By Mark Selig, Daily News-Record
Michael Allen’s own accomplishments began to weigh on him. With a list of accolades as long as his jumps, the EMU track & field star struggled last season to match the expectations he had for himself.
Then came the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships last weekend in Salem, when Allen broke out again. The junior won his third straight long-jump title, and then crushed the competition in the triple jump with a 14.49-meter (47.54-feet) distance that provisionally qualified him for the NCAA National Championships, which begin on May 26 in Delaware, Ohio. The next-best jump by anyone was 13.78 meters. (This marks the third time in as many years he has competed at the national level in his sport.)
Allen was also named ODAC Male Athlete of the Meet.
“I feel like it took me out of the shadow of my freshman year – the freshman-year Michael,” he said Tuesday about the weekend performance. “When I went [14.49 meters] my second jump of finals, [I was like] ‘Alright, let’s go.’ And then my third jump, I felt, really took me out of that shadow. It probably would have been like a 50-foot jump but I reached for it and messed up and my knee locked up on me. … It just showed me that I’m going to be a 50-foot jumper, or I can be a 50-foot jumper.”
A Fork Union native, Allen set EMU records in the indoor and outdoor triple jump, indoor and outdoor long jump, and indoor high jump during his freshman year in 2009. An inability to find consistency and a minor left-foot injury hampered his sophomore season – at least by his standards. But he feels like he’s back to top form.
Allen’s domination of the triple-jump may be a bit unconventional. He’s 5-foot-10, not the ideal 6-2. He’s a burly 185 pounds, not the typical rope-thin build. He has flat feet, not arches.
And he doesn’t really have a jumping coach. Pete Nelson, a 2008 EMU graduate, is the interim track coach, and admits he doesn’t have much jumping expertise. (Jason Lewkowicz will be EMU’s new cross country and track & field coach beginning in fall 2011 after holding the same position at Hannibal-LaGrange University for three years.)
But he and Allen are learning together, Nelson said, and it’s worked out just fine so far.
“I’m not an expert in the triple-jump – or I wasn’t,” Nelson said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot from him. We use a lot of videos. Like, I’ll take videos and we’ll watch them together and see what area we’re going to work on this week.”
The videos have helped a pensive athlete who credits much of his recent success to visualization. Allen, whose face is framed by dark-rimmed, angular FUBU glasses, can rattle off details from just about every meet in his career. Ask him a simple question about technique and his answer is a winding story including the weather on a certain afternoon, what an opponent said to him before a jump or what his body felt like as he exploded into the sand.
While he remembers just about everything, Allen doesn’t seem to dwell on it.
Newman said that at a last-chance meet at Virginia Tech during this past indoor season, Allen registered six jumps, all illegal – a five-hour roundtrip netting nothing.
“But he bounced back,” Newman said. “Two weeks later he won triple-jump at Roanoke College in outdoor. Now he’s already qualified for nationals. He thinks about those types of negative experiences that he’s had, but I don’t think it affects him in a negative way. It just motivates to work harder.”
While Newman might be more of motivational assistance to Allen, coaches across the league often offer tactical advice to the talented leaper during meets.
“We know Michael,” Bridgewater track coach Shane Stevens said. “I think there’s a lot of camaraderie in the ODAC and we want to see people succeed. When you see someone like Michael Allen or a lot of competitors that we deal with, we’re always happy to help them with their marks and help them in a positive way.”
While Stevens said he’s willing to help, the competitor in him said he was relieved that Allen is a senior this year. Problem for BC is, Allen’s only a junior.
“It seems like he’s been around for a long time to us,” Stevens said, laughing, when corrected. “He’s a good guy.”
While he still has one year to go, Allen said he might postpone his senior season to 2013, because he plans on studying abroad in Mexico and Guatemala next year. Allen, who plays piano and bass, and sings in a local band called “The Remedy,” is majoring in musical performance as well as business.
For now, he’s got big things in mind for nationals next month.
“I don’t want to just, like, go. I want to crush,” Allen said. “I want to go there and place. Because I have the potential to.”
As for getting out of his own shadow, others don’t think that’s ever necessarily been an issue.
“I feel like everybody in the conference has been pretty well aware of what his potential is as a jumper,” BC jumps coach Denver Davis said. “Everybody knew coming into this season that he was going to be the guy to beat. I think everybody was just waiting on him to get back into his old form and start to jump the way he did. With the indoor season he had, he kind of got back to that. In outdoor, he put the nail in the coffin on it. He’s the top dog.”