This Saturday, in the very early reaches out the season, history was made. Not without controversy, the reigning Outdoor State Champion, Jyles Etienne of The Stony Brook School (HS), cleared a mark he has had on his bucket list for nearly his whole life.
On The Sidelines
The story starts back indoors. There, Etienne was a member of the basketball team, taking his team all the way to the Class C semi-finals. But as he was competing on the court, he was keeping a keen eye on the in-field. That's because he chief competition last spring came from within his own section. Dan Claxton, of Smithtown East, was having a historic season of his own. In late January, Dan Claxton would hit a 7-0 clearance, the first in nearly a decade, dating back to 2005. It moved him to NY #5 All-Time, and made him an easy favorite for another State Title.
Claxton would accomplish that, becoming the repeat Indoor State Champion at the same facility as his 7-0 clearance. One week later, he was at the Armory, taking third at Indoor Nationals on jumpbacks, but leaving with a final personal best of 7-0.25. The mark would move him to be the sole owner of NY #5 All-Time, and would also set him as a target for Etienne. He told Newsday,
"I was happy for him," Etienne, who is a native of the Bahamas and came
to the Suffolk boarding school before his sophomore year, said. "But of
course it fired me up. I heard the news and trained to do that, too. It
didn't scare me, though. I know I can clear 7 feet, too."
Back Over The Bar
Jyles Etienne wouldn't have to wait long before coming back to the sport. But it wouldn't be an easy transition. Entered as the top seed at USATF Hersey Indoor Nationals at Staten Island, Etienne won the event by 6-inches. However, his winning mark of 6-8.75 would be no match for the 7-0.25 that Claxton was jumping just one NYC Burrough over. Plus, there was something else motivating Etienne: a qualifying slot for the Caribbeans biggest championships, the Carifta Games.
The Caribbean Free Trade Association Games are a track meet consisting of all the island nations contesting regular events. As a native of the island nation of The Bahamas, Etienne would be able to compete. However, first he would have to qualify. The previous weekend, he watched Ronaldo Griffiths qualify for the Games via the Jamaican Trials, and knew his chance was coming next. With the Games coming on the 15th of April (Streamed exclusively on MileSplit), Etienne had to be in top form.
Not Without Controversy
The time came, and Etienne would make the trip over. His Coaches, who have regular season practice back home on Long Island, would not be able to attend, but were given regular updates via text message. The bar would go up, and the updates would come in.
He cleared both 6-7.25 and 6-9.25 on his first attempt. The bar would then be moved up to 2.12m, as it is commonly measured outside the US. That would be 6-11.5, a half inch personal best for the senior athlete. After two misses at the height, it was do-or-die. He already had the qualifying slot, but Claxton's mark was surely on his mind. For the first time ever, he cleared the mark on his final attempt.
Up the bar went. Now read 2.14, aka 7-0.25. After a miss on the first attempt, the approach found it's mark, and Etienne was over. The call went out.
But Etienne wasn't done. He was still alive in the competition, and had less trouble over the higher bar than he had anticipated. The bar moved up to 2.18, aka 7-1.75. Etienne took two clean attempts, but failed to clear the bar. So he waited. He knew what the mark could mean. He took his approach, and soared over the bar, clearing the historic mark.
What he didn't see, was the red flag. The officials had called back the jump, alleging that too much time had passed. The typical rule set states that an athlete has 60 seconds to initiate a jump once called upon by the official. Etienne and his coaches on the ground believed he had not violated such rule. He lodged a protest, and continued in the competition. He took one attempt at 2.22 (7-3.25), but called it a day, his mind on other things. After conferring, officials considered the protest, and eventually overturned their call. Etienne's mark would stand.
Reaching New Heights
Jyles Etienne's clearance of 7-1.75 did not happen within a vacuum. With the news passed along back to the States, the relevance of the clearance became apparent. Etienne moved to US #3 this year, where many are wondering if the National Record could go down ahead of him. The mark surpassed the Suffolk County Record of 7-1, set by Dave Devito of Shoreham-Wading River in 1979.
Etienne moves to NY #3 All-Time with his mark, behind only the State Record, set in 2001 by Dan Ohlson, as 7-3. NY #2 proved to be a little bit of a spoiler for Etienne, however. Despite also surpassing the Section 8 Record of 7-1.25, NY #2 is Tom Thompson of St. John the Baptist, who jumped 7-2 in 1992. That mark prevented Etienne from grabbing the Long Island Record, which may still come later in the season.
Speaking of the rest of the season, Etienne will come back to competition at the Carifta Games on April 15th. He is also the defending Top American at Penn Relays, a title he will hope to improve upon. After that, may come his biggest challenge yet. With Dan Claxton only minutes away from his home school, New York will get to witness two 7-foot jumpers going head-to-head for the first time in State History. With many planned match-ups already on the schedule, including one heck of a projected State Meet if both qualify, keep your eyes over on the High Jump pits.
Hear from Etienne at States last Spring.