Lister Wins Triple Jump Gold and Earns Trip to
BY ANDRES FOCIL
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Former Razorback and five-time NCAA champion Melvin Lister earned a trip to the Olympics when he claimed gold in the triple jump at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials in dramatic fashion as he recorded a lifetime best and Trials record of 58-4.00 on his final attempt. Lister was considered an underdog, because he was entering the event based on a Trials “B” standard mark of 53-11.75 from the Mt. SAC Relays in April. Lister knew he faced a challenge because, this year’s triple jump competition was the deepest ever on American soil and ranked among the best ever on the international scene.
The winner of the 2000 Trials in the long jump, Lister was discouraged after he finished in seventh place last Saturday. The triple jump would be his last chance to make the U.S. Olympic Team. Interestingly enough after the Sydney Games he did not triple jump competitively for the next three years. His personal best stood at 55-10.25, which came at the 1999 Texas Relays.
“All I knew was that I had lost the long jump and that’s what I won in 2000,” Lister said. “I also knew I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t the favorite coming into the triple jump. I wanted to show everyone who Melvin Lister was and get respect. At first when I lost the long jump I was really down, but it gave me a lot of adrenaline to push into the triple jump.”
Lister qualified for the triple jump finals on Thursday with a new personal best leap of 56-0.25. He opened today’s competition with another personal best of 56-5.75 to take the lead at the end of the first round. Defending U.S. champion Kenta Bell then took over with a 57-0.75 in round two, which stayed atop the standings, but was challenged by the 57-0.25 of Sydney finalist Walter Davis in the third round.
Bell immediately extended his lead to 57-8.25 as the competition reached a halfway mark. One of Lister’s training partners, Tim Rusan, moved ahead of him into third with a 57-0.00 on his fourth jump. Lister responded with another personal best of 56-10.75, which had no effect on the overall standings but significantly raised his confidence level. Hovering in an Olympic-less fourth place, Lister then flew down the runway and posted a world-leading 58-4.00, which held up as the winner.
Next on the runway was Davis, who improved his position from third to second with a personal best 57-10.25, while Bell made a valiant effort to improve his third-place spot with a final attempt of 57-7.75. Former Hog Robert Howard finished in fifth place with a jump of 55-7.00 that he achieved on his second attempt in the first round.
“Before I hit that record my legs were getting tired, but I wanted to make the team real bad,” Lister said. “I reached down and I wanted it bad. I had to get a big jump to make the team. I knew I had to PR to make the team.”
With his performance Lister moves to the No. 5 position on the all-time U.S. list and is now No. 20 on the all-time world list. It was the best triple jump in the world since 2002 and the best jump by an American since Kenny Harrison won gold in Atlanta with 59-4.25. Ironically, when Lister broke the Trials record he bumped off another former Razorback great, Mike Conley. Conley was a nine-time NCAA champion while at Arkansas and went on to capture the Olympic triple jump gold medal in 1992. That was the same year he established the Trials record at 58-0.25. Additionally, Lister is the first athlete in the history of the U.S. Olympic Trials to win both the long and triple jumps, cementing him as one of the nation’s most talented horizontal jumpers.
“I can show the world that I am versatile and I can do both jumps very well,” Lister said. “I’m so happy right now. My coach, my girlfriend, my mother and my father have all pushed me and let me know that I can do it. They made me believe that I can do it.”
“I am tremendously pleased,” Arkansas field events coach Dick Booth said. “I think we were all surprised at the 58 footer. He went beyond the call of duty. I expected him to get 57 feet and still be able to make the team. He’s paid his dues and I think he’s just getting started.”
Without any professional contract or endorsements Lister worked full time in Fayetteville, Ark., at Circuit City installing stereo and other electrical equipment into cars. After working he would practice both the long and triple jumps for two hours.
“Melvin is one of those real life stories where he used to be a good jumper and struggled with injuries and had to work his way back,” Booth said. “He was so committed to coming to practice after working all day. He gets a lot of credit for that. He’s as strong and fast as he’s ever been and more determined than ever.”
The 200-meter dash was also a bright spot for Arkansas. Junior Tyson Gay made it through two rounds in 98 degree heat to advance to the finals. He finished third in his semifinal heat with a time of 20.17 and took the tape in his quarterfinal heat with a 20.22.
“It was a little tough, but I feel ok,” Gay said. “I wish I could have gotten second in my heat, because I would have gotten a preferred lane. I sort of forgot and kind of eased off and got third. Overall I feel good and it should be a good race.”
Gay is the only collegian to make the finals and he will go to the blocks in lane eight against a who’s who list of top American sprinters, including John Capel, Mickey Grimes, J.J. Johnson, Darvis Patton, Shawn Crawford, Bernard Williams and Justin Gatlin.
Freshman and NCAA 200-meter champion Wallace Spearmon Jr. was also gunning for a spot in the finals, but after an eighth-place showing (20.92) in the semifinals he was unable to move on. In the quarterfinals he was fourth in his heat with an advancing time of 20.60.
“Wallace unfortunately got stuck in lane two and it’s hard to get going there,” Arkansas sprints and hurdles coach Lance Brauman. “It was a good learning experience and he ran a PR this weekend. Everything was a positive. It’s just a matter of being able to repeat and not getting stuck on an inside lane. Tyson looked great, but he probably backed off a little too early and it cost him getting a middle lane for tomorrow, but we’re going to hope for lane seven or eight and go from there. I’m very happy with everybody so far.”
Razorback All-American Michael Thomas advanced to the quarterfinals of the 110-meter hurdles when he posted a time of 13.85. He was fifth in his heat and his time was 20th overall. In the quarterfinals he came in eighth (13.95) in the final heat and was unable to advance to the semifinals.
Three Razorbacks will continue their quest for the Olympic dream when they compete on the closing day of the Olympic Trials. The finals of the high jump with Matt Hemingway will start the day at 5:10 p.m. CT. Junior Said Ahmed will take to the track in the 1,500 meters at 6:30 p.m., and the finals of the 200-meter dash with Gay are at 7:38 p.m.
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