Feb. 10, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Predictability isn’t the worst thing for a track and field athlete.
It comes in especially handy in field events like the long jump and triple jump, which require constant repetition and reliance on muscle memory to replicate proper technique.
Sometimes, the last thing needed is the unexpected.
It’s kind of surprising, then, that Georgia Tech junior Julienne McKee has been so comfortable with the occasional wrench thrown in her routine. Things like being asked to run the 200 meters, often on short notice.
She admits she’s come around over time.
“My freshman year I didn’t like that I always did the 200, but now I kind of like when [Assistant Coach Nat Page] throws things at me that I don’t expect to do,” said McKee, a Marietta native, who set the Georgia state record in the long jump while starring at Lassiter High School. “My coach tells me maybe the day before a meet or throughout the week he’ll tell me. I can pretty much tell what I’m going to be doing each week.
“Sometimes he likes to surprise me,” she added. “Sometimes he’ll throw me in the 60 and he won’t tell me but the day before or I can be in the 200. I’m one to accept any challenges that come my way. I’m one to go with them.”
That maturity and willingness to embrace a challenge also has helped in her bread-and-butter events, where Coach Page has worked with her to improve her technique.
“We start with the approach. We needed an approach, one, that she could actually handle and maximize her speed,” said Page. “We’ve gotten her faster. For the long jump, obviously, horizontal speed improves distance. We’ve gotten that done. Teaching her how to maximize her speed and then take off properly for the long jump and the triple jump. Second, we’re making sure we’re implementing the proper angles. Take-off angles are very important in the long jump and triple jump. It takes time to implement certain things but so long as we take the time to do it the change will come about.”
“The field events are very technical events — certainly the jumps and certainly the triple jump,” said women’s track and field head coach Alan Drosky. “You need to have a mature outlook and a long-term outlook in being able to relate with the coach and understand the different phases of the triple jump, and what needs to be done in each phase, how each phase is broken down. You’re working on improving certain aspects of each phase. It does take a mature outlook and a patient outlook to know that some of these things that you’re trying to do and each of the phases take time to master. She is a very mature young lady and that surely suits her well for her events.”
Those changes have suited McKee well during the recent indoor season.
Three times during McKee finished first or second in the long jump and three times she finished in the top three in the triple jump. The only meet in which she didn’t have a top-three in one of those events was the Auburn Invitational on Jan. 19.
That was the only meet in which she didn’t compete, as she came down with food poisoning the day before, which rendered her too weak to perform.
McKee bounced back the next week at the Rod McCravy Invitational, finishing third in the long jump while setting a season personal best of 19’08.75″ (6.01 meters).
The six-meet season has been building up to what’s next, the ACC Championships, to be held Feb. 21-23 at Rector Fieldhouse in Blacksburg, Va., then the NCAA Championships March 8 and 9 at Randal Tyson Track in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“We’ve done a lot of technical work and she’s adapted to it pretty well and her strength and foot speed have changed a lot, which are needed to go ahead and jump far,” said Page. “Our goals are to go to Nationals. We have a little ways to go but we have a very good opportunity to do that.”
“Julienne’s a fantastic competitor and continues to develop really well working with Nat Page,” said Drosky. “They work well together. Julienne has kind of climbed the ladder another rung or two each year. She advanced to the outdoor championships and just missed scoring in both the long jump and the triple jump. We really look for Julienne to get to the National Championships indoors.”
Getting to Nationals in both the long jump and triple jump again are both attainable goals. McKee did it last spring, finishing 10th in the long jump with a season-best 20’8″ and 13th in the triple at 42’6.25″.
But Page is sure McKee is capable of more and feels McKee shares that belief. He noticed an edge and a confidence about her throughout the indoor season that will make her tougher to beat in the ACCs and Nationals.
“She went to the NCAAs, now she’s set a personal best in the long jump, so that was nice,” he said. “She still jumped well in the triple, but she could have had a better performance in the triple. Then she went to Olympic Trials and she made the Olympic Trials Finals. That, for her, let her see that she’s capable of competing later on at a very high level and at this point, it lets her see that, ‘Hey, I’m capable of doing something right now. I’m not finished. I know I have a lot of work to do but if I can go ahead and improve in all the areas, I can be a solid national competitor.'”
McKee took mental notes and is determined to remove the ‘ifs’ from the equation and build on last year’s performance on the national stage.
It’s that knowing what to expect that makes all the difference.
“Going to the NCAAs and seeing all the other athletes, how they perform and how they compete, I try to implement that when I’m at a meet,” she said. “I want to be calm. I don’t want all my emotions flying all over the place. I can be what they are and I try to imitate that when I’m doing my event. So it motivates me. I’m going to try to give it my all so I can go to Indoor NCAAs this year. It just fuels me for the next year to come.”