Iowa high jumper breaks seven-feet barrier

BY BEN SCHUFF | JUNE 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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Physically, clearing a 7-foot bar is an attainable mark for many Division-I high jumpers.

But, mentally? That’s a different story.

“It’s like a magic height people stress about,” Iowa high-jump coach Christi Smith said. “A lot of guys at lower bars jump higher than 7 feet. It’s just like 7 feet has that fear factor to it.”

Iowa’s Jeff Herron had a hard time describing what it is about the 7-foot mark that is so difficult to overcome. The high jumper best described it as simply “a mental barrier.”

“It’s such an exclusive club,” the junior said. “It’s like there are the 7-footers, and then there is everyone else. Only a couple of inches separate the elite jumpers.”

More than 500 college athletes posted marks in the high jump during the outdoor season. Only 58 jumped 7 feet or higher. Herron joined that club on May 27 at the NCAA West Regional, when the 21-year-old cleared the bar at a career-best 7-1⁄4 in Eugene, Ore.

Iowa head coach Larry Wieczorek said he was a bit surprised to see Herron continue to the NCAA track and field national championships in Des Moines this week.

“I think that’s the nature of those qualifying meets — when somebody who’s a favorite doesn’t make it, and you get a surprise,” Wieczorek said. “[Then] somebody makes the most of that opportunity to get a personal best and put himself in the meet, such as Jeff Herron.”

Clearing the 7-foot bar was a goal Wieczorek talked about for all three of his high jumpers during the outdoor season. Herron, Graham Valdes, and Brandon Oest hovered around the mark throughout the year, with all three jumping 6-103⁄4.

Herron finally achieved Wieczorek’s goal — and at one of the biggest meets of the year, no less.
The West Regional was also one of his cleanest meets of the year; Herron had one miss on his five jumps.

“He stayed aggressive,” Smith said. “He did a really good job of staying focused throughout all his jumps.”

The high jump finals are scheduled to start at 5:20 p.m. on Friday. When the competition begins in Drake Stadium, Herron will jump with the mindset that he belongs there.

Although the Hawkeye admitted he could have benefited from jumping 7 feet earlier in the year, he said doing it at regionals gives him that much more momentum heading into the finals.

“It’s all about performance on the day,” he said. “I’ve got the confidence now to jump with the best.”

Herron will probably be an underdog in Des Moines — the top mark entering the finals is 7-7, and 11 of the 24 high jumpers who will be in the finals have jumped 7-3 or higher — but Smith and Wieczorek said they hope Herron can set a new personal-best.

“It would be a lot to ask and say, ‘Jeff, let’s go make 7-3 or 7-4,’ ” Wieczorek said. “If he can go in there and make [7- 1⁄4 ] again, I don’t think we’re going to be unhappy.”

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