnson has had his eyes on the NCAAs ever since his freshman year, but only this season have things really come together for him.
Hampered by a pulled hamstring freshman year, Johnson found himself barely able to jump more than 20 feet, three ft 8 inches less than his stellar opening scores. Eventually, things got so bad that he was heckled in an exhibition meet in Alabama. "People were jumping 24 and 25 feet and there I was jumping 21," Johnson recalled. "People in the crowd would yell, 'you don't want that one,' after I jumped."
Sophomore year, he fared no better. He pulled his other hamstring one week before the season opened, and didn't see action until the Heptagonals where he jumped around 22 feet.
But last summer, Johnson put in countless hours, training and strengthening himself, and at the same time developing a more released stretched out style.
When he won a phenomonal battle over long-time nemesis Russ Hartman with a 24ft 7 1/4 in leap at Northeastern, at finally became apparent that this was going to be Johnson's year.
Now that health is no longer an issue, Johnson is free to prepare himself mentally for competition. "I've had more time to put my jump together as opposed to putting my leg together," he says.
A good jump finds just the right balance of speed, strength, and accuracy. Too much speed and you foul. Too much caution and you lose distance.
"There's a difference between floating for awhile and taking off like you just hiccupped," he explains.
If Johnson is going to make it to Motown he will probably qualify at Cornell, which is reputed to have one of the best take-off boards in the country. Let's just hope that he doesn't get the hiccups this Saturday.