AT THE AGE OF 22 JuVaughn Harrison, it should be said, has experience beyond his years at stepping from frying pans into fires and cooking with gas. Getting burned in the heat of competition is not his thing, as Tokyo Olympics high jump/long jump placings of 7th and 5th underscore. No other American man had contested both at a Games since legend Jim Thorpe in 1912.
A proud son of Huntsville, Alabama — 7 hours from LSU, for which he made all kinds of noise in the last two real seasons (’19 & ’21) — Harrison describes a knack he has for settling in quickly when the heat is on.
“I would say this,” he says. “I’m nervous until my first jump. Once I get the first jump out of the way I’m just having fun and I’m doing what I know I can do.”
What Harrison, the ‘21 Bowerman Award men’s winner, did as a Tiger soph and junior before signing a Puma contract last summer should be well known to anybody paying attention. He essayed NCAA HJ/LJ double wins at the ‘19 Outdoor plus doubles last year both indoors and out. And, yes, he won both at the Olympic Trials.
His all-world marks in ‘21 lead off as Harrison lists last season’s personal highlights: “When I PRed at indoor nationals in the long jump, that was a very big, big thing for me, cuz I jumped, if I’m not mistaken, 27-8¾ [8.45] in the long jump and then SECs outdoors where I jumped 7-8¾ [2.36]. That was a big, big leap for me. And then winning the team title at outdoor nationals and then going on to win Trials.”
While Harrison’s list omits specific mention of his scoring another PR, 27-9½ [8.47] at the Trials — what’s a couple of centimeters when you’ve just qualified for the Olympics? — his citation of LSU’s team victory is thoroughly understandable.
His 20-point contribution to the first win for Dennis Shaver’s Tigers since ‘02 was part of a stupendous 84-point total and the largest victory margin in the meet (31 points) since ’94.
It’s no great shock to learn that Harrison as he launches his first pro season is staying the course in Baton Rouge with LSU jumps assistant Todd Lane.
“I wouldn’t say things have changed,” Harrison says of the early months of his venture to the next level. “We might have focused in a little bit more on the technical aspect of certain things, but I wouldn’t say it’s changed too much.”
Last summer, shortly before jetting to Tokyo, Harrison spoke warmly about Lane on LSU’s Tigers Win podcast.
“That’s the GOAT right there, man,” he said. “That’s the man that anytime I need to talk to somebody, I know I can call him to talk to. We might butt heads every so often about workouts or what we got going on at practice. But at the end of the day, I know he’s got my back a hundred percent.”
As for that topic of stepping from frying pans into fires. Harrison’s Tigers Win account of his first meet in a Bayou Bengals uniform back in ‘18 is illustrative.
Coming out of high school with a 7-2 (2.18) PR, Harrison showed up for his first meet and panicked as he realized he forgot to pack his high jump spikes.
He recalls that Lane “gave me that ‘that’s such a freshman thing to do’ look. So then I rushed back over to the hotel, got my spikes and came back, had a good — had a great meet for my first meet.”
He had jumped 7-1 (2.16) and would lift to a PR 7-3¼ (2.22) 3 weeks later. But— there is a but — pleased as he was with his collegiate debut, Harrison recalls next looking on as Tech senior Trey Culver carried the bar all the way up to 7-7¾ (2.33) and a win for the home team.
The moment sits with Harrison to this day: “Welcome. Welcome to college. It’s not easy. I took that as a learning experience.”
Although Harrison was so ashamed of his frosh NCAA outdoor placings of =13th in the HJ and 19th in the LJ that he apologized to the LSU coaches, he had two more chances for redemption.
At the first, the USATF Juniors, Harrison (competing as JuVaughn Blake at the time) won both his events, qualifying for the World U20s in both. “I saw U20s as a way to end on the right foot,” he says. “So I really locked in and just focused on technique, listening to what my coach was telling me to do and just trying to get as much as I could together and get it all fixed.”
Indeed, he patched it all up tight enough to claim his first international medal, a tie for high jump bronze in Tampere plus 9th in the LJ.
In soaring to the HJ medal, he PRed at 7-3¾ (2.23) — just 4th in the medal standings among the Tiger quartet who shared an apartment for the following 2018–19 school year. The other three in this august and international group of roomies all won U20 golds: Damion Thomas in the 110H, Mondo Duplantis in the vault, natch, and Jake Norris in the hammer.
“Me, Mondo, and Jake are gold medalists,” Thomas quipped in a ‘19 group interview with LSU digital reporter Cody Worsham. “So we always like to hold it over JuVaughn’s head, because he placed 3rd at World Juniors. He’s living amongst winners.”
“It just means I gotta work harder,” Harrison shot back, unperturbed.
Reminded by Worsham of that lighthearted ribbing before he headed to Tokyo last summer, Harrison assessed, “If you, I guess, criticize me or pop jokes at the fact that I didn’t do good, it doesn’t really get me down. Like, yeah, I think about it, but it doesn’t really get me down.
“I really like to use that type of stuff as motivation to do better. They were getting on me about not winning, but now I’ve worked and now you can’t say I’m not winning, cuz I am.”
In the ’21 World Rankings Harrison rated No. 3 in the long jump and No. 9 in the high jump. Rating in both events is an unprecedented pairing. As he trains for his pro seasons ahead, Harrison confirms, “I plan on pursuing them both equally. Whatever meet offers my events, I’ll probably end up going to it.”
The vertical jump was Harrison’s forte coming out of high school — as a prep he also hurdled — and he has said that from the start in college Lane kept the long jump in his routine “so I’m not just completely focused on high jump all the time and overthinking everything.” To that he adds, “I’m not gonna do something just to do it. If I’m gonna do it I want to be good at it.”
Typically Harrison and Lane only devote one day a week in each discipline to performing actual jumps. The rest of the week is broken into sprint days, acceleration days and general strength days.
“I go into both events kind of the same, focused on winning and giving my best performance,” Harrison says. “So I wouldn’t say that I think differently for either one. If anything, the only thing I think differently about is probably down the runway ‘cause each approach is different. High jump is different than long jump. So the way I approach it in terms of thinking about what I’m doing down the runway way is different, but in terms of my preparation for both that’s about the same.”
Although his marks in Japan — 7-7¾ (2.33) and 26-9 (8.15) — measured shorter than his PRs Harrison came home in an upbeat frame of mind, saying, “I had a great time in Tokyo. I was just coming off a long collegiate season, so my body was a little hurt, but you know, no excuses. I went out there and I performed to the best I could, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
Harrison has said he will be jumping as a pro for his family, Jamaican-born mom Georgia — a former Alabama A&M standout long sprinter/hurdler who works in her alma mater’s business office — and brother Ky-Mani. He’d like Georgia to have flexibility to just head to the beach and relax if she has a mind to.
This summer’s Worlds in Eugene — assuming he reaches the meet through the Trials — “should be fun,” he says. “I would’ve liked to travel outside the country again for the big meet, but, you know, you can never be upset. It’s still Worlds, still gonna be great competitors. So I’m gonna have a fun time.”