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Interview With High Jump Champion Amy Acuff, Part 1

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Interview With High Jump Champion Amy Acuff, Part 1

Amy Acuff clears the bar during the 2004 Olympic high jump final

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
One of the greatest high jumpers in U.S. history, Amy Acuff appeared in four Olympic games, finishing as high as fourth at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Between 1995 and 2009 she won 11 U.S. championships (six outdoor, five indoor). She won five NCAA championships for UCLA (two outdoor, three indoor) plus the 1997 World University Games title. The 6-foot-2 Texas native currently lives in California. Away from the track, she is married to pole vaulter Tye Harvey and is a licensed acupuncturist after completing a four-year program at the Academy of Oriental Medicine in Austin, Tex. I spoke to her at the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association clinic in early 2009, which Acuff, then 33, said was likely to be her final competitive year.

In part one of our interview, Acuff discussed her track and field career, which began at age five.

On her first track and field competitions.
“I started AAU summer track when I was five. I did one race when I was five and then when I was six I was a regular.”

On what attracted her to the sport.
“I had an older brother who did track and I would go along and I’d kind of be playing off to the side, or be watching. I never liked just being a spectator. I always wanted to participate. So of course I wanted to get in there and do it for myself as early as possible.”

On her high jump beginnings.
“I tried it, maybe a couple times somewhere in there, but then I really started doing it when I was 12, through schoool track ... My coach said, ‛Go do the high jump. Get some extra points.’ You know, you’re always trying to pick up those team scoring points ... after the first year I started really displaying some advanced skills in the event, after maybe a year-and-a-half. And the summer after my eighth grade year it was really apparent that I’d be a really good high jumper. So from that point on I was very dedicated to my practices and learning about high jumping.”

On not having a jumps coach in high school.
“We had a track coach who was quite good but, when you have one coach for all of the events, generally (the coach’s specialty is) sprints and they’re not going to know about some of the individual technical events. I would pretty much kind of go off by myself – mainly in the summertime, in summer track, is when I would really spend a lot of time out there training and jumping and learning by trial and error. Back then (training materials) weren’t as accessible, but I sent off for a few videos and I think I had some written literature that I’d consult. Some video of Joni Huntley and Dwight Stones high jumping in the 70s in their green tights. It was classic.”

On her first jumps coach, Bob Kersee, at UCLA.
“Toward the end of my first year he started coaching me. He was living in St. Louis, Mo., so he was a volunteer coach and he would come in and out and he would be gone for a few weeks and then he would come in. Once it was around conference time and nationals he would be there pretty regularly but, again, there was a lot of time spent alone. But at least I would do all my training with the sprinters, then on days that I would jump I would go over to the pit by myself and I was the only high jumper, so I would just do my jump workout by myself.”

On making the 1996 Olympic team.
“It was really fun because my college roommate also made the team, Suzy Powell, a discus thrower. So that was really fun getting to share all the excitement with my best friend. We were both going and comparing notes on things and had a real similar experience.”

On her career highlights.
“To me, U.S. Championships are always about making the team, whether it’s a World Championship team or an Olympic team, that’s always the main focus. Probably my career highlight was coming fourth in the Athens Olympics (2004). I jumped really well. Anytime you can get within a couple of centimeters of your personal best at the biggest meet is a real achievement.”

On her performance at the Athens Games.
“I had been jumping well in the meets prior. I was in good fitness. I had also been jumping well through the summer. You kind of peak in the summer, so things generally improve at that time of year. I was in a good spot physically, no injuries. But you never know. It’s such a crap shoot. You can’t predict what’s going to happen.”

On the Beijing Olympics.
“Beijing was really interesting. I studied traditional Chinese medicine, I have my master’s degree in that. Although I was in the bubble of the village wrapped in all things athlete, and not really exposed too much to the culture, I could really appreciate that sense of history and being there. They put so much effort into it. Everything blew your mind.”

On where she ever pictured herself competing in four Olympic games.
“I think I did imagine that. I thought I would be jumping until this age. When I think about going another four years, through London (in 2012), I just don’t think I can make it that long. My foot, my poor takeoff foot has taken so much abuse. How many hundreds of thousands of jumps – there’s just some structural issues that develop over time and I’ve lasted a lot longer than most. So I think I’ll be retiring at the end of this year (2009).”

Read part 2 of this exclusive interview with American high jump champion Amy Acuff.

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