Stuart Weir profiles the world-leading high jumper as she gets set to compete at the Eugene Diamond League
Following the first high jump competition of this year’s Diamond League series, which took place in Shanghai and was won by Levern Spencer of St Lucia with 1.94m, the contest moves on to Eugene. On Saturday (May 28) the field includes world-leader with 1.96m, USA’s Chaunte Lowe.
Lowe, now 32, is seeking selection for her fourth successive Olympics. She holds the US record both outdoors, with a height of 2.05m, and indoors, with a height of 2.02m. Her best major championship performance was silver in the 2005 World Championships. Indoors she has won gold in Istanbul in 2012 and bronze in Doha in 2010.
How, I wondered, do you become a high jumper? In Lowe’s case, it goes back a long way.
“When I was a kid there was a song by Kris Kross called ‘Jump’,” she said. “I was in the house with my sisters – this was when I was in elementary school – and my head was almost touching the ceiling. I thought, ‘Wow, I can jump really high!’ From that time on I was in love with track and field athletics and I found out that I was particularly good in the jumps. I started doing the long jump and by my freshman year in high school I started doing the high jump.”
Her achievements are good by any standards but amazing when you consider that she has also had three children during her career. She told me: “If competing with one daughter was hard, life with two [and now three] kids was almost impossible. That year I quit track every single day! Every day! I was like, ‘I can’t try to push to train hard because I have just had a baby’. I had lost 20 kilos and I just said, ‘Okay, I’ll get through it’ and then that night I would be up all night with the baby and I would quit. ‘I quit. I am not going back’.” But with a woman’s legendary ability to multi-task, she did go back the next day, and the next, and the next.
In 2010 she took a bronze medal in the World Indoor Championships, despite not liking indoor jumping. “The way we do our training we don’t really peak for indoors,” she said. “We don’t get into our speed training or any kind of strength training. We don’t have indoor facilities and a lot of the workouts we are doing are in zero Celsius and very cold.”
Her second daughter, Aurora, was born in April 2011, which wiped out her 2011 season. “My second daughter was very unexpected but my husband and I had been through a couple of things where we really appreciate the life of a child,” she said.
Even so, when the 2012 World Indoors was approaching, Lowe was in two minds about it. “I nearly did not come!” she said. “I came to Europe earlier this year and did some high jump meets and you look at the results and I absolutely got spanked. These girls definitely had the best of me during these meets. I decided I was not coming to the indoor Worlds. I felt I was not in good shape. Then something clicked at the last meet and since then I have been jumping higher than I ever have indoors.” It was a good decision to go, as she got the gold.
In the winner’s press conference she brought the house down. Asked if she had spoken to her family after the win, she replied that she had spoken to her daughter and said, ‘I won’. The then five-year old Jasmine replied, ‘I already know that but did you get my ice-cream?’
Lowe explained that to compensate for her absence, she promised her daughter ice-cream. She added: “She is really focused on that ice-cream and is determined to get it and I will make sure she gets it when she sees me in the airport tomorrow night.”
Lowe is also worth following on social media. She has recently been in Rio for a test event and posted on Facebook afterwards: “Came here took a win and got to hear the American Anthem played in the Rio Olympic Stadium. I would consider that a successful test run.” On Twitter, she added: “World lead 1.96m. Had to take my wig off mid competition!”
While in Rio she also entered her first, and possibly last, heptathlon. She tweeted: “Much respect to all heptathletes. This event is harder than I thought. Messed up in both of my first events.” On returning home her comment was: “Agh! Avoided Zika & the kids take me out with their school germs!”
I can’t guarantee that Lowe will win the high jump in Eugene this weekend, but you can be sure that it won’t be dull!