Chris Benard Brimming With Confidence

The U.S. is loaded at the top end in the triple jump, but Chris Benard says he’s in the mix for a team spot. (JIRO MOCHIZUKI/IMAGE OF SPORT)

“I THINK I’M ALREADY good enough to be there.” The speaker is triple jumper Chris Benard and he’s talking about World Champs and Olympic Games podiums. On the right day, certainly, he’s right—and an elite 3-bouncing reminder of how frying-pan hot the competition is in the U.S. just to achieve the honor of proving it.

A 30-year-old Arizona State alum, Benard has World Ranked three times—No. 10 in ’16 plus No. 7s in ’17 & ’18—and made the U.S. Rankings each year since ’12, rating No. 3 in ’14 and ’17 and No. 5 in ’15, ’18 and ’19. In ’16 he made the Rio team and in ’17 placed 6th in the WC final in London.

In basketball terms he’s a starter in the playoffs. In an era that finds LeBron James and Michael Jordan analogs Christian Taylor and Will Claye leading the squad. Lest you find the analogy preposterous, stop and think—while conceding Benard is not the only U.S. TJer in this pickle. With a lifetime best of 57-4¼ (17.48)—set placing 2nd at the ’17 Nationals—Benard has jumped past 17m (55-9¼) every year but one since ’14, distances that are perennially Worlds/Olympics finalist territory.

Benard is correct to say he is already good enough. “Sometimes it seems like unlucky,” he says, “but it’s always just something small that I’m not doing. And every year I think I got it. I still just have a little bit more to work on. So honestly, just having time and opportunity I think at this point is all I need to be able to get up there.”

Coached at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center by noted jumps guide Jeremy Fischer (who also coaches Claye), Benard harbors an analytical bent that meshes well with the pursuit of perfection in a technically complex event.

As a prep at Santiago High (Corona, California), Benard, a football player all four years, got serious about triple jumping as a junior in ’07. “I was very explosive,” he says. “Or I mean I would say in my opinion I was moderately explosive, but it transitioned well for me in triple jump. I could jump well, but if I wasn’t doing it right, I wasn’t going to beat anybody. So as I progressed through the event and I started to figure it out, I was able to use my explosivity better. I wouldn’t say that me just being explosive is what took me to the next level, but it definitely helped.”

Benard jumped 49-6 as a senior in ’08—as a pair named Taylor and Claye led the prep list with 52-8 and 52-4¾—and then moved on to local Riverside JC where he claimed Cal JUCO LJ/TJ titles in ’10 with a 25-5½w (7.76) & 53-1¾/16.20w pairing. As an Arizona State senior in ’12 he hit his collegiate peak as runner-up at the NCAA Indoor (54-1¾/16.50). Benard placed 7th at the outdoor NCAA that year and 11th in the Olympic Trials.

Two years later in ’14, his second season in Chula Vista, Benard set his course for the long haul with a USATF 3rd off a 56-1¼ (17.10) PR.

He got there and further since honing that explosivity. Is Benard fast? “I always tell people that I avoid running open races, so I can’t be potentially made fun of for running slow,” he jokes. “If they don’t know how slow I might be, they might just assume that I’m fast. That’s kind of been my answer to that for some years now.”

In this, the COVID season, Benard jumped 55-10¼ (17.02) for 3rd at the USATF Indoor, the best under-a-roof jumping of his career. He competed twice more at WIT meets thereafter before the pandemic glue-trapped the season. Benard has not competed since February but he has by no means been idle.

“Me and my coach Jeremy, we were working out at parks and he set up a weightroom in his garage,” says Benard of the early-spring lockdown. “So we were doing that until we were allowed to get back into the Center. I felt like it was guerrilla war style—kind of get the work in where you can, try to stay in good general shape even though there isn’t any real direction or answer to what our upcoming competition is. So it was kind of like getting ready but you’re not really sure of what you’re ready for.”

Even with no outdoor meets, Benard maintained a familiar continuity in his training. “I would say every season there’s an amount of falloff and then there’s an amount of adaptation,” he says, “and so far I’ve always found something else that I need to be working on. It’s been like a constant project. And I haven’t mastered the event enough to be able to just work generally.

“So over these last two years, I’ve been really posture- and hip stability-oriented in my off season with my trainers and everything. And once I finally taught my body to kind of get that closer to second nature, I could feel way less impact on my joints and on my back, and way less injuries.”

Benard says the posture project has paid off through all three phases of his jumps: “Yeah, definitely. Until I was strong enough to run without sitting on my hips, I would be more susceptible to sinking through my phases because my hips were behind my center of gravity. But now I’m kind of training myself to where it’s second nature, where before I didn’t realize it was even a problem.

“I couldn’t explain exactly why I was losing power or not jumping as far until I figured that out. It was like, ‘Oh, like, you’re not going to be able to jump any further if you’re still sitting on your hips, if you’re not completely underneath yourself.’ At this level it’s little things like that that most people wouldn’t even be able to realize that are going to make you jump further.”

Benard also sees a synergy in the U.S. TJ that’s pushing all the top jumpers farther. “Our event in this country is pretty incredible,” he says. “I was actually thinking about this the other day, how Christian and Will have been so dominant since 2011 and how they’ve basically pulled up everybody else by their dominance.

“In other countries if your national record is 17.20 [56-5¼] you’re going to feel very accomplished at 17.10 [56-1¼], but in our country you don’t feel that. So it’s like, ‘I gotta keep working, keep working.’ You see the people that you need to at least be at the level of if you want to be relevant in this sport right in front of you. I mean, they’re 2 and 3 all-time.

“I think that our event being that strong and that powerful makes us all better. So just between me, Donald Scott, Omar Craddock, Chris Carter and the other triple jumpers, we’re maximizing upon ourselves just to kind of get to the level that [Taylor and Claye] are at. And I think we’re finding out how good we can be because we are pushing ourselves to a limit or to a point that is pretty hard to reach. But it seems easy because we have people right in front of us doing it.”