USATF Women’s Triple Jump — Orji vs. Franklin, Round 8

Keturah Orji has now met Tori Franklin 8 times, and has never lost. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Nothing grabs spectator attention like a duel. Not in the sun in the case of Tori Franklin vs. Keturah Orji, the two longest-bombing women triple jumpers the U.S. sport has ever seen, the only pair who have reached 48-plus territory, operating above 14.70 in metric terms. Here AR holder Franklin and Rio 4th-placer Orji met under gray skies with a few lingering damp spots on the runway.

Didn’t matter. In the only in-stadium field event of the first day they both bounded beyond the previous meet record, Tiombé Hurd’s 47-5 (14.45) from ’04, and put on a show in which their final order hung in the balance up to the measurement of the competition’s penultimate leap. It’s good fun, indeed, to at last have a world-class domestic rivalry in the event.

The competition’s first-round jumps promulgated some fake news. The outsized ruler placed next to the pit for a rough visual hint about distances was misaligned. Orji noticed when, sixth in the order, she took her first jump, measured officially at 47-¾ (14.34). While it was nearly 5ft longer than the best of the 3 fair jumps before it (despite a takeoff some 7 inches short of the plasticine), “I was a little bit confused,” she said, “because they had the board measurements wrong so it looked like I had jumped 49 feet but the [indicator] wasn’t in the right place so I thought I jumped farther than 14.30 and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ And my coach told me the board wasn’t in the right place.

“So I just regrouped in my mindset because my whole warmup was not as far as I thought it was. I regrouped my mindset and then went out and tried to extend my hop. Because usually when my hop is big everything else falls into it.”

Three jumpers later Imani Oliver launched a long hop despite taking off with her toe just short of the board and reached 44-6¼ (13.57) to grab 2nd. Franklin, with a large white bow adorning her luxuriant head of hair, took the runway as No. 11 in the order after an intervening jump fouled by Lynnika Pitts. Her motivation to give her predecessor as AR holder a contest in their first meeting since Mt. SAC’s win by Orji could not be doubted. Franklin danced, hands on hips, then shouted to the crowd and clapped hands above her head exhorting audible support. With a final chest thump, she started her run. Good speed, takeoff foot fair and square on the board, legs lifting high through the first two phases of the jump, wind blowing 0.4mps at her back.

Franklin twisted to her right on impact with the sand but the effort was a good one. Athlete and spectators all knew it. Meet-record good, 47-6¼ (14.48). She bounced out of the pit with a smile and threw in quick dance moves before the measurement appeared as she walked back toward the waiting area.

In frame 2, Orji fouled and Olympian Andrea Geubelle moved to 4th at 43-10¾ (13.38) and Princeton alum Oliver, takeoff toeing just the edge of the board, improved her hold on 3rd (44-10¼/13.67). Franklin’s 46-7¼w (14.20) second try, aided by a 2.7 wind, got most of the board but appeared to shed inertia before the last flight phase toward the sand.

On to round 3—the decider, as it turned out. This time Orji hand-clapped above her head to raise the crowd, ran dynamically off the board, which her toe caught maybe an inch of, skipped through her phases and tucked well on landing followed by a rightward roll. The jump looked like a new leader and was by more than 4 inches: 47-10½ (14.59), another meet record.

Geubelle strengthened her grip on 4th (44-1½/13.45), Oliver did the same in 3rd (45-3½/13.80), and then Lynnika Pitts skipped from 5th past Geubelle with a 44-4w (13.51) effort. Franklin’s fourth-jump timing was less than what it had been, like her distance: 46-4w (14.12).

Reordered for the finals, Franklin fouled her 4th and so did Orji. Nobody else improved in the round, but in frame 5 Oliver soared past 46-0 and 14 meters for the first time with a 2.8 wind helping her span 46-8w (14.22), the longest-ever 3rd-place jump at nationals. The round brought no improvement for Franklin (44-6¼w/13.57) or Orji (46-3¼w/14.10). Pitts had bettered her distance with 44-7w (13.59).

Franklin retreated to the center of the infield by herself, crouched on the grass and prepared for her last shot. “I was gathering all the energy from the meet,” she said, “all of my energy, and centering it so I could rally for a big one.” She got one, having screamed to the crowd for some noise before her run. Hitting all but 2–3 inches of the board and with a 3.8 wind behind her, she zipped through her phases for her best of the day. She popped out of the pit and waited hands on hips for the measurement: 47-7¾w (14.52), 2¾ inches short of victory. Franklin bowed to the stands.

On her last, Orji attacked her run, fouled just into the plasticine, ran out of her jump and clapped her hands above her head, the winner for a third straight year with the third-longest jump of her career and second-best this season. “This one is a little bit better,” said the winner, rating it against her previous title comps, “because I was definitely pushed to win it. I’m happy that I was able to respond to the competition. It wasn’t really strange,” to be pressed by a rival, “just because I’ve competed in Rio and World Indoors twice. So it wasn’t strange but it’s nice to have someone there pushing you.”

Mixing it up tightly with Orji as she never has before in a championships felt for Franklin “a little different internally because when I go on the big stages with people I don’t see very often, it’s just like I’m going out there, I’m competing, doing the best I can. But I have seen [Orji] around a lot, it’s always kinda been like bip, bip…” Here Franklin mimes with her hands that until this spring Orji was at a higher level. “So it’s a different type of energy but it’s definitely a good energy. It’s exciting.”


(June 21; winds ranged from +4.0 to 0.0)

1. Keturah Orji (Ga) 47-10½ (14.59) (x, 5 A)

(47-¾, f, 47-10½, f, 46-3¼w, f) (14.34, f, 14.59, f, 14.10w, f);

2. Tori Franklin (NYAC) 47-7¾w (14.52)

(47-6¼, 46-7¼w, 46-4w, f, 44-6¼w, 47-7¾w) (14.48, 14.20w, 14.12w, f, 13.57w, 14.52w);

3. Imani Oliver (unat) 46-8w (14.22) a-c PR

(44-6¼, 44-10¼, 45-3½, 45-1w, 46-8w, 45-7¼w) (13.57, 13.67, 13.80, 13.74w, 14.22w, 13.90w);

4. Lynnika Pitts (unat) 44-7w (13.59);

5. Andrea Geubelle (unat) 44-1½ (13.45);

6. LaChyna Roe (Tn) 43-1¾w (13.15);

7. Toni Smith (unat) 42-11½w (13.09);

8. Keri Emanuel (unat) 42-3¼ (12.88);

9. Viershanie Latham (unat) 41-9¼ (12.73);

10. Paetyn Revell (TxT) 41-6½w (12.66);

11. Danylle Kurywchak (unat) 41-6w (12.65);

12. Kassie Gurnell (unat) 41-3w (12.57);

13. Michelle Fokam (Rice) 40-10½ (12.46).

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