NAMPA, Idaho – After the first day of the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, Kendall Spencer and Jordan Clarke left their opponents asking the same question:
Where did that come from?
Spencer of New Mexico and Clarke of Arizona State won unlikely national championships on the first day. Spencer, finally healthy after hamstring injuries sidelined him in each of the past two years, put up a personal best (26-3.5) to claim the high jump title. Clarke, who entered the competition as the eighth seed, tossed four consecutive personal bests before putting up another one on his final throw (68-05.25) to win his first indoor title. Talk about your nowhere men.
“It still hasn’t sunk in,” Clarke said, who dedicated the win to his mom, who was celebrating her birthday. “My training was going really good lately and I thought I was really close to having a big [competition] today. My fifth throw was 65-5 around there (65-5.5). I hit it a little bit early. I knew the last one I had to get after it. It’s been a pretty special day.”
Clarke has had a special season. The Anchorage, Alaska, junior started the season faster than he ever had before, something he said he owes to trusting his coaches and doing the things they’ve worked on a lot better.
“We just put everything together at the right time,” Clarke said. “I was very confident. I knew I was going to throw well. I just didn’t know I was going to throw that well. I was hoping for a 65-foot throw instead of a 68. It has been really amazing.”
As amazing was the bolt out of the blue that was Spencer. This competition was set up to be a battle between LSU’s Damar Forbes – the No. 1 long jump performer in the nation – and Texas’ Marquise Goodwin. That narrative changed in the third round. Goodwin had led with a 26-2 ¼ in the second round, before being eclipsed by Forbes with a 26-2 ¾ on his first jump of the third round. Then came Spencer, with the jump of his life, to leave the field shaking its head.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Forbes, who finished second in the NCAA Outdoor Championships last year, second in the SEC Indoor this year, and now second in the NCAA Indoor event. I was like that man had a good day. I guess I’m the Silver King. I’m pretty sick of it.”
Conversely Spencer is feeling great. The junior from San Mateo, Calif., got in the event after a strong performance in the Mountain West championships. Because he was here healthy his goal was a simple one: Just make the finals.
“Realistically, God has been really good to me,” Spencer said. “What I was looking for was to have my first truly healthy season. To be able to bounce back from injury and win the national championship is huge. All props to him and my coaches.
“Jumping with people like Marquise Goodwin, who I used to watch on YouTube every day in high school, and going against him and Forbes. Grace [of God] was in there, so I went out there and gave all I had.”
Much to the dismay of one of his idols.
|DAY ONE RESULTS|
|Saturday Start Times|
“It just goes to show you somebody’s always watching you, somebody’s always coming after you,” Goodwin said of Spencer’s YouTube scouting. Being one of the top performers, you have that target on your back. That’s what’s great about this sport. Anybody could win at any time.
“He came out here and put a jump up there in the prelims and it stuck. It stinks that I didn’t put up a W today, but kudos to him because he did a really good job.”
Spencer did all the right things coming in. He managed his body in training with a strict diet, rest and buying into what his coaches were saying. He figured if he did all that he would have a chance at the finals.
“This is really just icing on the cake for me. It seems everything kind of added up to a good performance. I wanted to get out here and have a good performance, and that’s what I did. I shocked myself. I was hoping for a 26-foot jump. A 26-3 is an awesome PR for me. So hopefully many more are to come.”