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Smith wins high jump at Junior Olympics

Hayden Smith 08/2022
Reaching new heights

Hayden Smith had been welcomed home before, but nothing like this.

He was the guest of honor in a parade Friday that began at the Brady’s Bend overlook in Clarion County and followed Route 68 to Rimersburg, Smith’s hometown.

The reason for such a reception?

Smith, 17, won the gold medal in the high jump with an effort of six feet, 10¾ inches at the AAU Junior Olympics Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C.

“There were a lot of people there to welcome me back,” he said. “It touched me.”

There were 83 jumpers in the 17-18 age group. Most of them are from the United States, but a few were international competitors.

Smith started off by clearing six feet, ¾ inch, not a tall task for someone who owns Union High School’s record of 6-9.

“Dave (Sherman, volunteer coach) and I talked about it and we decided that I would skip some of the lower heights to save energy,” said Smith, who went on to make jumps of 6-6¾ and 6-8¾ before reaching the winning height.

“On the last one, my butt nicked the bar, but somehow it stayed there,” Smith said. “I knew it was going to be a fight and it was, but by making that last jump, I was in the driver’s seat.”

Smith beat out runner-up Herman Batiste (6-8¾) of Feliciana Speed Track and Field Club in Louisiana. He, like many of the jumpers, are members of an organized club. Smith was there as an independent.

But with someone very helpful in his corner.

“Union doesn’t have a junior high track and field team and I didn’t pick up the high jump until my freshman year,” said Smith, an incoming junior who has won two straight District 9 Class 2A titles and last spring’s state crown in the event. “It was tough that first year, I was just watching a bunch of YouTube videos. But I’m a hands-on person, I need to see things in person and Dave has helped me so much. He’s the reason I’m doing so well.”

Sherman was impressed with Smith from the first time he saw him jump.

“He was a 6-5 jumper as a freshman and I remember thinking, ‘This kid’s got a lot of ability’.

“He was raw and just needed some guidance. A lot of the work we’ve done has come with where his body needs to be during each jump to get over the bar. We’ve also increased his speed a bit on the approach.”

Smith qualified for the AAU championship by winning a regional June 17 in Charleston, W.Va., by reaching a then-personal best 6-10.