SportsTrack & Field

An athlete who succeeds at whatever she tries

Ivar Vong

Her initial reaction is to dismiss the idea as crazy, too much, not feasible. But Jamesha Youngblood stops. She has to think about it. She’s not sure she can’t do it.

With the exception of pentathlete Brianne Theisen, an NCAA champion in the indoor pentathlon, Youngblood is Oregon track and field’s most versatile female athlete. The junior from San Pablo, Calif., holds school records in the long jump and triple jump and can run the 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters and 100-meter hurdles with aplomb. At the Oregon Preview on March 20, she ran the 400-meter hurdles as an off-event — and set a meet record.

“She’s a big-time athlete,” assistant athletic director Vin Lananna said. “She’s a blue-chipper.”

The question posed to Youngblood: Could she run a competitive 800 meters? Could she take her prodigious 400m speed — Youngblood is a member of the Ducks’ 4×400-meter relay team — and extend that for one more fast lap?

“Anybody could do anything they put their mind to it,” Youngblood said.

Of course, this will never happen, as Oregon continues to build a stable of excellent young middle-distance runners. And Youngblood’s top two priorities will always be the long jump and the triple jump. She represents a good problem for the Ducks to have — an athlete capable of going above and beyond her best events, being competitive in the process.

“Whenever you have a franchise athlete like Jamesha, you have to be careful that you don’t do too much,” Lananna said. “We’ll pick each week until we come down to what seems to be her best championship events, and we’ll go from there.”

Youngblood committed to Oregon after a decorated prep career. She won long jump competitions at the Pan-American Junior Games, the USA Junior Championships and the Junior Olympics in her senior season, as well as winning the long jump and the triple jump at the Nike Indoor Nationals. With her pick of colleges, she chose a school not historically known for cultivating sprinters and jumpers.

“When I first got here, Oregon was a distance school,” she said. “I was the only (sprinter or jumper), basically, that Oregon had. It was kind of fun being the only one because people were like, ‘Let’s see what she can do.’

“I wanted to make a name for myself. I didn’t want to go to a school that already had ten Jamesha’s on that team. I wanted to go to a school where there was only gonna be one.”

“It’s really hard for a jumper or sprinter to come from California to the rain or the cold,” Lananna said. “She’s done a marvelous job making the adjustments. She doesn’t complain.”

Youngblood, a member of the 2008 U.S. Junior World Championships team, had her breakout moment at the 2009 Pacific-10 Conference Championships. She won the long jump in 21 feet, 1.25 inches and followed it with a 43-foot, 2.25-inch triple jump for the sweep as the Duck women won the Pac-10 title for the first time since 1992. Both marks were school records. At NCAA outdoors, Youngblood jumped 21-5.25 in the preliminary rounds before recording a third-place mark of 21-5.5 in the finals, earning six team points. Oregon finished with 50 points as the national runner-up, its best finish since the Ducks won the 1985 outdoor national championship.

Youngblood has great talent but a mercurial nature at times. At the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships last month, Youngblood failed to register a legal mark in the long jump. But when it came time for the 4x400m relay, she put her nerves aside and helped the team to victory, adding to the national championship Oregon had already won.

“It was pretty hard for me. Just the energy of our team, us wanting to do so good, that got the best of me,” Youngblood said with a laugh. “I just wanted to do good so bad, I guess the adrenaline took over. I fouled three good jumps. I was heartbroken after.”

“She feeds off of how we do,” said Amber Purvis, who has competed with Jamesha since the duo was seven years old. If we do good, Jamesha’s gonna go out there and do good.

“Jamesha’s really hard to explain. She’s different.”

Youngblood has her quirks off the track — she brings her chihuahua, Tink, on the team plane to road meets, hidden in her luggage; and she has her quirks on the track, too, keeping a set of goals for the season so private even her coaches don’t know them. In competition, she stands out with results as she tries to push the women’s team to even higher levels.

“From my freshman year, we’ve been like, ‘Oh man, we have to get up there.’ We wanted to be like the men so bad,” she said. “And we’ve finally … we’ve basically switched places. It’s so cool.”

The perfect cap to her junior season would be an outdoor national championship. Youngblood isn’t sure the Ducks can’t do it.

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