Let’s Talk About High Jump and the New Queen: Kentucky’s Charity Hufnagel 

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The international arena dominates the high jump event in track and field. Sprint and distance running captures the heart of the world and the U.S. during the Olympics, High Jump is often relegated to highlight reels and typically buried.

This isn’t the case in the international games. On YouTube the Commonwealth Games can be found and random European YouTube channels air entire events from youth to women’s competitions. There is a level of respect for the event that the U.S. simply hasn’t been interested in replicating. This stems from a very limited opportunity to participate in the sport at the high school level. A number of field and jumping events aren’t offered in many public schools because the coaching isn’t available. Most often, it’s not the coaching. I’ve witnessed high jump pits deteriorate at public schools because they weren’t housed correctly. With small budgets available those pits don’t get replaced. Many public schools lack the equipment needed for field and jump events diminishing the opportunity for scholarships in the sport.

It’s an unfortunate situation for girls talented enough to compete for scholarships and the situation is exacerbated because the attention from American media outlets is very small. What is compelling is High Jump is one of the few sports in track and field perfectly suited for television. Sprint events take 10 seconds to 2 minutes to complete. That’s a very small window to create a narrative and build superstars. High Jump events can run up to 2 hours. There is enough time to create narratives around the jumpers and to highlight the struggles in making and missing a jump. The redemption arc is there when an athlete takes their third attempt.

Passing of the Torch

Vashti Cunningham has been the U.S. women’s queen in the high jump and has been the National Champ for almost 7 years. As the daughter of Philadelphia Eagles legend Randall Cunningham, she turned pro out of high school and for a moment Women’s High Jump gained ground. Vashti appears to be finding interests outside of track. She’s modeling and is an active participant in the fashion industry. The Women’s Nationals saw her fighting for her Olympic life against a roster of college athletes.

The High Jump didn’t see exceptional heights, and this left the door open for a new women’s champ. Enter Kentucky Wildcats’ Charity Hufnagel. Jumping against the amazing Rachel Glenn of Arkansas she secured the gold and a spot in Paris. This isn’t the best Nationals High Jump, but the replay available on Peacock is solid television. The upcoming 776 Invitational and next year’s Grand Slam led by Michael Johnson provide a window into the world of sprint, but those events are without the jumps.

776 Invitational and Grand Slam Track | Two Good Concepts but Not Enough

When talking the passing of the torch, this refers not only to Vashti taking home the bronze, it’s also a reference to brands who aren’t showing up in the US Olympic Trials in a major way. adidas, Nike, On and New Balance have been highly visible. The moments being born while athletes wear those logos will live on in the hearts and minds of sportswear enthusiasts.

Brands that haven’t been very visible include Saucony, Under Armour and ASICS. After the Fred Kerley issue ASICS needs to create a moment. High Jump offers a special opportunity. The recent high school invitation held by Brooks and adidas’ ATL Games provide a blueprint for creating a narrative and High Jump has the stories. A smart brand has both a grassroots opportunity and national viewership opportunity. Everyone loves the sprint, but the brand who places an emphasis on High Jump could build a new base.

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