In an unprecedented seven-round jump off, North Carolina’s Nicole Greene won the women’s high jump at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships Friday evening in the Gilliam Indoor Stadium on the campus of Texas A&M.
Greene becomes the second Tar Heel to take home the NCAA title in the event since Sheena Gordon won it in 2006, and she becomes the program’s first national champion since 2007.
“I’m very excited for Coach [Nicole] Hudson and even more elated for Nicole Greene,” he added. “For our program, it is one of those that combines athletics and academics at the highest level, and Nicole Greene definitely represents that. We are excited to have another national champion for the Tar Heels.”
At the opening heights of 5-9 ¼ (1.76 meters) and 5-11 ¼ (1.81m), she easily cleared the bars on her first attempts.
“I knew it was going to be a tough competition because everyone made opening height and that had never happened anytime I have been at nationals,” Greene said. “So, I was like, ‘Oh shoot, it’s on.'”
She then followed by clearing 6-0 ½ (1.84m), the height that she cleared to take fifth at the 2017 NCAA Indoor Championships, and 6-1 ½ (1.87m) on her second attempts.
All of a sudden the competition was down to three competitors – Logan Boss of Mississippi, the top-ranked athlete in the country, Loretta Blaut of Cincinnati and Greene. Blaut had matched Greene’s efforts at each height, but it took Boss three attempts to clear 6-1 ½ (1.87m). All three missed the next height of 6-2 ¾ (1.90m), which meant Boss was eliminated, but Blaut and Greene were still alive.
All that was left was a jump off. Blaut and Greene would jump at consecutively lower bars until one made it and the other didn’t – the sport’s version of sudden death.
“The jump off is something that happens in our sport,” Meaders said. “But I’ve never seen it happen at this magnitude where there are so many bars and so many opportunities to win it or lose it.”
Over the first four heights – 6-2 ¾ (1.90m), 6-2 (1.88m), 6-1 ¼ (1.86m), 6-0 ½ (1.84m) – neither competitor was able to clear the bar. Finally, each proceeded to clear 5-11 ½ (1.82m) before both missing 6-0 ½ (1.84m) again.
“At some point it was a test of endurance because the kids are stalling for time on their approach, they are sitting down, you can see them breathing heavy and fatigue started to set in,” Meaders said. “At that point, I was really confident that Nicole Greene would win. Coach Hudson does a fantastic job. I think her all-season training program is one of the toughest in the country, and her kids are always physically fit. So, I was never worried that our kids would be the first to fatigue.”
With the competition once again at 5-11 ½ (1.82m) after both athletes had jumped 15 times, Blaut missed it. Greene was up.
“I always jump 1.82, but this one, when I went to start my jump, I knew it was going to take everything in me to get over this, Greene said. “It wasn’t just the physical capability. It was how much do I want to be a national champion because each bar that she missed and I had to take was if I get over this then I am a national champion, if I don’t get over this and she gets over then I lose, and then if neither of us get over this we keep going, and I don’t want to keep going.”
She made it.
“I literally just took off running,” Hudson said.
With that jump, far lower than her personal-best of 6-2 (1.88m) but of greater difficulty given her level of fatigue, Greene sealed the win for the national title.
“First there was the relief that I got over it so I could be done,” Greene said. “Then I was like oh my gosh, I won. And it’s not just a fluke. This wasn’t just I won it because everyone else did poorly. I competed. I actually had to compete because you are usually just competing with the bar, and you usually don’t have to do a jump off, but that was the competition.”
Watching from the sideline with her parents was Meaders, who felt like he was right on as much of a roller coaster with the Greenes as Nicole was out on the track.
“Her father said that, ‘The best steel is made after going through the toughest fires, and I thought that was definitely an appropriate quote because it really, really was a test of will today,” Meaders said.
“It was a marathon,’ coach Hudson said. “But you do what you got to do and we are coming home with the dub.”