During his more formative years in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala., LSU’s nine-time track and field All-American JuVaughn “Mr. Jumps” Harrison admitted his TV sports viewing habits leaned more toward basketball and football.
Then as the calendar advanced, either two to four years, and it was time for another World Championships Summer Olympics, track and field became appointment viewing for Harrison and his mother Georgia, a Hall of Fame runner at Alabama A&M.
“In high school, I tried to get outside of track and watch other sports,” Harrison said. “It had to be something big for me to watch track. There weren’t any (track) idols for me growing up.”
After three years at LSU, where he’s captured six consecutive NCAA championships in the long and high jump events, Harrison has evolved from impressionable kid to 22-year-old U.S. Olympian who will participate in his first Summer Olympics on July 23-Aug. 8 in Tokyo.
It’s been a goal in the making since the completion of his high school year at Columbia High School in Huntsville.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Harrison, who turned professional July 1 during the U.S. Olympic Trials. “I grew up watching the Olympics and all of the running events with my mom. Now I’m going to be on the TV being broadcast. It will be a dream come true.”
For someone from ‘Rocket City’ – a nickname to commemorate Huntsville being the home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center – Harrison will launch himself horizontally as far as he can go in a pit of sand, and spring as high vertically with one stated intention: bringing home two gold medals.
During the U.S. track and field trials in Eugene, Ore., Harrison captured both the high jump (7 feet, 7 ¾ inches) and long jump (27-9 ½) to become the first male athlete to represent the United States at the Olympics in both events since fabled U.S. athlete Jim Thorpe in 1912.
Harrison also garnered further distinction in becoming the first U.S. athlete to win both a NCAA championship and Olympic trials in the same year.
“I definitely did not know that was a thing,” Harrison said of the feat. “When I saw it on social media, and how long it had been since somebody had done both, it made it more special. It wasn’t something I was striving for.”
For the actual past two seasons Harrison has effectively shed any lingering hints of anonymity by soaring where no collegiate track athlete had ever gone before.
He began a streak of six consecutive national championships, becoming the first male athlete to ever claim both the high and long jumps at the 2019 NCAA outdoor championships. After the 2020 NCAA indoor meet was cancelled right before it was set to begin amid the coronavirus pandemic, he also missed out on the opportunity to compete in the spring when the outdoor season was also scratched.
Not long thereafter the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo were postponed with no clear-cut assurances it would even take place because of COVID-19 concerns.
Harrison, a biomedical engineer major, made certain the time off from competition would not deter his long-range goal of making the U.S. Olympic team. He swept both of his events at the 2021 NCAA indoor champions and repeated the feat four months later, helping fuel LSU’s impressive run to a national championship at the NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene.
He remained in Eugene to train for the biggest moment in his career, his eyes squarely on the prize of not only competing but qualifying in both the high jump and long jump to reach Tokyo and become only the second male athlete in an individual event from LSU to ever bring him home gold.
The last and only? Glenn ‘Slats’ Hardin won a gold medal in the 400 meter hurdles during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany – 85 years ago.
Harrison carries a significant amount of momentum into the Olympics, especially in the high jump where he’s undefeated since March 30, 2019 – a stretch of 15 consecutive meets.
Harrison also realizes the task ahead. The world leader in the high jump has gone 7-9 ¼ or two inches higher than Harrison’s best, while his career best in the long jump (set at the U.S. trials) is nearly four inches shy of the world-leading mark (28-2 ¾).
“I’ve always had faith in my abilities,” Harrison said. “I always wanted to be the best at whatever I was doing. It was a goal of mine. To come in and be a force within the NCAA in the events that I did. I worked hard and was able to achieve those goals and now it’s time for the next goal.”