Georgia's Kallenou wins third consecutive championship
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Leontia Kallenou glanced at the bar, which shook ever so slightly, then bounced up off the mat and raised her fists in the air when it held firm.
Kallenou, a Georgia sophomore, ran to her coach, Petros Kyprianou, and leaped into his arms as they celebrated another high jump championship on Friday evening at the NCAA Track and Field Championships.
Kallenou cleared a personal-best 6 feet, 4 inches (1.93m) to win the event after runner-up Claudia Garcia Jou missed on all three attempts at that height. Kallenou, whose previous indoor best was 6-2.75 last season, missed on her first two attempts at 6-4, but cleared the bar on her final attempt to win her third consecutive NCAA high jump championship. She was a double winner last year with indoor and outdoor titles.
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In addition to the three consecutive NCAA titles, she has also won three consecutive Southeastern Conference championships.
“That’s pretty impressive,” said Kyrianou. “She’s not really on the radar, but if you look at the numbers, she’s a three-time NCAA champion.”
Coming into the meet, Kallenou, a sophomore during the indoor season and a junior outdoors, was ranked No. 1 just ahead of Garcia Jou and Georgia teammate Tatiana Gusin.
Kallenou and Gusin said they push each other daily in practice to improve.
“We do it in a friendly way,” said Gusin, who finished seventh on Friday after missing three times at 1.87. “We try to bust each other up, so it’s always good. We always cheer for each other.”
The two jumpers have a long friendship, Kyrianou said.
“Those girls go back about eight years,” he said. “They were jumping against each other when they were really little. They’ve known each other a long time. They are good friends, and they push each other and motivate each other.”
Kallenou credited the jumping surface at the Randal Tyson Track Complex as a factor in her win.
“I love this facility,” she said. “It’s great for high jumps. I was able to run fast and it gave me great pop.”
After winning the title at 6-4, Kallenou declined to raise the bar any higher to attempt a record jump.
“I wanted to save something for later,” she said.
Kyrianou pulled Kallenou aside before her final jump to give her a few words of encouragement. The message was clear.
“I just told her to not count out the girl from Akron [Garcia Jou],” Kyrianou said. “She’s a tremendous jumper. She’s older, she’s been around and she has a beautiful technique.
“When Leontia cleared 1.90, I told her it wasn’t over. She said, ‘It’s on, I’m going for it.’ ”
Kallenou nailed five consecutive jumps, the last at 1.90, before finally missing at 1.93 twice. The third time was the charm as she barely bumped the bar going over.
It held, and she celebrated like she’s done many times before.