WHEN THE WORLD went into lockdown early in the pandemic, two types of people emerged: there were those who got nothing done. Then there were the achievers who went to work.
Vaulter KC Lightfoot was in the latter camp, and the Baylor star showed all that work when he opened his season in Lubbock by clearing a Collegiate Record 19-5¾ (5.94) that topped Chris Nilsen’s 19-5½ (5.93) from a year ago and moved him from the ranks of the up-and-comers to the top of the collegiate pile.
“What led up to a lot of it, during this whole pandemic I worked for months on short-approach vaulting, I fixed a lot that was a lesser part of my technique,” Lightfoot says. “I fixed my top end a lot and that played a huge, huge role in getting some of these higher bars.
“I trained hard over the summer. I still am, I got a lot faster, I got a lot stronger. Add two and two together, it works and it’s starting to show now when I run from a full approach. It all lines up together.”
The ’20 collegiate season shut down the day before the NCAA Indoor Champs, but for Lightfoot that just meant a transition.
“We were in Albuquerque, we got our shakeout done, we got back to the hotel, we got the message: It’s canceled, we fly home in two hours,” Lightfoot recalls of the fast-moving events of March 12. “Even after they canceled the outdoor season, I knew there was still a chance for the Olympic Games. I couldn’t just stop training. I went home for 6 months, I kept training for the Olympics.
“Then they got postponed, but you can’t stop training. I had to finish out my year strong, I took a short break and rolled into this one in a high note. I was having fun.”
Baylor head coach Todd Harbour has an analogy.
“Being an old miler, the third lap of the mile is the tough lap: if you can just get through that third lap you’ll have a chance when that bell goes off,” he says. “It’s a struggle mentally every day to keep fighting, keep pushing, not knowing what the next week is going to hold. From one week to the next, are you going to compete, are you not going to compete, what’s that going to look like?
“The biggest challenge is coming to work every day with a smile on your face. KC has done it as well as anybody. He’s persevered through some rough times.”
The hope is that the worst of the rough times are in the rear-view mirror, though the uncertainty factor in what might be an Olympic year is still high. The immediate goals are obvious: the magic 6.00 (19-8¼), Sam Kendricks’ indoor American Record 6.01 (19-8½), NCAA titles indoors and out, making a run at an Olympic team.
And this: “Right now, what I’m looking forward to is having fun,” Lightfoot says. “That’s what keeps us going. The biggest goal is to have fun, work on small things and keep the bars going up.”
The 6-meter bar is definitely in him; he showed that in Lubbock.
“I had some good jumps at 6m,” he says. “People ask me, ‘What happened? You blew up 94, what happened at 6m?’ Man, it’s a really high bar. It wasn’t a bad jump, it just didn’t stay up.
“I know there’s more in there. Obviously I was very satisfied with the Collegiate Record, you can’t not be. But there’s more. I jumped a 6-meter bar in practice a couple of weeks ago so I know it’s possible, I’ve done it, there’s some left in the tank. I was satisfied, but there was a little bit of frustration. It just didn’t happen on that day.”
Says Harbour: “He was being humble and modest. I thought he had good attempts at 6m, he didn’t miss it by much. He was over the bar all three times, whenever you can get your body over it, those are good attempts.”
What’s changed with Lightfoot is that for the first time in his Baylor career, the academic junior (he has used only one season of outdoor eligibility) is at the top of a perennially loaded event. (Continued below)
“It’s a whole new world coming out of high school into college athletics,” he says. “You see some of these people on top of the leaderboard, it’s like, ‘Man, how do I get there?’ It takes time, but I guess I’m an example of what happens if you work hard. You get to the top.
“When I started out I was top 10 in the NCAA, but I’d look at No. 1 and that was Mondo and Chris. I saw Mondo jump 92 to break the Collegiate Record, Chris jumped 93 to break his. I was looking up to them. But now, you go through the years, you work hard and here I am.”