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Soaring to New Heights

April 20, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn

After his very first hop-skip & jump at the ACC Track & Field Championships, it was clear to Alphonso Jordan that he wouldn’t bother triple-jumping a second or third time in the preliminaries. He’d stamped a pass to the finals, and – as it turned out – beyond.

“I knew it was a good jump when I landed; you can kind of make a visual reference,” the Georgia Tech senior bounder and four-time ACC champion said. “I saw the tape measure get pulled out, 54 feet-plus, and about 20 seconds later they put the standard up on the board. I was walking back clapping, smiling, and I yelled, `It’s over!’ “

As a matter of fact, as far as the rest of the ACC was concerned, it was over.

Jordan went 54 feet, 6.5 inches — half an inch further than anybody had ever triple jumped in the ACC Championship Meet – and nobody else in either the prelims or finals would come within 15 inches of his leadoff. This was rarefied air; Kelsey Nash’s ACC Meet mark of 54-6 had been in place since 1992, when he jumped for Florida State.

It was over except for the fat lady singing so Jordan put on his warm-ups and waived his next two jumps.

Problem was . . . that fat lady was Mother Nature.

Damn her!

Jordan went off to run the 110-meter high hurdles, where he finished fifth in the ACC to match his place in the long jump, and returned to seek out a triple-jump judge before the finals. He had a hunch borne of this: “The whole entire weekend it was pretty breezy,” he said.

The wind had been blowing at his back. “I asked one of the judges; they said 3.6 [meters per second,” Jordan said of the funny little device by the track that was measuring windspeed.

Jordan didn’t match or surpass 54-6.5 in three jumps in the finals so his first effort stood up to make him a repeat ACC champion, and qualify him for the fourth time for the NCAA Championship Meet.

But that little breath at his back meant he is not considered the ACC record holder. His effort was considered “wind-aided,” as any wind measure with wind of more than 2.0 meters per second at a competitor’s back eliminates times and jumps for record consideration.

Being a professional interviewer, I asked if Jordan wasn’t, you know, hacked off.

“It wouldn’t matter if I jumped three feet [past the record] or half an inch,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but you move on. We shook our heads.”

Not satisfied with that answer, I fumbled for another line of inquiry. I went deeper still with questions like, “how did you get to be a triple jumper anyway?”

Turns out Mr. Jordan was quite a basketball player in Charlotte and while growing up mostly in Germany after being born in El Paso, Texas, because – you guessed it – he was a military lad. His father is retired U.S. Army, and had been quit a hoopster himself as a younger man.

But this Jordan, who is 6-foot-4 (a younger brother is 6-8), was adept at both track and field and basketball. Soon, a middle school coach encouraged him since he had the body type and was already long jumping to try triple-jumping. If you’re not familiar with it, search the internet for high-speed human bounding.

Anyway, it was a glove-like fit.

Basketball fell by the wayside midway through high school, and there came a jumping-off point. Architecture is brutal as a college major (one of my brothers, who works in Los Angeles for Frank Gehry has explained this to me in detail, repeatedly). It tends to be ridiculously difficult to balance with athletics.

Yet Jordan wanted to be an architecture student. He also wanted to be an athlete. Recalling a not-so-happy time, Jordan said, “Some schools that I applied to wouldn’t allow me to do architecture and track. One of my high school rivals [Nigel Orr, also from Charlotte] let me know about Tech, and they would let me do it. I sent [Tech hurdles/jump] coach [Nat] Page an e-mail, came in for a visit, and signed on the dotted line.”

Also a fabulous bowler (Jordan’s best game was a 297, and he said his average has been as high as 196), jumping is not about to end.

The Olympic Games remain in his crosshairs. Jordan narrowly missed making the finals for the 2008 Olympic Trials. He aims to give it another hop-skip-and-a-jump in 2012. He’s pretty good at it, having qualified for the NCAA indoors meet all four seasons along with winning two ACC indoor titles to bookend his pair of outdoor crowns.

“I might have the opportunity to compete some in Europe this summer,” he said. “I’ll graduate in the fall. I used to have an interest in classical architecture, but because the economy is so low I might get a graduate degree in urban planning. More than likely, I will try to stay at Tech. My coaches are here; that would be more than perfect.”


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