Bofinger: Montana in golden era of triple jump

Posted at 4:49 PM, May 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-04 18:25:46-04
Missoula Sentinel junior Lauren Heggen broke her own all-class record in the triple jump, reaching a mark of 39 feet, 9.25 inches. (RICHIE MELBY/MTN Sports)

Since Whitehall’s Kellee Glaus set the all-class girls triple jump record at the State B track and field meet in Laurel in 2010 by jumping 39 feet, 2 inches and breaking the mark formerly held by Ryegate’s Kelsey Kirkpatrick, state triple jump records have seemingly fallen at will.

In 2013, Kalispell Flathead’s Matthew Tokarz set the all-class boys record with a jump of 48-09.50, breaking former Cascade standout and current Carroll College track and field coach Harry Clark’s record from 1983.

“I thought Harry Clark’s record would be there forever,” current Missoula Sentinel jumps coach and Fort Benton graduate Khalin Anderson said. “Being a long jumper and triple jumper as I was in high school and being a Class B guy, Harry Clark went to Cascade, that was the untouchable record that we all looked at was his 48-footer. The fact that Tokarz broke that says what a talent he was.”

Several boys have threatened state records since Tokarz set the all-class mark but to no avail. Plains’ Taylor Firestone and Columbus’ Walter Johnson crossed the 46-foot mark in 2011 in pursuit of the State B record. Mark Estes threatened the State C record in 2016 while at Drummond, then he went longer than 46 feet at Kalispell Glacier in 2018. Most recently, Melstone’s Brody Grebe came up just an inch shy of the State C record this year.

The record-breaking trend has been most prevalent on the girls side, though. It continued in 2017, when Missoula Sentinel’s Ashley McElmurry broke the State AA girls record, which was set in 2012 by Kalispell Flathead’s Kwyn Johnson. Then in 2018, McElmurry and teammate Lauren Heggen each broke the girls all-class record before Heggen ultimately wound up with the state-record mark. Also in 2018, Drummond’s Morgan Radtke became the first Class C girl since Kirkpatrick to jump 37 feet at the State C meet but came up short of Kirkpatrick’s record.

Both McElmurry and Heggen broke the 40-foot plateau this season, joining Glaus as the only girls in Montana history to do so. Heggen then broke her state-record mark just last week, but she was one of five girls at the State AA meet to eclipse 38 feet. This came just nine years after Glaus was the first girl in Montana to hit 38 feet in a state meet. Glendive’s Karsen Murphy set a new State A record last week in Laurel and nearly hit the 38-foot mark, too, coming up half an inch shy.

“It comes in waves. I think you see cyclical things, especially in the jumps,” Glendive track and field coach Tom Temple said. “I’ve noticed in the past you’ll get these kinds of cycles where you’ll have groups of kids come through, and, of course, the competition feeds off each other. The triple jump, I think, is like that.”

Temple had a first-hand look in 2003 when Belgrade’s Kalindra McFadden broke the all-class record formerly held by Butte’s Holly Maloney, as he and his brother Jim were running the triple jump at the state meet that day. The following day, Kirkpatrick broke McFadden’s record. But even during that time, Temple hadn’t seen anything quite like what Montana’s female jumpers are doing today.

A big reason why? Increases in technology and training. Not only are videos readily available for kids and coaches to critique their technique, but athletes can also track their competition on Athletes also have access to an abundance of training routines and drills they pick up through videos that lead them to work on those in practice.

“I think true, too, is finally kids are embracing the technology of the sport. Kind of like we talked about before, there’s so many more avenues for the kids to look at, the coaches to look at to become technically better jumpers,” Temple said. “You pair that with the training that kids do anymore, there’s so much out there in terms of plyometric training, ways to be better in terms of power and speed. Even in social media how fast they can look at and see what other kids are jumping. It fuels it. It’s almost a placebo effect, it really fuels it.”

But that doesn’t seem to be the only thing leading to the eye-popping marks girls around the state have posted in recent years. This year’s top three jumpers at the State AA meet, Heggen, McElmurry and Helena Capital’s Audrey Bloomquist, all share a background in gymnastics. Murphy fits the bill, too, as she’s a tremendous dancer. Both Anderson and Temple attribute part of their athletes’ success to their diversity off the track.

“Going back to balance, core strength, being able to be aware of their body and control their body in those type of environments, those three are just models for that,” Anderson said of McElmurry, Heggen and Bloomquist. “All three grew up with a gymnastics background. That’s starting to play a big role into it. There’s a lot more girls around the state that did gymnastics that they knew of that have become good triple jumpers.”

“She does a lot of rhythm work and all kinds of flexibility things,” Temple said of Murphy. “On days when she’s not doing track, she’s teaching dance because her family owns a big dance studio. She’s gone to dance competitions all over the country. She’s always going to have that natural rhythm in her.”

Competition, an increase in technology and diverse athletic backgrounds seem to have helped the most recent wave of triple jumpers in Montana. The future of the event on the girls side appears to be in good hands, too.

Of the top 25 female triple jumpers in Montana this season, all of which jumped at least 35 feet, 18 will return next year. That includes Murphy and Heggen, as well as Kalispell Glacier’s Faith Brennan and Missoula Big Sky’s Whitney Morrison, who each eclipsed the 38-foot mark at the State AA meet last week. McElmurry’s sophomore sister Audrey broke the 37-foot mark last week, as did Dillon freshman Ainsley Shipman.

The McElmurry family has another sibling, though, that could wind up threatening state-record marks. Seventh-grader Emily recently jumped 36 feet at a junior high meet in Missoula.

“She’s 13 years old. That’s just wild, man. Crazy. She’s coming for the record,” Anderson said.

The triple jump may be cyclical, as Temple says, but if the past 10 years are any indication where the next 10 years will go, state records will continue to fall routinely.

“In the next 10 years, 40 (feet) might end up being the norm,” Anderson said. “It’s crazy to say that and crazy to think about that, because we’re talking about the previous 10 years and now 10 years in the future, that’s crazy to say that in a 20-year span to go from 34-35s were a good jump to 39-40s are good jumps. It’s really insane as a track fan and as a jump guy.”