FAYETTEVILLE — Senior Arkansas two-time NCAA Men’s Indoor triple jump champion/Jamaican Olympian Clive Pullen believes he will pull off his first NCAA Outdoor Track and Field title on his last try today in Eugene, Ore., as a result of pulling his left hamstring April 29 in Baton Rouge, La.
The 12-step short approach the injury compelled Pullen to use scoring five Razorbacks fourth-place team points at the May 13 SEC Outdoor in Columbia, S.C., and taking second at the NCAA West Preliminary in Austin, Texas, when he needed a top 12 finish to proceed to Eugene advanced him “back to basics,” Pullen said.
Pullen knew he would sacrifice distance from the shorter approach not capable of the 55 3/4 that won him his second consecutive NCAA Indoor last March. However, it forced him to concentrate on technique, the missing ingredient, Pullen said, when he didn’t score at last year’s NCAA Outdoor. He repeatedly fouled including just barely on a jump he believes would have won the runner-up Razorbacks the 10 first-place points that would have overtaken national champion Florida’s 62-56 margin.
“My short approach is between 10 and 12 steps and my full approach is between 16 and 18,” Pullen said. “On my short approach I only push with two steps and get up and start checking for the board as opposed to my full approach I drive for six, push for two more and hit my checks and go from there. It is a big difference.”
Last year’s Eugene experience won’t haunt him today, Pullen asserts.
“I kind of put that behind me,” Pullen said. “This year is my last NCAA. It’s my last outing as a Razorback and I want to make it something special. I am really happy that I am back healthy at the right time and I am feeling great.”
He knows he can overcome last year’s Eugene adversity. For his next meet after zero in Eugene, Pullen won Jamaica’s Olympic Trials with an Olympics standard surpassing personal outdoor best 55-5 1-2.
Pullen became Jamaica’s first triple jumping Olympian since 1972.
“It’s easy when things are going good.” Razorbacks men’s field events coach Travis Geopfert said. “It tests your grit when things don’t go well. That’s what really defines you. If you are great, you respond to adversity. To be the first Jamaican athlete in 44 years to triple jump at the Olympic Games, that was a pretty good response.”
Geopfert and Arkansas head coach Chris Bucknam marveled at Pullen’s response since the hamstring pull.
They gave him the option and even encouraged him not to jump at the SEC Outdoor. But the with eventual runner-up Razorbacks chasing nationally No. 1 Texas A&M trying to defend their SEC Outdoor title, Pullen would have none of it.
“He said," Bucknam related, “coach, I’m not sitting it out. Put me on the short approach and I’m going to get some points.’ What a heck of an example of a guy that is not only talented but plays a little hurt. My hat’s off to him.”
Pullen managed his 52-4 fourth-place SEC jump under Geopfert’s edict to “jog” down the runway on his second and final jump under orders to pass on the rest.
“I knew it was going to be a close championship and the team needed points,” Pullen said. “I felt I could have taken one or two more jumps but the coaches said ‘You did more than expected.’ They wanted to save me for the NCAA meet.”
To get to the NCAA Outdoor in Eugene he had to get that top 12 qualifier in Austin.
That Pullen got it with a second in the meet, 54-7 astounds Geopfert.
“He made it look easy to jump 54-7 from 12 steps!” Geopfert said.
That’s the point that Pullen and Geopfert said they drove home about not deviating from the formula.
“Right now, the focus has shifted a little bit for me,” Pullen said. “I know I’m going to jump far, but it’s more focusing on the small stuff and having it all piece together.”
Form had to catch up getting up to speed.
“I’ve gotten way faster this season and way stronger,” Pullen said. “And I felt as if I were drifting a little way from technique. When I got hurt at LSU, it forced me to go back to the basics.”
“I think we were getting away from the execution of the technical side of the triple jump and relying a little more on that newfound speed and power,” Geopfert said. “I think that injury was a blessing in disguise because then you took a step back. Let’s really focus on technique.”
Turning pro after this meet and striving to represent Jamaica at this summer’s World Championships in London, Pullen insists he’ll always be a Razorback. He graduates in December with a degree in computer science and says he will remain in Fayetteville to train under Geopfert.
“It’s really a blessing,” Pullen said. “I’ve enjoyed every ounce of my time here as a Razorback.”