26-Footer Martin A High School Long Jump Find

The long jump is where Martin just shocked the prep sport but he sees himself as just as much a sprinter. (DAVE McCAULEY)

SOMETIMES THE UNBELIEVABLE happens. Such was the case in Saginaw, Michigan, on Thursday afternoon when a Saginaw High senior named Tony Martin soared 26-6 in the long jump at a dual meet with a crosstown rival. Could the No. 5 long jumper in prep history have come seemingly out of nowhere?

The scrutiny, of course, followed immediately. Wind gauge? Yes, showing a legal 1.8. The gauge had been purchased the week before, after a conversation with the author about a no-gauge 24-¼ leap that Martin did in his outdoor opener. The pit? Level sand, photos and videos of his jumps demonstrated. The officiating? Certified MHSAA officials on hand.

But still, 26-6? A notch behind Carl Lewis on the all-time list? A mere 4 inches away from the HSR set by Marquise Goodwin in ’09?

The monster leap—which was measured only in English—was the first of a 3-jump series. Temps were in the 70s, the sun shining, near-ideal conditions that have been rare in Michigan so far this season. Martin had been watching long jump videos, and knew he had to get his legs out in front of him while in the air, a technical basic that he says he is still not comfortable with. He explains, “It felt kind of similar to my previous jumps this year, just farther and I stretched my legs out way more. When I jump, usually on a 23 or 24, my legs are often kind of behind me. It was uncomfortable, but it worked. I brought them legs out from behind and stretched them out and reached.”

That took him perilously near to the concrete end of the pit: “I said, ‘Omigod, I’m close.’” He flung his arms back—the measurement was taken from where his hand hit the sand. Was this the perfect jump? Martin doesn’t think so. He says his form in the air needs a lot of work, and he’s overstriding on the runup. Does he have room to improve? He thinks so. He again mentions his panic at the end of the jump, and the measurement from his hand. He says quietly, “Somebody said my jump was 27.”

The remaining two attempts in his series were a letdown: 23-5 and 23-11. He says he had been scared by how close he was to edge in his first jump. “It was a shock. I had never jumped that far. I was like, ‘Our pit at my school is not that long.’”

Martin started in track late in his frosh season when he attended Hill High across town. A football player, he sprinted 12.11 and 23.70 that first year, and ran on the 4×1 at State. He never got around to trying the long jump. As a sophomore transfer to Saginaw, he sprinted 11.27, 22.51 and jumped 21-8½. His junior year was when things started to pop. He sprinted 10.71 and 21.73, making the State finals in each. In the long jump, he soared 23-4¾ to win the Div. II title.

Notably, Martin says he is basically self-coached in the long jump. In the past he did some work with David Dowdell at Saginaw’s Heritage High. “I haven’t trained with him since last year. I’ve just been working on speed and he taught me well for me to train on my own.” So Martin watches videos, and has someone video most of his own jumps so he can evaluate them. His speed has improved. Indoors, he went 7.00 and won the Michigan indoor 200 title with a 22.06 on a tight 200 unbanked track. Though he went 22-9 during the undercover season, he placed only 2nd at State. Outdoors, he opened up with that 24-¼ and has sprinted 10.96/22.41. Earlier in the week, he was credited with a 23-3, a mark he says was much farther but was mismarked. In Thursday’s meet, he won the 100 in a hand-timed 10.3.

What made the difference this season? With improved speed, he’s lengthened his approach from 82-feet to 101. He says he might move it farther back, “when it gets warmer.” He says given his increased speed and lengthened runup, his improvement in the long jump “shouldn’t be that surprising.” Martin knows his jumping will be under intense scrutiny for the rest of the season. “I don’t feel like it’s pressure,” he says, of expectations to put more jumps in that range so that fans will believe the 26-6. “I’ve always had the potential.”

As for the future, Martin is headed to Michigan State. He says he wants to see where his track career will go. “I’m in this for life,” he says. “I gave up football for this sport, and I’ve been playing football since I was 2.” He adds that he sees himself as a sprinter just as much as he is a jumper. “It’s all fun. It all evens out. When you’re winning, you’re winning. You keep balanced. If I’m losing in jumping, I can go win in sprints.”