DES MOINES – Whitney Gipson’s story doesn’t follow the expectations of a rising Olympic medal contender.

DI WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP
Results: Men | Women
Day 1: Stanford jumps out to first place
Day 2: Gipson wins long jump
Turner: Feldman captures crucial win
Schedule of Events

This TCU senior never won a state long jump title in high school. In fact, she was better known as a basketball player, with UCLA, LSU and TCU all dangling scholarships in front of her. She turned those offers down, certain that track held the brighter future, even though she had never finished better than runner-up at the Texas state high school meet.

“I knew I had it in me,” Gipson said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Her time has now arrived.

Gipson’s second jump of 22 feet, 4.5 inches in the long jump final at Drake Stadium on Thursday night won her the second national championship of her senior season, joining her NCAA-record-tying performance at the indoor championships.

And it added a compelling chapter to her remarkable rise. When Gipson travels to the U.S. Olympic Trials in two weeks, she’ll do so knowing that her distance is not just good enough to make the U.S. team, but it is also closing in on Olympic medalist distance. Twenty-two feet, 8 inches was good enough for a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It’s also what Gipson jumped at the indoor championship.

“It’s right there,” said TCU assistant coach Nic Peterson, who coaches the jumpers. “You jump that, you’ve got a shot to medal almost every year. That’s very exciting.”

And it’s exciting for Peterson to see Gipson tapping increasing amounts of her potential as her career has progressed. She always felt that she had more to offer in the long jump after qualifying for the state meet all four years in high school. But it wasn’t until Gipson arrived at TCU that she began to understand why.

TCU's Whitney Gipson
AP

It was there that coaches introduced her to techniques and terms that Gipson had never before encountered. She learned to focus on areas like the penultimate step – the next-to-last step a jumper takes before their leap. She’d never heard of the term in high school, but at TCU she learned how to effectively lower herself on that step, loading the spring that would then give more juice to her jump.

She also put an increased emphasis on weightlifting, focusing on hang cleans and squats to build strength. But the most important improvement, Peterson said, was her speed. This year, Gipson is running down the runway at better than 10 meters per second. It’s considered world-class speed for the long jump.

“That’s the reason she’s jumping further,” Peterson said. “And she still has a ways to improve. She’s still not perfect.”

But Peterson admits the results are remarkable.

Gipson added nearly a foot to her jumps during her freshman year, going 20 feet, 7 inches after failing to crack 20 feet in high school. She then added another 13 inches as a sophomore and broke the school record. She steady improvement continued as a junior, and Gipson finished fourth at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships, jumping 21 feet, 11 inches to set up her breakthrough season this year.

After her 22-foot, 8-inch jump won the indoor championship – and gave TCU its first women’s track and field title in school history – Gipson’s total improvement in college reached a stunning 34 inches. And her outdoor title on Thursday, which she won by more than six inches over Southern Miss’ Tori Bowie, put her in an elite group of athletes who have won both titles in the same season.
It also gave her a welcome confidence boost heading into the Olympic trials.

“My coaches always said I had it in me,” Gipson said.  “The training that I did led me to this point, so I’m ready for the trials.”