May 3, 2013
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
With a pair of All-Americans on the women's side and none for the men, Baylor doesn't exactly have a rich tradition in the triple jump.
But that's changing.
Freshmen Felix Obi and Brianna Richardson are both ranked among the best nationally and second in conference heading into the Big 12 Track & Field Championships that begin Friday at the Hart-Patterson Track and Field Complex.
"I was just lucky, and I think blessed, to have both of them come here and want to be a part of our program," said Baylor assistant coach Stacy Bowers Smith, who won the 1999 NCAA championship and set the collegiate record with a leap of 46 feet, 1 ¼ inches. "To have both of them - and have them doing what they're doing right now - is just phenomenal."
After shattering both the indoor and outdoor school records for the triple jump, Obi has his sights set even higher. The former state champion from El Paso (Texas) Franklin High School has goals of going 25 feet in the long jump and 54-6 in the triple jump.
"I just woke up one morning said that's a nice goal to be able to say I hit that as a freshman," said Obi, who ranks sixth nationally with an outdoor best of 52-9 ¼ after winning the Big 12 indoor championship with a career-best mark of 53-1. "My PR this year is 53-1, so I'm right there."
Obi capped off a phenomenal indoor track season by winning the Big 12 title - earning Outstanding Freshman of the Year honors - and then placing sixth at the NCAA Indoor Championships with a mark of 52-4 ½.
But he's just now coming out of what he called his "mid-season blues."
"My body started to feel tired and hurt," he said, "so I just tried to work through that. . . . I felt the same way last year. I didn't think I was going to make it through it. But I noticed toward the end of the year my body started to feel good. So this time, when I started feeling it again, I was just relaxed, because I knew my body would feel better. I wasn't stressed about it. . . . I'm expecting some big things this weekend and the weeks to come."
While Smith had to start from ground zero with Richardson in changing her form, her message to Obi was simple: Stop thinking so much.
"I tell him all the time, `I'm going to take your head off and just put it on the ground,''' she said. "He started to get those big jumps so early, he was rationalizing and thinking, `I should do this; I should do that.' And I was like, `Felix, you've got to stop. Just jump.' He has been power-jumping these past few meets, and he said he was finally starting to get it again. Just let it come, let it happen. Triple jump is a natural event. And when you do it right, it's beautiful."
That was Richardson's problem. She didn't know how to do it right.
"Through all my high school years, I really just went with the flow," said Richardson, who won back-to-back state championships at Rockwall (Texas) Heath High School and doubled in the long jump last year. "It just came naturally to me."
With little specific training for the triple jump, Richardson placed in the top two in each of her last three years in high school and was ranked 15th nationally with a leap of 40-10 ½.
"It's funny, because she was good - really good - in high school," Smith said. "And I told her, `That's amazing; you're just blessed with natural talent.'''
But when Smith started tinkering with each of the three phases of the triple jump - the hop, skip and jump - "We had days out here where she was on the ground just crying, `I just don't understand what you're telling me.'''
Months later, though, "she's starting to understand the concept of them," Smith said.
"I told her, `Once you get the technique down, you'll start to fly.' I just had to keep instilling that in her, and she had to start believing it. . . . She's still so young and so thin, getting her in the weight room is going to help a lot, and I think she will get stronger. But I'm actually seeing 43 feet in her this year. And that's just amazing. She's already gone 42-6, and I don't think I jumped that good my freshman year."
While Obi already holds all the school records, the bar is set much higher for Richardson. She's ranked second in the Big 12 and 16th nationally with her winning leap of 42-6 at the Michael Johnson Classic two weeks ago, but that's still more than 3 ½ feet shy of Smith's school record.
"Her being my coach, and having the record at Baylor, it just motivates me to come out and work hard every day to where I can strive to break that record someday," said Richardson, who was fourth at the Big 12 indoor meet. "She thinks I can get it, so I have faith that I can get it also."
The Big 12 Outdoor Championships begin at 12 noon Friday with competition in the men's decathlon and women's heptathlon events. Also on tap for the first day are the men's and women's hammer throw, the women's pole vault and the men's and women's 10,000 meters.
Baylor finished fourth on both the men's and women's side indoors, with the women ranked 21st and the men 36th going into the Big 12 outdoor meet despite losing a pair of All-Americans in hurdler Tiffani McReynolds and sprinter Everett "Tiny" Walker.
"I'm an old football coach, so you just move on with what you've got," head coach Todd Harbour said. "You can't dwell on what you don't have. . . . Not having those two is definitely something that we didn't want to happen, especially being at home. But we're going to protect them and make sure they have their healthy. We'll bring both of them back next year, and they'll be better for it. We still have good teams. We're not feeling sorry for ourselves."
Baylor's strength is in the field events, where Skylar White and Erin Atkinson rank among the top throwers in the country. Junior Blake Heriot is ranked third in the Big 12 in the 400 meters (46.53) and fourth in the 200 (20.86).
In one of its signature events - the 4x400-meter relay - the Baylor men are ranked first in the conference (3:03.90) and the women are second (3:32.12).