Olympic long jumper Davis-Woodhall sees new commitment lead to new color of medals -- gold

Virtually every time long jumper Tara Davis-Woodhall steps onto a runway, there's a chance the silver medal she won at last year's world championships will find a new resting place — even deeper back among her vast collection of awards and trophies.

Nothing against finishing second. When Davis-Woodhall won that silver in Budapest last year, it opened doors to sponsors, recognition and motivation. It also left a sting because first place was within reach and she didn't cash in.

She is having no such problems this year. With the Olympics a bit more than four months away, the 24-year-old, who lives and trains with her husband Hunter in Fayetteville, Arkansas, has set herself up as the woman to beat in Paris. Over the weekend, she added the world indoor championship to her American indoor title. She has turned the 7-meter mark (22 feet, 11 3/4 inches) — the mark that has been the standard this century for winning Olympic medals — into not just a goal but an expectation.

“At training, we're dialing some things down, which will make everything over 7 if I hit the right thing,” she said. “Other than that, I'm just going out there and having fun and trying to see how far I can jump.”

Signs that this could be a big year first showed themselves at a routine January practice at the University of Arkansas indoor track. Davis-Woodhall lined up, took off and could hardly believe where she landed. She passed 7 meters on a jump with an abbreviated 12-step run-up.

“The reason it happened is her commitment to consistency this year,” her coach, Travis Geopfert, said after that workout. "Her fitness level is like it’s never been. It's her commitment to everything. The weight room, nutrition, sleep, all of that has just been phenomenal. And the result is what you see today."

This is also something of a comeback season for Hunter, who won bronze medals at 400 meters at the last two Paralympics.

At last year's para worlds, Hunter, who was born with a congenital defect called fibular hemimelia and had his legs amputated below the knee at 11 months old, could not make it to the starting line because of issues with his prosthetics. He had been in a long-running disagreement with the sport's authorities about how long his prosthetics are allowed to be. At worlds, he brought a makeshift pair of prosthetics into the 400-meter race, and as he was preparing, he felt one of the bolts slipping.

“It got to the point where I couldn't even walk on it,” he said. “I kind of hopped back to the blocks and that was it. I had to watch that final go. I had to sit on the side and watch it all slip out of my hands. But it was my responsibility. I wasn't prepared.”

That, plus Tara's second-place finish, led the husband-wife team to rededicate themselves to preparation in 2024. Gone are the trips down the street for easy fast food. In is more home cooking and healthy eating. Gone are the compromises they would sometimes make on the training schedule. In is more accountability between themselves, and between themselves and Geopfert.

Tara says the silver medal from worlds last year was a blessing of sorts.

“It's relatively cool,” she said. “But when you wrap your life around a moment and a place and all you want to do is win, getting second place, it hurt me. But it also allowed me to grow as a person. As time goes by, I'll probably think about it more how cool it was to get second place at world championships. But at this time in my career, I want to be the best of the best. And so I just see that as a stepping stone of me climbing to the top.”


AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games