Omar Craddock Has Designs On The Podium

Typifying the disjointed campaign that athletes endured this year, Omar Craddock’s single outdoor “competition” consisted of him jumping at an empty stadium in California while his rivals were performing virtually in Florida and Portugal. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

O-MAR-GOODNESS! The Tokyo Olympic year is nigh upon us—cross fingers—and 3-time World Ranker Omar Craddock believes the time is right for a U.S. triple jump podium name that’s not Christian Taylor or Will Claye.

Coached since ’16 in San Diego by ’84 gold medalist Al Joyner, Craddock—twice an NCAA champ for Florida and three times a USATF winner—has been head-over-heels smitten with the 3-bounce game since his 8th-grade season in Killeen, Texas.

The TJ is an event that finds its talent as much as the other way around. “I was actually thrown into the triple jump,” Craddock says. “I started off as a high jumper. That was what I thought was cool. It was at middle school, I obviously sprinted because my brother sprinted. But when it came to the field events, I was like, ‘I’m a high jumper.’ And I was the only high jumper on my middle school team.”

But the team had slots to fill, points to find. “We had nobody triple jumping,” Craddock continues, “and the coach was just like, ‘Hey, you look like a triple jumper, come, come triple jump.’ And I’m like, ‘How do you do that?’

“He’s like, ‘Jump twice on one leg, switch to the other and then land in the pit.’ And when I did that, I beat all my teammates by several feet. And then from there we just stuck with it. I was 13, in the 8th grade and I ended up jumping 39-11.

“And from then I’m just like, ‘I love this.’ I was always winning, and, you know, as a competitor, competitors just like to win, right? Nobody likes to lose, so boom, I’m winning. And I’m like, ‘OK, well, shoot, this is my first time doing this track. I want to do this in the summer too. So in that same summer, I connected with my summer coach and we can call him life coach, ’cause he’s still around today.”

That mentor was Eric Gaither. “He was my summer coach,” Craddock says, “and now he’s like my performance strategist, right? Al and I can be having these conversations on different techniques or what I need and this XYZ, but you know, every great athlete or every great success has a great team behind them. So whenever Coach and I get outside and we’re training, if I have any confusion from what Al and I spoke about then I will go to Eric and be like, ‘Alright, this is what Al said. How can you help me understand?’ And then we all just kind of come together and get it done.”

That’s now. Fifteen years ago? “I went from 39-11 to 42-5 or something like that within a span of 4 months or so,” Craddock says. “I think I started track in like March of 2005 and by June, July, I went from 39-11 to 42-feet. And then that following year as a high schooler from 42-5, I believe, to like 47-9. And I just kept increasing, kept increasing, kept increasing. And it landed me at Florida. Or actually not even.

“It landed me in the hands and the eyes of one of the greatest jumps coaches ever in Dick Booth at Arkansas. And then Arkansas fired him, released me and then I went to Florida. And you know, the rest of the history is still being written. I wouldn’t just say it’s still being written because it’s already written. It’s just being showcased.”

Craddock has written himself into the 58-foot club and to No. 9 on the U.S. all-time list with his bound out to 58-¼ (17.68) in April of ’19. But the World Champs in Doha, there’s no way around it, brought frustration: 55-4¼ (16.87) and then two fouls in the Q-round to miss the final by a single spot. He isn’t dwelling on it. He placed 4th at the ’15 Worlds (57-0/17.37) and is certain he can reach medal territory at his best.

Craddock calls himself a student of the triple jump, and truly means it. His history as a TJ academic dates back to his novice days with Gaither’s club, now called Jump Corps, with which he still remains active as an online tutor to youthful members coming up.

“We weren’t just a track club where you came to practice and then after practice you go home,” Craddock says. “We actually filmed our practices and then we would watch film together. I would have films to be able to watch at home so whenever we could get back to practice, I’m like, ‘Coach, OK, I noticed that I jumped and I do this, but then I see that this guy Aric Wilson does this, I see Willie Banks does this. I see Al Joyner does this, I see, Kenny Harrison…’ and I can go down the list. And that would excite him ’cause he’s seen that I want to learn, that I want to do it. And that just continued.

“As I got with Dick Booth, same thing. Now the thing about coach Booth was he noticed that football was my background. I was quite strong, and so he said, ‘OK, I’m gonna use this power to my advantage.’ I had, whatever, the fair technique that I had, but he noticed, ‘OK, you’re a powerful jumper. This is how we’re going to train you.’ And that wasn’t bad.

“Once I got to college, I mean, I went from jumping I think 50-10 to to 54-feet as a freshman [50-11½/15.53 to 54-4/16.56]. I placed at our indoor SEC Championships, indoor national championships every year.

“And then after moving out here to California, Al has been teaching me those ways of the ‘80s and ‘90s: a lot of the bounding. It’s different bounding techniques that he’s brought to me that I actually enjoyed. Because again, being a power jumper I love to bound. I’m a jumper so I love to jump. So any kind of plyometrics, I’m with it and I write my own workouts, as well.

“So it’s not too much that has changed or that was challenging except for all the running. I don’t like running a lot. And when it comes to Al or even E [Gaither] when I was younger, and Coach Booth, they had me running. That was the only hard part. But you know, I’m a soldier, man. I got through it.”

The blueprint that produced Craddock’s No. 5 World Ranker season in ’19—including a report card—is the model he plans to mimic in his leadup to the ’21 Olympic Trials and Tokyo. His first test came with that PR meet in Long Beach where he won against OG/WC gold medalist Taylor and three more eventual ’19 U.S. Rankers. But first Craddock had to write that report card.

“I just have to keep going back to telling you I’m a student of the sport,” he says. “I rate myself and I do it as honestly as I can. Obviously as individuals we’re biased to ourselves, right? So I did my best to take the biases out. I wrote in one of my journals grades of myself. I graded. What is your balance? What is your stability? What is your speed? What is your endurance?

“For balance? I can’t remember, but I know I didn’t give myself an A anywhere. Maybe when I wrote plyometrics I gave myself an A ‘cause I can kill that. For balance, I maybe gave myself like a B+. Stability maybe a B. Speed, I gave myself a C, and for endurance I gave myself maybe a D or a C.

“I sat with that for maybe a week or so, and was like, ‘OK now, how can I, me personally, better these?’ And so I wrote an 8-week program that challenged my endurance because I was lowest there. Again, I study other athletes and I understand that Christian can always come back on jump number 6. And when, when you look at that: ‘How can he do that?’ Once we get into the finals, jump 4 for me is typically another big one. I can still hang on, but number 4 is normally another big one for me.

“With Christian being able to last to jump 6, I told myself I want to be able to go to a competition and be able to last with the best of them. I want to be able to jump 9 times instead of 6. So I just upped my endurance training. That was more running, right? More bounding and jumps or whatever just to tax my body. I set different challenges out so once I’d seen that I could beat every challenge I knew that I was ready to compete.”

In Long Beach he did, bouncing longer than Taylor’s 56-4½ (17.18) in the sixth round. “Everything just came together,” Craddock says. “I knew I would last and I wrote on my goal sheet, ‘Last for 9 jumps.’ Regardless, I kept putting that into my psyche, 9 jumps, period. And boom, we get to Long Beach, I hit that big PR and I’m like, ‘Man, this was easy.’ Now I felt like I didn’t have to try to jump that 58-footer. It happened. And a lot of people thought that I worked on my speed, got faster. And I’m like, ‘Alright, that’s cool, but we’ve yet to do any speed.’

“You know, it just kept going. 2019 was a great year for me.” A month later Craddock placed ahead of soon-to-be USATF champ Scott in Nanjing, then bested Pedro Pablo Pichardo at the Rome DL along with eventual Doha medalist Hugues Fabrice Zango. In at least one comp over that summer he bested every other World Ranker for the season except Claye. Craddock is eager to tilt with them all in 2021.

Let’s hope it’s a better year than this one, an emotionally fraught trip around the sun—especially so for American Black men. “It can be very emotional. It is emotional—if you allow it to target your emotions,” Craddock admits. For him music-making, long a passion, has helped. He says, “I have a song called UNITY and it’s an acronym—I have shirts that I’ve been pushing as well—and the acronym is Understanding Now is The Year. You know, now it’s the time to be unified.”

Unified in life’s broader scope and with the U.S. triple jump corps. Craddock likes what’s happening among the latter group. “With four or five guys that can jump 57-feet [c17.40], it makes it fun,” he says. “I’m a guy that talks a lot of noise.” Here he pauses for a beat.

“OK, this is how I view our sport. If we were like the NFL… Right? You have those guys talking shit to each other, getting on each other’s ass. Basketball, you’ll see that. In hockey you see people fighting. Baseball, sometimes you have people fighting. But for some reason, in track & field we have to be quiet, professional. Hey, we race and after the race we give each other hugs.

“But me, man, I have a football background. Who’s good out here? If it’s me myself, Will and Christian, I don’t want the other athletes to be like, ‘Well, I guess, I guess I’ll come in 4th.’

“No! You’re supposed to say, ‘Good luck because today’s my day!’ And that’s what I look forward to. Now when I’m out there talking that noise, you got somebody like Chris Carter that’ll say something back. Granted that’ll be bad to his behalf because if you’re talking to me, I’m gonna back it up in a real way.

“But you have a guy like [’19 USATF champ] Donald Scott that—he used to try. Donald? I think Donald learned his lesson because now when people talk to him, he’s just quiet. And then with his silence it’s like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna let my performance speak.’

“That’s also what I like, ‘cause it’s like, ‘OK, can I talk you out of your game? Or are you gonna just step up to the plate?’ You know? We’re gladiators out there, we’re fighting out there.

“I’ve told USATF that we should do it mic’d up the same way that they do in the NFL. Put mics over where we sit down. Maybe not attached to us, but maybe put one near the runaway and one on the benches where we sit. You would hear a lot of funny entertainment, some crazy things. Not only from me. Will, he has the same energy. He talks like that to Christian. I would tell you this: Christian does it too, but people wouldn’t expect it.

“That’s the funny part about the sport. Track & field can be so much more entertaining if they would listen to us as the athletes, but they don’t want to.”

Maybe if Craddock keeps “talking noise” at ’em and jumping out of the lot they’ll start listening. □

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