Jaydon Hibbert — Precocious TJ Record Setter

Growing teen Hibbert has gained 2 inches in height since the school year began. (MATT DOBBINS)

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING to realize about Jaydon Hibbert is that he started triple jumping barely three years ago. Yet already the Arkansas frosh from Kingston, Jamaica, can lay claim to being the farthest collegiate jumper ever after his 58-7½ (17.87) at the SEC.

The big jump also enhanced his status as the farthest Junior (U20) performer ever and gave him this year’s overall world lead.

Just how did this happen? “I really don’t know,”he says with an awkward laugh. “It’s obviously from God, him bringing that niche to me. But overall, I had been trying to find an event for years, and I found triple jump 3 years ago, so I’m working with it.”

Hibbert actually goes much farther back in the sport. He says he started participating at age 5. Over the years he tried the 400, the high jump, long jump and hurdles. “I was not good enough for any of them. I was too short for the hurdles and the high jump, in the 400 I was too weak.

“But triple jumping, I started it and I fell in love with it. I saw a guy doing it at practice one day, and I said, ‘Let me just try it.’” The coach, according to the story, had misgivings because he thought Hibbert was too small. But he relented and gave him a shot. That was in ’20.

The next year, Hibbert won Jamaican U20 titles in both the long jump and triple; he hit bests of 24-1 (7.34) and 52-8 (16.05). The latter mark came in winning the World Junior silver in Nairobi.

Fun fact: that was the last time he lost. In ’22, the year he turned 17, he understandably stuck primarily to the high school/Junior circuit. He won CARIFTA Games titles in both his events, and then focused on the triple, winning the Penn Relays HS division, another Jamaican U20 title, and then the World Juniors with a PR of 56-8 (17.27).

Next would come college, and in the battle for Hibbert — also a very strong student — Arkansas won. When he arrived in Fayetteville, coaches were more than a little amazed by his ability. Some predicted he would soon take down the school records of the legendary Mike Conley.

He has competed sparingly for the Razorbacks, and in the long jump not at all. That’s not because Hibbert is hurt. Rather, the young jumper (he turned 18 on January 17), is dealing with growing pains. It’s presented a unique challenge for him as well as Arkansas jumps coach Travis Geopfert.

He was 5-9 (1.75) when he arrived in Fayetteville. Now, he says, he is 5-11/166 (1.80/75). “I’m just going through a little growth spurt, so I have to rest my legs and do the most I can.” The pain, when it hits, is often in his hips, so the emphasis is on flexibility there and being very careful about what drills to do.

The long jump, where he has a best of 25-10 (7.87), is on the shelf until later in the year, he says. “My coach is taking it a safe way, and doing it smart. I’m still growing.”

He’s also playing it safe in the triple, using a 12-step approach with an eye toward going to 14 in time for the World Championships. “For NCAA, we’re just doing the most to win, I guess, and the most to set a record,” he says. “But my best, which is the 14-step, would be at Worlds.”

Yet even with all the precautions, Hibbert is making a splash in the event the likes of which long-time observers have never seen. He won the SEC Indoor at 56-1¼ (17.10), then topped the indoor Collegiate Record in jumping 57-6½ (17.54) to win the NCAA Indoor on his first jump. He passed the rest.

Outdoors, after an 8-step run-up 52-10¼ (16.11) in the Bahamas, he took a single jump at the LSU Invitational to win with 56-4 (17.17). Then came his first SEC Outdoor title, where he added a foot to the Collegiate Record with his 58-7½ (17.87) world leader. That came on his second attempt; he passed the rest.

Perhaps the most astounding statistic of all is that in his entire collegiate career at this writing, Hibbert has only taken a total of 8 jumps in competition and he already has the CRs indoors and out. The success, he admits, has him dazed: “I’m terribly surprised. Like really, really surprised. But in the transforming of myself into this triple jumper, I have to remain humble and keep working. I’ve got a lot more years coming.”

Asked to describe his record-breaking jump at SECs, Hibbert explains that he would find that difficult. “I don’t know, honestly, how I did it. I just let my body do it. I don’t know how it felt. I’m not trying to know how it feels. I don’t want to go to the next meet and mess up and overthink it. I just let my body do it.”

In preparation for NCAA regionals and nationals, Hibbert and Geopfert are fine-tuning his technique. “It’s mostly to get consistent with my approach,” he explains. “Sometimes I get a little ahead of myself and overdo it and mess it up, but not anything through the phases. I was already a strong jumper technically, so it’s just to maximize strength and speed with the techniques.”

The World Junior champion doesn’t hesitate to identify this summer’s Senior Worlds in Budapest as his top priority this year. Could a pro career be in the offing before he gets out of his teens? Quite possibly, he says.

“I think I’m ready,” he explains. “I think my jumps are speaking that they’re ready. I already have that mental maturity to go about the professional life. Basically, I treat college as a professional, so it wouldn’t be much different. The training would be the same. It’s just, you know, not competing for Arkansas.

“But overall, I think I’m ready. It’s just more of a focus on a higher league. But I will push myself to that point.” If and when that day comes, Hibbert says he will continue working with Geopfert: “Of course.”

Like every other teen, there’s more to Hibbert than jumping. He carries a high GPA in his Sports Management classes at Arkansas, and has wowed teammates with his cooking. Here’s how he describes himself: “I’m a person where if you have any problems, you can come to me. I’m fun, jovial, always want to go out. I’m really chill, just low-key, not in the mix, always doing my schoolwork, just resting, laying down on a cot. Chill.”

Already, many are hailing the frosh athlete as the future of the triple jump. Even Conley has chimed in, saying Hibbert “was born for the sport.” But is it too soon to talk World Records? Hibbert says go ahead and talk, even though the all-time best rests just over 2ft farther than his PR.

“I won’t say it’s too soon because I’ll never doubt that again. Like, it was too soon for me to jump 17.87. So I won’t say it’s too soon for the World Record. It’s going to take work, of course, a lot more weights, a lot more everything. But who knows what can happen? Who knows what God can do?”

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