June 4, 2014
By Jon Cooper The Good Word
Champions have no room for doubt.
Jonathan Gardner is a champion.
As Gardner heads into the 2014 NCAA Track and Field Championships, which begin in Eugene, Ore., next Wednesday and run through the weekend, he has no doubt he’s ready to be THE champion.
“I’ve come to a point that I know that every meet I should walk away as a winner,” said the senior. “I walk in with the mindset that I am the best triple-jumper there. That’s just being competitive. You don’t want to come in with a losing mindset. That’s any sport. That’s any endeavor in life. You don’t want to go in with a losing mindset.”
Gardner was ACC Champion in the triple jump both indoors and outdoors in 2013, then qualified for the NCAAs, where he finished seventh. He said he barely recognizes the Jonathan Gardner that competed in those events vs. the one he saw in his most recent meets — the Georgia Tech Invitational, where he finished second, jumping 53’0″, his top jump this season, and the NCAA East Preliminaries, where, he was seventh, jumping 52’0.5″.
“Everything is right on point,” he said. “I look at the tape I have now compared to the tape that I had at Nationals last year and it’s a world of difference. I see all the jumps from Regionals. It was only two jumps, it’s my first jump, that I’m excited about it.”
Gardner’s is thinking big for his final NCAAs, a different mentality from last year, when he couldn’t see beyond the enormity of the event.
“Last year I went in and although I wanted to win, my head wasn’t in a place where I could picture myself at the top of the podium,” he said. “This year, it seems more with in reach. That’s the focus this year.”
“I know the track, I know the fans, I know the crowd, I know the officials,” he added. “It’s going to feel like I’m coming back to my home turf almost. I’m not an Oregon Duck but it’s going to feel like I’m coming home. I’m going to feel really comfortable there.”
Physically he’s as comfortable as he is mentally. That was not the case for most of the year. Gardner spent the beginning of the year working his way back from a knee injury that he suffered just a couple of weeks after the 2013 NCAAs. The torn meniscus cost him the indoor season and an opportunity to defend his ACC championship.
He looked as if he hadn’t missed a beat, when he got back on the track to compete in the Alabama Relays on March 21st and 22nd, the first meet of the outdoor season. He won the triple jump, going 52’1″. But that win would come at a cost, as he suffered a bruised heel. He tried competing through the injury, winning the Yellow Jacket Invitational, and finishing third in the Florida Relays.
But he’d endure a setback at the ACCs, as a strained hamstring and a bruised heel left him unable to compete — he finished 10th in the long jump, making only two jumps, and was unable to compete in the triple. He did not compete again until the Georgia Tech Invitational a month later.
Back on the track he showed he was back, finishing second in the event with a career-best 16.15 meters. He only jumped twice before passing the rest of the day. While he didn’t win, he proved something to himself at the meet.
“It’s huge because I know that jump happened on my second jump and my last jump,” he said. “My first jump was 52 (feet) and my second jump was 53 feet, I was getting progressively better. If I kept going I would have gone farther.”
He doesn’t plan on passing in Eugene.
“At Nationals I’ll be doing it every jump. Everything’s going to be on point,” he said. “The things I took away from my jumps at Regionals, at the Georgia Tech meet, I know how long I’m capable of jumping at the National Championship meet. I just know I have so much more left in the tank and it’s going to come out at Nationals.”
He also insists that injuries won’t play on his mind as they did last season.
“I did suffer a few injuries but I wasn’t at the forefront of my mind going into every meet like it was last year,” he said. “It’s definitely been a lot better than last year injury-wise.”
Gardner is sure that he’s saved his best for his final NCAAs and that everything he’s worked for has built toward next weekend.
“I think I’m feet better. Not just one foot better, not just two feet better. I’m a few feet better than I was last year,” he said.
“I say that, because of everything that’s been going on this year,” he added. “That Georgia Tech meet was a big indication of it. The Alabama meet was a big indication of it. Everything’s been coming together as it should, exactly at the right time.”
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