T&FN Interview — JuVaughn Harrison

Now 24, Harrison rolls into the ’24 Olympic year off a No. 1 high jump Ranking and a silver medal performance in Budapest. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

FOR JuVAUGHN HARRISON, it has always come down to choices. At the ’17 Alabama 6A Championships as a senior at Columbia High, he won both hurdles (14.55 & 37.63), the long jump (23-½/7.02) and high jump (6-10/2.08 after clearing 7-2/2.18 earlier in the season). Back then the headlines raved about JuVaughn Blake, who soon signed with LSU (and ended up rooming with one Mondo Duplantis). The next year he won the World Junior (U20) bronze in the high jump.

The son of Jamaican 4×4 bronze medalist Dennis Blake and Alabama A&M Hall of Famer Georgia Harrison, he chose to go by his mother’s name after his first year in Baton Rouge. He explains, “My mom was the one who took care of me. She was my primary caregiver. I lived with my mom. I figured since she was the one who put in all the hard work raising me, I should have her name. Simple as that.

He chose to leave the hurdles behind and focus on the jumps with coach Todd Lane; it seemed a natural decision, given his nickname, “Mr. Jumps.” As he improved, he kept being told by outsiders he would have to choose which jump. He refused. In ’19 he became the first man to win NCAA titles in both and said, “My goal is to be great in both and to not have to choose.” (Continued below)

In 2021, after the pandemic break, Harrison came back stronger than ever, winning the NCAA double indoors and out, becoming the first man over both 2.30 (7-6½) and 8.40 (27-6¾). Then in Eugene, he won both his events at the Olympic Trials, the first to ever succeed in that double. In Tokyo he placed 7th in the high jump, and the next day 5th in the long jump.

Now, having jumped to the silver medal in Budapest, he sits atop the high jump World Rankings as the Olympic year dawns, thanks to his solid Diamond League campaign. Occasionally he flashes a smile with his new diamond grillz: “Just a reward for a good season,” he explains. But as for choosing one jump over another, he says it’s not going to happen.

Toward the end of the interview, he adds the one thing he doesn’t want any interviewer to miss: “I always gotta give credit to my mom and my little brother, Ky-Mani. Those are my two rocks. Those are my two biggest fans.”

T&FN: Congratulations on a hell of a season. Were you happy with it?

Harrison: Yes, I was happy with the season as a whole. I didn’t like the way it finished, but I was definitely happy with it.

T&FN: What for you was the high point?

Harrison: The high point would’ve been medaling at Worlds.

T&FN: That was an intriguing competition. What was going through your head as you were hitting those final heights?

Harrison: The main thing was I wanted to stay clean for as long as possible. That was the biggest thing going through my head. I wasn’t really focusing on too much else. I just wanted stay clean because I had a feeling it was going to come down to who was the most clean throughout the competition.

T&FN: In a big meet like that, what does that feel like after that last miss, when you know it’s finally over?

Harrison: It’s a little bit of relief. Your body isn’t as tense anymore. It also depends on whether or not you medal. That plays a factor in how you feel after the competition’s over, whether you’re excited about medaling or you’re upset about not medaling, but for everybody I know they get like a release. You don’t have to focus as hard anymore. You can take a breath.

T&FN: How does it feel to finally be ranked No. 1 in the world?

Harrison: It feels good. It feels like all my training’s coming through and showing, so I’m happy with it. (Continued below)

T&FN: Taking you back to the beginning, where did you get your start in track & field?

Harrison: Track & field? It’s just been something that my family’s always done. My mom did track, so I just was always around track & field.

T&FN: So you always knew that that’s where you would end up?

Harrison: Not necessarily. It wasn’t my first choice for a sport that I wanted to do. But it definitely did draw me back in. It definitely showed that I was meant to be doing track.

T&FN: What was your first choice?

Harrison: Basketball. You never know where you’re gonna end up. And I’m not mad at it.

T&FN: Did you ever imagine when you were a kid that you would be a pro athlete?

Harrison: That was the goal for me growing up. I wanted to be a professional athlete. The kid version of me would be proud. He’d be like, “OK, we accomplished our goal.”

T&FN: How did you end up being a jumper?

Harrison: I just had a knack for jumping, Jumping was just something that I did. My mom ran the hurdles, so I took after her and did some of the hurdles in high school, but ultimately jumping was just something that was more natural for me.

T&FN: Your parents had Jamaican roots. Any thought of competing for Jamaica at some point?

Harrison: I discussed it a little bit with my mom as an option, but I had competed for the U.S. when I was younger, so we just decided to stay with it.

Harrison puts no stock in the views of “people online who tell me I should stop long jumping.” (KEVIN MORRIS)

T&FN: You’ve been coached by Todd Lane since leaving high school. The relationship must work well. Could you tell me a little bit about him and how you two work together?

Harrison: Yeah, coach Todd’s my guy. That’s my dog. We have a great relationship. I feel like because we’ve worked with each other for so long, we understand each other and we listen to what each other has to say. If I tell him how I’m feeling about a certain thing with how we’re jumping, we’ll talk about it. We’ll fix it and we’ll find a solution for it. I don’t ever feel like my coach isn’t listening to me, and vice versa, anything he says I make sure I’m paying attention to.

T&FN: Do you tend to have a lot of fun at practice? Is there any joking around or are you guys just both business?

Harrison: We have fun. We definitely joke around a little bit at practice. I feel like if you’re too serious and you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, then you shouldn’t be doing it. So we definitely both enjoy track and we have fun, but we know when to be serious and when to laugh and joke.

T&FN: Are there any key training partners for you these days?

Harrison: Right now, my high jump training partner is Vernon Turner, and then my long jump training partner is Rayvon Gray.

T&FN: Tell me a little bit about your training situation. How do you balance your time between the high jump and the long jump?

Harrison: It just really varies based off of where I’m at and where I’m at in the season and what we’re working towards. Let’s say everything is going good, like I’m having great meets high jumping, I’m having great meets long jumping, it alternates. So it’ll go two high jump days and one long jump day, and then the next week it’ll go two long jump days, one high jump day. Now, if I’m doing better in one than the other, let’s say I’m doing better in long jump than high jump, then we’ll have two high jump days on continuous weeks until we get high jump back to where we need it to be. It just depends on where I’m at in my training and how I’m doing at my competitions.

T&FN: When you were a collegian, it seemed like in terms of your priorities, the two events were just about equal. Has that changed? Is high jump more important overall for you right now?

Harrison: No, I wouldn’t say it’s more important overall, I’d say it’s probably the one that’s just coming a little bit more natural in crossing over from college to pro.

T&FN: Which of the two do you have the most fun with? Which is more enjoyable?

Harrison: I really enjoy both, but I’ll say that I think less during the high jump. I feel like high jump is very natural to me, so I don’t have to think as much. I wouldn’t say I have more fun with one over the other, but I definitely could say that I think less during high jump than I do long jump.

T&FN: Interesting. Because I, as someone who’s never jumped, would’ve thought it was the other way around, the high jump seeming so technical and difficult compared to long jump.

Harrison: I could see how you would say that. But again, like I said, the high jump just feels very natural to me. I also believe in training. A lot of the times when I get to the competitions, I feel like I’ve put in the proper groundwork. If you’re stressing the day of the competition too much, I feel like then you’re worried about your training. But let’s not get it twisted. I do get nervous. Let’s make it clear that I do still get nervous, but after we get the competition jitters out. We’re ready to roll.

T&FN: Early on in your college days, did Coach Lane ever suggest you checking out the triple jump?

Harrison: I think there were jokes made about it between me and him, but never anything serious.

T&FN: In hindsight, your LSU experience, how would you rate that on a scale of 1 to 10? Was that a good move for you?

Harrison: Yes, I enjoyed it. LSU as a whole was great. I’ll give it a 10 out of 10 as an experience. I feel like I learned a lot about myself and about life in general. In terms of athletics, it was a 10 there as well. I had a lot of fun. I really enjoyed myself, getting to travel, getting to be on a team and compete at a high level. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I happened to rack up a few accolades on the way.

T&FN: Yeah. A few, that’s a way to put it. Any regrets later on down the road about skipping your last year of eligibility there?

Harrison: No, I think I left at the right time. I’m not one to chance anything. I think I left at a very good time. I’m not going say at the peak, ’cause I feel like I’m going to go further than I have, but I feel like I was at the proper point to go pro. I didn’t think I needed to wait another year.

T&FN: Was 2020, the year of pandemic cancellations, a tough season for you and Coach Lane to get through in terms of figuring out how to approach it and what to train for and what to look forward to?

Harrison: Not really. I continued to work out, just not as frequently. So instead of working out like 6 days a week, I was probably working out like 2 days a week. But over that time period, when we weren’t allowed to be in school, we were all on computers. I was still working out and that was just one thing me and him spoke about: make sure you’re not getting out of shape. I made sure I kept myself in shape so that way when we started back, we didn’t have to focus too much on getting my conditioning back.

T&FN: With the Olympics being delayed a year, you came back in 2021 and set some historic milestones, winning the Trials in both events and making Olympic finals in both. Did that delay of a year help you in terms of being ready for that Olympic season?

Harrison: I think it did. Everything shutting down happened and the NCAA Indoor Championships were supposed to start like the next day. I felt good going into that, the NCAA Championships, and I felt like I was going to PR and I’m not saying I was going to jump as high as I did the following year, but I definitely felt like I was going to be improving on what I did the previous year. But I’ll say I feel like COVID did give my body some time to rest and I feel like my body did need that. So I give a little bit of it to COVID saying, you know, thanks for the rest, but I feel like I had something to show a little bit during quarantine.

T&FN: If everything had happened in 2020 as originally scheduled, you think you still would’ve made the team in two events?

Harrison: I think I would’ve.

T&FN: If you have the opportunity, would you go to World Indoors this year or is that something you would set aside to focus on the Olympics this year?

Harrison: I’m not 100% on that yet. We’ll see as it gets closer to that time. But right now I’m thinking about setting it aside to focus on the Olympics.

T&FN: You know, both of your events have World Records that are just… they’re out there. I’m sure you probably had thoughts on the subject. How high do you think you can go? How far do you think you can leap, ultimately on a perfect day in perfect conditions?

Harrison: Perfect conditions right now? I still think I have a few minor things that I need to work on to get to the World Records, so I’m not going say I’m ready for the World Record as of yet. I’m going say that as of right now… Perfect day, perfect conditions, everything’s well… I’d put myself around about 7-10 or about 2.39-2.40, I feel like on a perfect day.

T&FN: How about long jump?

Harrison: A long jump on a perfect day… around what I was jumping before. High 27, probably 28-flat.

T&FN: Does being at this level where you are right now the best high jumper in the world, and one of the best long jumpers in the world, does it give you an appreciation for some of those numbers in history? A long jump of 29-feet, how crazy that must have been, or 8-foot in the high jump? Do you look at those guys more as legends or as targets?

Harrison: A little bit of both. Legends in the fact that I measured out each mark, like I’ve set the bar to the World Record. I’ve marked out 29-feet in the long jump. And I mean, it’s ridiculous. It really is. Standing under the World Record for the high jump and looking at that, it’s intimidating, but it’s also exciting because you’re like, “Hey, somebody’s done it, so it’s not impossible.” You just got to have that day where everything is perfect and there you go. But I definitely look at them a little bit as targets as well, because as an athlete, as somebody competing in those events, I want to break the World Record. I want to break what people think can’t be broken.

T&FN: Have you enjoyed the last few years of living the pro life?

Harrison: I do. I definitely do. It definitely feels good to not have to worry about school anymore. You know, you wake up, you go to practice, you get your treatment, you take care of your body, and then essentially you have the rest of the day do what you want.

T&FN: When you’re not doing track stuff, when you need to get away from track, what do you do with yourself?

Harrison’s HJ World Rankings trajectory — No. 9 in ’21, 4 in ’22, to the top in ’23 — suggests what he’s doing is working. (JEFF COHEN)

Harrison: I play the game. I hang out with my friends, watch TV. Sometimes I like to be in the house and just relax and vibe or listen to music. It just depends on the day. But for the most part, I’ll either be on the game, or I’ll be watching some type of show on TV or I’ll go hang out with some of my friends.

T&FN: Is there something about you that your fans and the media don’t understand or realize about you?

Harrison: That’s a good question. I feel like a lot of my friends know this, but I don’t know if everybody knows this. I’m a nerd in my opinion. I enjoy watching anime, I love to play chess. Those are two things.

T&FN: Some people would call that nerdy. I think it’s pretty cool. Noah Lyles isn’t he a big anime guy too? Do you guys talk about it?

Harrison: Noah Lyles is a big anime guy. I’ve spoken to him on a few occasions about different anime.

T&FN: Have you ever thought, if you never did sports, what would you be doing now?

Harrison: What would I be doing? Wow. If I never got into track, I probably would’ve stayed with my first major and I’d probably be doing that right now. My first major in college, I was studying biomedical engineering, so I probably would’ve stuck with that and I’d probably be working in that field right now.

T&FN: That’s quite a jump from biomedical engineering to sports administration.

Harrison: I mean, I tried, but scheduling that with my practices, it was just a lot of conflicts and a lot of sleepless nights. I made a business decision to change majors so I could at least have a chance at doing both.

T&FN: How long do you think you see yourself doing this jumping game?

Harrison: I actually have no idea. I always say my big goal is to make four Olympic teams. I know that’s something I want to check off my list before anything. Once we that and we get medals and we do the thing, then I think everybody has to have that conversation. But I feel like [I’ll jump] until it’s just looking like I can’t do it anymore, until I’m consistently not jumping what I want to jump or I’m just not performing as well as I know I can. I think that’s when I’ll start having that conversation. But I don’t have a specific age set out. We’re just gonna go with the flow and see what happens.

T&FN: About that post-track afterlife. It seems like great athletes fall into two groups. Some try to stay in the sport as coaches or agents or celebrities. Others go into regular “real life” jobs and do a total transformation. What do you see yourself doing?

Harrison: I really can’t see myself working in a true 9-5 desk job. So I probably want to stay around athletics in some way, shape, or form. Nothing against people who work 9-5, nothing at all. It’s just I know I can’t sit down for that long.

T&FN: Looking at Paris, what are your goals?

Harrison: My goal is to get two gold medals. That is the ultimate top, top goal.

T&FN: You know, you’re talking about things that no one has ever done before. Is that an extra boost for you knowing that you’re in undiscovered territory?

Harrison: A little bit. It’s definitely there. I try not to think too much about it because I try not to let certain things get to my head like, “Oh, you’re the only person doing this,” or stuff like that. I’d like to just focus on enjoying the sport and doing what I can and what I train for. But it definitely is there. It’s a little, little voice in the back of my head that reminds me every once in a while I’m doing something or trying to do something that hasn’t been done.

T&FN: I’m curious, do the other high jumpers think you’re crazy for long jumping and do the other long jumpers think you’re crazy for high jumping?

Harrison: I don’t know. I don’t think anybody’s really said anything. It’s more so just people online who tell me I should stop long jumping. They all sway towards me giving up long jump and focusing on high jump. It’s not really athletes. It’s just mainly the people online.

T&FN: Do you get a lot of armchair coaches talking to you at times?

Harrison: Yeah. I mean, everybody has their opinion on how they feel like I should be trained or what I should be doing versus what I shouldn’t be doing. It’s funny to read. I find it interesting. I always get a good laugh out of it.

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