NO. 3 IN A SERIES of articles originally intended as part of our Olympic Trials Women’s Long Jump Preview. With the Trials and Olympics now postponed to 2021 by the COVID-19 crisis, we present this series as a current look at a U.S. wheelhouse event whenever the Olympics come round, no matter what the year.
2019 wasn’t a banner year for Kenyattia Hackworth. The Kentucky alum, who placed 7th in the ’16 Olympic Trials, only ranked No. 10 among Americans. Yet Hackworth, now 26, accomplished something that makes her the envy of virtually ever other jumper in America. In her final meet at Chula Vista, the one where she strained a hamstring, she flew out to a legal 22-8½ (6.92) in addition to her wind-aided winning jump of 23-1¾ (7.05).
The significance is huge. Hackworth, by surpassing the Olympic qualifying standard of 22-4½ (6.82)—is one of just two Americans who have made the grade so far; the other is Britney Reese.
The mark broke her old PR of 22-4¼ (6.81) that she set in winning the ’16 Kentucky Relays. Unfortunately, she couldn’t build on that fitness because of the thigh problem. “That injury,” she says, “it was a small little hamstring strain. Just something nagging that was going on as I competed back there and as I prepared for the USATF meet. We figured the best thing would be to not compete at USA Outdoors last year.”
And so her season ended. Hackworth and coach Brian Johnson kept their eyes on the prize, the Tokyo Olympics. Johnson, an ’08 Olympian himself in the LJ, won the ’03 NCAA Indoor for Southern.
The two decided being healthy was more important than risking anything the year before the Olympics. “It was nothing drastic that was going to put me out for a long time,” she says. “I took care of myself, got myself healthy. I just didn’t want to keep competing.”
The rehab seemingly went well, and Hackworth entered this season in good spirits. “I felt really good about everything. I was in my best shape ever.” Her first and only indoor meet was the USATF in February in Albuquerque, where she finished 8th, after hurting her right (jump) knee. “I go out there and I got injured in the prelims and it’s just like, dang. It’s kind of frustrating, but you know, I been here, did that. It’s nothing I can’t get through, you know, do what I need to do.”
Plan A had been “getting prepared to go to the Trials and get top 3, make this Olympic team and go out to Tokyo and do what you gotta do to get on the podium.”
Plan B is anybody’s guess during the pandemic. Hackworth lives in Mobile, Alabama, and had been commuting the two hours it takes to get where Johnson coaches at the University of New Orleans.
Now Louisiana is under a stay-at-home order and New Orleans is largely shut down. The job Hackworth had landed at an insurance company there—so she could move and train with Johnson daily—is now on the back burner. She was hoping she could still work on her knee rehab at her PT facility in Mobile, but the virus delayed that.
“I’m trying to just continue with everything in my rehab process, just to be ready in time,” she says. “But it’s just kind of hard. They’re closing everything down. It’s just hard to stay on top of everything. How do you continue to train and get ready and prepared when you can’t really do what you need to do? I don’t have access to a gym or anything.”
Hackworth notes that had the Trials and Games remained as scheduled for this summer, “Even if I was healthy right now, I would still feel like I wasn’t in a situation to get myself fully prepared to have a great meet when it comes down to it.”
“I mean, I feel way better about this year than how my chances were for the 2016 Olympics. I feel really good about this year, but now all this is happening. It’s kind of hard. It’s crazy.”
Hackworth, like most Olympic hopefuls, is frustrated by all the uncertainties this year, but she notes, “I got that qualifying standard out of the way so I don’t have to stress about that.”