Inika McPherson is one of those athletes one does not forget. The high jumper is making a name for herself in our sport. David Hunter caught up with her recently and here is his feature on the high jump power house.
When 5’4″ high jump dynamo Inika McPherson cleared 6’6¾” at the USATF outdoor track & field championships earlier this summer, the achievement had considerable significance on many levels. First of all, it was a personal best for McPherson. In addition, her first attempt clearance also allowed the two-time United States indoor HJ champion to complete a come-from-behind victory to capture her first national outdoor high jump title.
Further, getting over the bar at 6’6¾” [2.00 meters] put the former Cal/Berkeley athlete atop this year’s American high jump leader board and placed her second on the World Leader list – just behind Russian high jump czarina Anna Chicherova’s global-leading clearance of 2.01m.
McPherson’s championship-winning leap also allowed her to gain entrance into an exclusive high jump sorority: The Two Meter Club. “It is great, awesome, amazing – just everything you can say about it,” gushes the animated champion. “I just worked for this for such a long time. I watched 2 meter jumpers on YouTube as much as I could just to get something from them that they did to get over 2 meters. I feel that watching them, my supporters, and my coach [Rice University’s Patrick Pyle] helped to make it [her 2.00 meter clearance] happen.
While 48 women worldwide – led by Stefka Kostadinova’s eye-popping 1987 world record leap of 2.09m [6’10¼] – have cleared 2.00m or better, only 8 American women have done so. And of the eight, only 4 U.S. women [Amy Acuff (2.01m); Louise Ritter (2.03m); Brigetta Barrett (2.04m); and Chaunte Lowe (2.05m)] have ever jumped higher than the 27 year old Texan. “Those are the people that I have watched a lot coming up and wanted to compete against,” reveals McPherson. “And I actually got a chance to compete against some of them before they retired. It pushed me forward. Having them above 2.00 meters motivates me to get to where they are.”
But wait, there’s more. McPherson’s 2.00m leap represents yet another unique achievement: a height-over-head world record. By clearing a bar 37 centimeters higher than her height, the diminutive leaper eclipsed the former height-over-head mark of 35 centimeters set in 2011 by Antonietta Di Martino when the 5’6½” Italian soared over 2.04m.
“I’ve seen her in a lot of indoor meets on YouTube. And I’ve also competed against her at an All-Comers meet at UCLA,” stated McPherson in obvious reverence to her competitor’s jumping ability. “When someone told me, ‘Hey, did you know she’s jumped 2 meters?’ I said, ‘Whaaaattt?'”
Being the shortest world class high jumper doesn’t faze the national champion. “I learned about high jumping in the 4th grade. No one’s height matters. No one then even knows how tall someone is going to be,” Inika explains. “Ever since I saw the high jump, I never thought about height – I just loved the event. Growing older, I started to see the difference in height between me and the other athletes. I just feel like high jumping is embedded in me and that height doesn’t matter and that you just have to go forward and work toward being the best you can be in the high jump.”
A look back on McPherson’s career reveals ups and downs. A gifted natural athlete, the Port Arthur native competed in many events in high school.
“I ran the 300 hurdles, the 400, both relays, the long jump, the triple jump,” McPherson explains. “I even did a little pole vault,” she chuckles.
But the young athlete clearly excelled in the high jump where she cleared 1.88m [6’2″]. In college, McPherson focused on the vertical jump, but struggled.
“A lot of the years at Cal, my left ankle – my plant foot – was injured,” she explains. “So I was battling that throughout my four years. While at Berkeley, I was only jumping around 6’0″ – 6’1″. I don’t think I cleared 6’2″ in college.”
She’s right; she didn’t. “It was very frustrating. I always felt like I was putting so much work into my event. And then when I would get to the competition or right after the event, I would have ankle issues to the point where I could barely walk the next day or not be suitable for the next track meet, but still wanting to jump,” Inika explains. “Trying to do recovery and to work out at the same time throughout those years was very hard for me to keep going. I just kept working through it.”
But then she received the treatment she needed. “I finally got microscopic surgery to remove inflamed tissue on my left ankle in 2008. That resulted in a big change in my training and in my confidence toward the event again. I wasn’t feeling that there was something that was holding me back.”
Before long, McPherson was healthy – and jumping as she should. “I was coming full throttle with my ankle. It was a good transition,” she states. “After the surgery, I wasn’t having any more major issues like I had in the past which made me wish I had gotten the surgery way earlier.”
She made the USA world teams in 2011 and 2013 – clearing 1.92m in Moscow to finish 18th. Yet in between she “no heighted” in the 2012 Olympic Trials. What was that all about? “I had a 6 millimeter tear in my right quad. I couldn’t sprint at all. I couldn’t do anything. I shouldn’t even have been out there. But I wanted to give it a try.”
After claiming the national high jump title in Sacramento, the new champion made a quick trip across the pond for some European competition. After finishing tied for 6th [1.94m/6’4¼] – one centimeter out of 3rd – in a log-jammed contest in Paris, Inika grabbed the runner-up spot in a wet competition in Italy. “It was drenching rain,” she laments. She then finished her breakthrough year in Glasgow with a second place performance [1.93m/6’4″] behind high jump legend Blanka Vlasic.
McPherson – who began the year with a personal best of 1.95m [6′ 4¾”] and improved 2 inches to 2.00m – couldn’t be more pleased with her 2014 progression. “Clearing 2.00m made this year a success,” she proclaims. “That was good! Everything that follows was even more. I couldn’t have imagined this season going this well. I am a little tired from the traveling,” she confesses. “I don’t jump that much in practice, so when I have meets back-to-back-to-back, it tends to wear on me.”
She is already engaged in her build up for next year. “I’ve still been training – to keep up my muscle, my momentum, and my build – so it won’t deplete.” In the quest to make her third consecutive world championship team, McPherson sees added strength as the key. “I haven’t done weight training in a couple of years. So this will be my first time back in the weight room hard core.” Is indoor competition this winter part of the preparation? “Hopefully. It looks like I will. I really haven’t made my decision to jump indoors yet.”
The American HJ leader is not coy about how she views her prospects for further improvement. “After jumping 6″6¾” [2.00m] I know I can jump 6’8″ [2.03m],” McPherson declares. “And whatever is after that is just what I’m going to work for – just keep raising the bar.”
Known to compete at various times sporting piercings, carefully coordinated competition outfits, or even a head-turning “‘frohawk” hair style, the high jump champion has developed somewhat of a reputation as a fashion plate. Is this her signature? “I would say so. A lot of people always talk to me about it,” reveals McPherson who featured a hipster-esque skull cap in the USATF meet. “I would say it is a trendy topic. It’s however I feel like I want to dress at that competition. Sometimes I think about it weeks in advance, sometimes even months in advance. ‘Ooohhh, this is what I want to wear at this meet.’ Or ‘this is how I want to look at that meet.’ It’s definitely fun. It makes it more fun. I think it says a lot about the sport to have the freedom to be able to do that. It allows athletes to be the individual person that they are.”
Body art is a playful frolic for Inika. She makes a game out of carefully considering her next tattoo. “I have been thinking about this one for about a year now: It is a giraffe,” she announces with enthusiasm. “But I want to find the right artist because I want it to look very realistic and I want the spots to be all the world’s continents.” What would that new tattooed image represent? “My travels, my journey across this nice, big earth.
While she is considering options for her next tattoo, Inika McPherson – who has been known to call herself The High Jump Queen – might also want to reflect on her newly-discovered capability to make another indelible mark: to earn herself a place among the greatest American women high jumpers of all time.
– Dave Hunter for Run Blog Run