Dreams of becoming a two-time Olympic champion ended abruptly on Sunday for long jumper Jeff Henderson. The defending Olympic Gold Medalist from McAlmont failed to qualify for the Tokyo Games with a sixth-place finish in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials on Sunday in Eugene, Ore.
Henderson was among the favorites after beating many of the nation’s top long jumpers at the Chula Vista Field Festival on May 30, but he struggled to get his steps right with a new approach strategy in the sweltering heat on Sunday.
The event was halted in the late afternoon after three of the six rounds when temperatures reached 107 degrees on the track and at least one athlete (University of Arkansas heptathlete Taliyah Brooks) collapsed and had to be carried off the infield.
The men’s long jump didn’t resume until 11 p.m., but Henderson’s best jump was his first one during the scorching heat.
Employing a three-step walking start before sprinting down the lane, the 2007 Sylvan Hills graduate jumped 26-feet, 6 1/4 inches on his first attempt. Every jump from there was shorter and shorter. His second went 26-3 1/2. His third was 25-9 1/2. The fourth, at nearly midnight, was 25-6. The fifth came in at 25-4 3/4 and the last was 1/4 inch less than that.
The first jump, however, would have qualified Henderson for the Tokyo games had he launched himself from the board, but he took flight from about eight inches behind it.
Henderson’s trainer and coach, Al Joyner, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump, said Henderson was also suffering from the same kind of cramps that caused University of Arkansas favorite Jarrion Lawson to withdraw from the event. He believes that affected Henderson’s stride which caused his launch point to be well behind the board.
JuVaughn Harrison of LSU won the event with a leap of 27-9 1/2. Marquis Dendy was second at 27-6 and Steffin McCarter of Texas University got the final qualifying spot at 27 1 1/4.
If Henderson had launched from the right spot, his first jump would have beaten McCarter by an inch.
If Henderson, the only long jumper in the trials to have competed collegiately at the Division II level, could have matched his best jump from a month ago in Chula Vista, he would have finished second. His winning jump in the Rio games in 2016 would have only placed him third in Sunday’s trials. Henderson’s personal best is 28-feet, 2-inches.