Column: A nation takes notice of bay area triple jumpers

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Wed. April 10, 2013 | John C. Cotey | Email

Column: A nation takes notice of bay area triple jumpers

CLEARWATER — East Lake High School’s Artavis Scott lay wincing on his back, his arms folded over his face. Lakewood High’s Shaquem Griffin lay next to him, moaning, writhing.

In what turned out to be an epic challenge for both, they went hop for hop, step for step and jump for jump in Monday’s midday heat, launching themselves into a sand pit over and over again then anxiously watching as the measuring tape was pulled taut.

Scott’s best effort went more 46 feet, and Shaquem was right there, too, but both were chasing Shaquill Griffin, Shaquem’s twin, who had set a meet record by leaping more than 47 feet.

The two recovered to make their final jumps, and Shaquem Griffin got his record back. And defended his PCAC title. Shaquill finished second, Scott was third.

Between all the good-natured trash-talking, all the determination — the brothers had competed over the weekend and hoped to skip their final jumps until the record changed hands and Scott got into the mix — and the breathtaking athleticism on display, it was the most exciting field event of the day.

“We’re putting the triple jump on the map,” Shaquem Griffin said.

That map, then, would be of the United States.

This season, Hillsborough High’s Jeremiah Green is the only high school jumper to break the 50-foot barrier, going 52-1 3/4 at the recent Florida Relays in Gainesville.

That would have placed Green seventh at the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships, and is just a little more than 21/2 feet off the bronze medal-winning jump from the 2012 Olympics.

At that same meet, Shaquill Griffin jumped 49 1/2, the fourth-longest jump in the country.

Scott held the No. 1 spot for a while, jumping 48 1/2 earlier this season, which is now 12th. Shaquem Griffin, a state champion last year, is No. 23, and East Lake’s George Campbell has the 30th-best jump.

“In … the … nation,” says Hillsborough sprint and jump coach Karieem Webb, shaking his head and repeating it for emphasis.

No need to convince Webb the triple jump is hot.

“I promise you,” he said, “I have had numerous athletes and coaches and parents come up to me and say I’m here to watch Jeremiah Green. And if you got the Griffin twins on the lineup? Well, the gate is going to get pretty crowded.”

For an event that is often difficult to find jumpers for, the triple jump — the ugly duckling of field events — may be Tampa Bay’s “It” event this season.

From a distance it looks odd, like kids jumping over puddles after an afternoon shower.

It lacks the elegance of the sprints, the excitement of the relays and the powerful crispness of the long jump. With pole vaulters and high jumpers soaring through the air, it’s easy to miss.

But it’s far from easy to master. Its three phases — the hop, the step and the jump — are some of the most technical in track.

“I was just an average triple jumper, probably around 35 when I started,” said Green, who signed a track scholarship with the University of Alabama. “You don’t learn this overnight. I see a lot of people come out and get frustrated. I try to tell them, it’s a process.”

Webb said when he first introduced former Hillsborough standout Terrence Mitchell to the event, “he fell face first into the pit. It took a whole year and a half to get him back on the runway to even consider the triple jump again.”

Mitchell went on to win silver in the event the next year.

While Green has the benefit of a very good triple jump coach (a luxury few track teams have) who produces great jumpers annually, it seems the Griffins are self taught.

As ninth-graders, they were encouraged in AAU to stick with the 400 and leave the triple jump alone.

“Someone telling me I can’t do something, that just made me want to do it more,” Shaquem Griffin said.

So he and his brother spent hours on YouTube learning technique and studying the jumps of Olympic gold medalist Christian Taylor, their idol.

“If they had a (full-time jump) coach, they’d be going 52 like me,” said Green, who along with Webb has helped the Griffins’ cause with tips when they compete together. “I think they’re going to go 50 before the season is over, though.”

Last year, Shaquem Griffin won a state championship after jumping 48-41/2, becoming only the third Pinellas County athlete to win the event and first since Boca Ciega’s Eric Leshore in 2006. Shaquem, if he can outjump his brother, will be trying to become only the second Tampa Bay boys jumper to win the event twice, joining Admiral Farragut’s Edward Manderson (1985-86).

Only Lakewood’s great Rose Richmond won it three times, in 1996, ’97 and ’99.

The competition between the twins has made the triple jump one of the hot events in a season of fantastic track and field performances, helped along by the Griffins’ knack for getting the crowd clapping as they loudly challenge each other.

“We feel like we’re setting a trend,” said Shaquill Griffin. “Were having fun, we’re laughing. I think you see more people watching and trying it now.”

Both Griffins are BCS-bound football players headed to UCF, and they’re exceptional 100-, 200- and 400-meter runners. But they seem most proud of being known for triple jumping.

Scott, one of the hottest football recruits in the country, has added to the competition. And Green is a rarity — a field competitor who draws in fans.

Shaquill Griffin, Green and Scott enter their district meets this week and next with the best jumps in their respective classes. As the competition gets better, so too should their jumps.

A new set of records, and a state title or three, seem just a hop, step and a jump away.

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