NCAA high jump goes to Griffith

Family affair

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2002

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Perhaps no UCLA athlete has had Bruin bloodlines as pure as those of the new NCAA women's high jump champion, Darnesha Griffith.

Her aunt was the late Florence Griffith Joyner, her coach is Flo-Jo's husband, Olympic triple jump gold medalist Al Joyner. Joyner's sister is Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

They are three of the greatest track performers in UCLA history.

Griffith lived up to her name Thursday, completing her college career by winning the NCAA high jump at 6 feet, clearing the mark on her second attempt.

Although it was the lowest winning height in the meet's 21-year history, she knows her Aunt Flo-Jo would have been proud.

''She was very supportive,'' Griffith said. ''Her and Al got me into track, and I've loved it ever since.''

Asked if she felt Flo-Jo was watching over her triumphant performance, Griffith smiled and said, ''Oh yes, she knows.''

Of course, there was never any doubt which college she would attend.

''When I got to high school, people would ask me what school I would like to go to, to name the top three,'' she said. ''There wasn't a top three. There was just one.''

Griffith said she felt no added pressure despite her famous name.

''I don't feel like I have to live up to it,'' she said. ''My family always told me to just do my best, and my best is good enough. That's all I've been doing.''

Her victory was the second for the favored UCLA women as Tracy O'Hara won the pole vault Wednesday.

''I think we're going to win it,'' Griffith said. ''I can't get any more than 10 points, so I did my part.''

Six jumpers cleared 5-10 1/2 and Whitney Evans of Washington State took second on fewer misses.

UCLA had 25 points through seven events and Washington State was second with 16. Defending champion Southern California, UCLA's biggest challenger with its best performers yet to come, was fourth with 11 points, two less than third-place Kansas State.

Defending champion Gabe Jennings of Stanford, blaming his own stupidity, failed to make it through the qualifying heat of the 1,500 meters.

Jennings, a 2000 Olympian, wound up sixth in the second heat, at the back of a pack in which the top six runners were separated by only 0.22 seconds.

Among those finishing ahead of Jennings was 19-year-old Alan Webb, the Michigan freshman who last year broke Jim Ryun's 36-year-old national high school mile record.

Jennings, the fastest of the non-qualifiers at 3:45.22, said he simply didn't finish strong.

''I committed the Cardinal sin for a Cardinal,'' said Jennings, whose disappointing race ended his collegiate career. ''I was just jogging.

''It's so frustrating. I wish we could run the race over right now. I have so much energy. It's just idiocy.''

Dan Wilson of Connecticut was by far the fastest qualifier at 3:40.27.

Serene Ross of Purdue set an American record in the women's javelin at 195-8, bettering the mark of 192-3 set by Lynda Blutreich on July 1, 2000. Ross topped her previous best by nearly 8 feet.

''It was just easy, nice and easy, no pain, nothing,'' she said. ''It apparently was just the way a good throw is supposed to be.''

The mark was not an NCAA meet or collegiate record. That record, 197-8, is held by Angeliki Tsiolakoudi of Greece, who won the NCAA title for UTEP in 2000.

The records date only to May 1, 1999, when the event switched to a new style of javelin.

Austra Skujt of Kansas State defended her heptathlon title, winning with a meet record 6,061 points. Ellanee Rich of Washington State was a distant second with 5,709. NCAA cross country champion Boaz Chbolywo of Eastern Michigan, a 23-year-old Kenyan in his first collegiate season, won the men's 10,000 in 28:32.10, far ahead of the runner-up, defending champion Ryan Shay of Notre Dame.

NCAA indoor women's champion Elva Goulbourne of Auburn won the women's long jump at 22-4 1/2, the longest jump in the competition since 1994. Scott Russell of Kansas won the men's javelin at 261-11.

Georgia led the men's team standings with 15 points through four events. LSU was second with 11. Tennessee had just three points but was poised to pile up many more in the next two days.

Defending champions Justin Gatlin of Tennessee and Angela Williams of Southern California breezed through the preliminary round of the 100.

Gatlin, a sophomore looking to repeat as 100 and 200 champion, was the fastest qualifier at 10.15 on the slightly damp track at LSU's Bernie Moore Stadium.

Williams, attempting to become the first athlete -- man or woman -- to win four NCAA titles in the same sprint event, won her heat in 11.39, the third-fastest time of the competition. LSU's Muna Lee (11.28) and Natasha Mayers (11.36), Williams' teammate. were faster.

Mayers became eligible for USC in late May after completing academic requirements following her transfer from Los Angeles Southwest Junior College. Her 11.09 at the Mount SAC Relays is the fourth-fastest time in the world this year.

The South Carolina men dropped the baton in the 1,600 relay but picked it up and still qualified for Saturday's finals.

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