If the electrifying talent of Jarrion Lawson first emerged in 2016, then 2017 provided compelling evidence for the American’s mental resourcefulness.
A former world U20 long jump bronze medallist, it was in 2016 when the University of Arkansas sprinter/jumper emerged on the wider athletics landscape by becoming the first man since the great Jesse Owens to complete the 100m, 200m and long jump triple at the NCAA Championships.
A mighty new long jump PB of 8.58m at US Trials qualified Lawson for the Rio Olympics before he encountered heartbreak on the world’s biggest sporting stage. Sitting fourth with a best leap of 8.25m he then launched out to what appeared to be the winning jump with his sixth round effort.
However, controversy ensued when the measurement only came up at 7.78m. After protesting to officials, it emerged his finger had lightly brushed the sand which triggered the measurement. Gold (which had been banked by his countryman Jeff Henderson with 8.38m) has been denied literally by a fingertip!
Eager to learn from mistakes
Lawson, who turned pro in 2016, could have approached the setback in one of two ways. He could have sulked and felt sorry for himself or put the disappointment behind him. He sensibly took the latter option.
“Looking back several mistakes happened (in Rio) and, unfortunately on that stage, I couldn’t afford to make those mistakes,” explains the 23-year-old.
“I had to take the positives out of the experience. It was my first time on the world stage competing against top-class competitors and I don’t think I backed down. I learned a lot from the experience which helped me going into the 2017 World Championships.
“I got over the disappointment pretty quickly. I don’t look for medals to give me satisfaction. I performed well. I had no reason to hold my head down.”
Returning to Fayetteville he turned to his strong coaching unit for the next chapter of his career development. Led by head coach Travis Geopfert and Doug Case and supported by strength and conditioning coach Mat Clark and track trainer Cole Peterson, the team continued in a similar vein to the past in order to fulfil the Texan’s enormous potential.
“Travis calls it (the coaching unit) the triangle in terms of the way all the lines are connected in order to make sure I’m firing on all cylinders,” explains Lawson. “Travis loves the sport. He is a geek. He loves breaking down the event into a fine art and very much wants to see success for his athletes.”
Taking advantage of innovative opportunities
Lawson did, however, mix up his pre-season preparation when his agent rang up to ask if he would be interested in competing in Australia as part of the inaugural Nitro Series.
With the prospect of featuring for Usain Bolt’s All Stars team too appealing, he flew to Melbourne to compete in the innovative series in February and although well outside of his peak season he leapt a long jump best of 8.02m.
“The meets were played out to a great atmosphere with great fans – it was something a little different from a normal track meet,” explains Lawson. “It was a great way to compete and have a break from training.”
After enjoying a good winter training period his plans for 2017 took a nosedive in the spring after suffering a persistent gluteus muscle injury. During April and May his training was badly compromised – which accounted for a well below par performance at the Shanghai Diamond League where he leapt a modest 7.49m and registered 10.51 for the 100m.
He approached the US Championships in June badly undercooked competitively and “not knowing what to expect.” But showing admirable mental fortitude, given his far from perfect preparation, he performed with pride in both the 100m and long jump in Sacramento (note, he chose not to compete in the 200m because the schedule clashed with the long jump).
In long jump, he secured the US title – beating Olympic champion Jeff Henderson in the process - with a wind-assisted best of 8.49m while in the 100m he gave a glimpse of his sprinting prowess by posting a PB of 10.03 in his heat before he was eliminated at the semi-final stage.
“I was excited by those results because I’d hardly competed (in 2017),” he explains. “To come out and run a personal best (in the 100m) was good.”
Strong London silver
Competing in just one more long jump competition prior to the 2017 IAAF World Championships – he leapt 8.33m for second at the Rabat Diamond League – offered further encouragement and then in the British capital he performed with distinction.
Supported enthusiastically by his mum Carol, dad Jerrel, and cousin Brannon, inside the London Stadium, Lawson produced an incredibly consistent series which included five of his six jumps between 8.44m (achieved in the final round) and 8.31m in distance.
Ultimately he fell just 4cm shy of gold medallist Luvo Manyonga of South Africa, but he took pride in his performance.
“I take away a lot of positives,” he says from his silver medal-winning display in London. “It was my best ever series and I didn’t foul one jump. Of course, you always want to go for gold but it has definitely stoked my fires for the coming years.”
Lawson also conceded he missed out in gold to an outstanding champion in Manyonga – whom he describes as having enjoyed an “incredible season” after remaining undefeated in long jump during the 2017 season.
“He has great running form, great form off the board, a good take-off, everything you need to maximise distance,” he adds.
As for the 2018 season, Lawson would like to “clean up” some technical elements of his long jump including his landing and would like to focus more on the track than during the 2017 season.
“I would like to become more powerful, focus on block starts and see if I can dip under 20 seconds (his current PB is 20.17),” he explains.
He showed some signs of that in an abbreviated 2018 indoor season, first winning the US indoor long jump title with an 8.34m leap at altitude in Albuquerque and then finishing fourth at the World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018, reaching 8.14m.
Yet his general ambitions for the future are plain and simple.
“I just want to go out and make myself better with the end goal of getting ready for 2019 (and the IAAF World Championships in Doha),” he adds.
Steve Landells for the IAAF