Davis-Woodhall Bullish On The Olympic Year

Tara Davis-Woodhall soared to the outdoor world lead on her fifth jump at the Atlanta City Games. (KEVIN MORRIS)

IT’S FITTING THAT when Tara Davis-Woodhall, who calls herself “America’s Cowgirl,” saw that red flag go up, a little bit of the bull came out in her.

The newly minted world indoor long jump champion, who has her signature cowboy hat and boots tattooed on her right biceps, trotted over to the take-off board judge at the adidas Atlanta City Games and asked for his glasses.

“I was messing around with him a little bit,” Davis-Woodhall said. “He kept on giving me fouls. I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t foul, so…’ — but they were fouls.”

She laughed. “I wanted to clean off his glasses. Just in case.”

The judge did not comply with her request. But after two straight fouls and “scooting back a foot and a half,” Davis-Woodhall gave everyone — not just the judge — a crystal-clear view of what she can do on her fifth jump.

She posted a world-leading outdoor mark of 23-6¼ (7.17), just off her PR of 23-6¾ (7.18) from the USATF Indoor Championships, which still tops the World Athletics list. The jump in Atlanta was the longest wind-legal, non-altitude jump since Nigeria’s Ese Brume went the same distance in May 2021.

“I have so much left to do at practice, and we’re just building,” Davis-Woodhall said. “It’s another PR, so I’m not mad about it.”

Apparently, the judge wasn’t mad about it, either. Although some social media commenters said Davis-Woodhall was disrespectful, her coach, Travis Geopfert, said she was just having fun. “I know that she went up to him afterwards and he shook her hand and they laughed, so it seemed like it was all good,” he said.

Davis-Woodhall’s mix of personality and perseverance is paying off this year. Since her silver-medal finish last August at the World Championships in Budapest, she is undefeated in the long jump, including the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow. Davis-Woodhall is the only woman jumper to surpass 7 meters (22-11¾) so far in 2024 with Malaika Mihambo, the reigning Olympic champion from Germany, next at 22-9¾ (6.95).

“No one can outwork me this year,” Davis-Woodhall said. “I’m doing everything I can to just be the best version of myself.”

With the U.S. Olympic Trials a month away, she is “dialed in.” The motivation, Davis-Woodhall said, “came from getting 2nd place multiple times and getting 1st place ripped right out from underneath me. So I decided, ‘What can I do to become better now and what other people can help me do better?’ So this year I’m just giving myself a chance. I changed my diet, I changed my focus and I’ve changed everything.”

Davis-Woodhall is eating more red meat, which she said makes her feel stronger and more powerful. She and her husband, Paralympian Hunter Woodhall, are cooking more at home and Davis-Woodhall is going to bed 30 minutes earlier.

After finishing 6th at the Tokyo Olympics in her first major international appearance, Davis-Woodhall has molded herself into the favorite for the Olympic gold medal in Paris.

“I think Tokyo was a really good learning experience for me,” said Davis-Woodhall, who was a multiple-time California State prep champion for Agoura High (Agoura Hills) and won NCAA long jump titles for Texas. Along the way she set the long jump’s High School Indoor and Collegiate Records. Those standards, 21-11 (6.68) from 2017 and 23-5¼ (7.14) from ’21, still stand. Further expounding on the Tokyo Games, she continued, “It was a moment where I got to see athletes that I’d only seen on YouTube because it was my first time ever being around European athletes.”

Geopfert, the associate head coach at Arkansas, attributes her heightened sense of purpose to growing up, as well as the taste of success she’s now experiencing.

“Not that Tokyo was a failure, but she wanted more,” he said. “I think everybody goes through that learning curve and I think she’s ascended through that learning curve pretty rapidly.

“She knows she belongs.”

Davis-Woodhall said it’s important for her to show her joy when she performs, “because I was sad one time, and I was so sad of me being sad,” she said. “And there was a moment where I was so dark and seeing myself smile in the mirror and seeing myself happy on the stage of what I love to do — this is who I am and this what I want to show to the world.”

That dark time was 2020 to 2021, during the worst part of the Covid pandemic. Davis-Woodhall said at the 2024 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Media Summit that she has had to “hide behind a curtain a few times because my personality is too much or I’m just a lot.”

She doesn’t hide any longer. “I just hope that I can show females and other athletes in general that it’s OK to be yourself,” Davis-Woodhall said. “Just being yourself and unapologetically yourself is going to get you farther than trying to be like someone else.”

And that attitude can be contagious. “She’s a firecracker,” Geopfert said. “She absolutely brings it. And there are some people that just elevate the atmosphere and they elevate everybody around them.”

Though she jumped at a California high school, and at Georgia for a season, Davis-Woodhall’s tat commemorates Texas, where she won NCAA titles indoors and out. (KAREN ROSEN)

Davis-Woodhall said that while the World Record, Galina Chistyakova’s 24-8 (7.52) from 1988 and Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s 1994 American Record of 24-6¾ (7.49) are “always something to reach for,” she’s not putting expectations on herself.

“Because once I put an expectation on myself, that means that’s the end goal,” said Davis-Woodhall, who has a wind-aided 23-9 (7.24) from 2022. “And I don’t want the end goal; I want endless possibilities. I want to go as far as I possibly can and if that’s the World Record, that’s the World Record. If it’s the American Record, it’s the American Record. Whatever my little 5-foot-3 [160cm] body wants to do.”

She’s definitely faster this year, which accounted for some of her take-off board struggles in Atlanta. Geopfert said they have added two steps to her approach and created a bit more rhythm.

Thanks to her work in the weight room, Davis-Woodhall’s strength-to-body-weight ratio has gone up significantly, Geopfert said, and she understands the importance of proper recovery. Davis-Woodhall has been diligent about not missing workouts, but for her 25th birthday on May 20, she asked for the day off so she and a friend could go to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“I’m like ‘Take the day. You deserve the day,’” Geopfert said. “I really respect where her head’s at in all of this. I think she’s just got a great balance to life.”

Davis-Woodhall’s 7.18 came at the 2024 U.S Indoor Championships when she needed it most — after Jasmine Moore had moved into 1st place with a leap of 22-9 (6.93) in the fifth round.

“She’s a true competitor,” Geopfert said. “There’s been a couple of times I’ve coached her the last couple of years, I’m like, ‘I wish somebody would pass her right now,’ just to see her have to flip that switch.”

Davis-Woodhall did just that in Glasgow, pulling ahead of teammate Monae’ Nichols in the fourth round and then dedicating the win to her grandmother, who wasn’t able to attend the meet.

“I wanted to show her that, ‘Hey, Grandma, I’m kicking butt and taking names,’ and that’s what she wanted me to do,” Davis-Woodhall said. “She always yells ‘Cheetah!’ when I’m running or jumping. She’s like, ‘Just remember there’s a cheetah chasing after you.’”

And make sure you hit the board. □

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