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Jumping for Joy
Ralph Wiley
July 18, 1988
Larry Myricks, aiming for his fourth Olympic team—and first medal—jumps mostly for himself
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July 18, 1988

Jumping For Joy

Larry Myricks, aiming for his fourth Olympic team—and first medal—jumps mostly for himself

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The events that occur at Indiana University Track and Field Stadium in Indianapolis in the early evening of July 18 will mark the beginning of the end of the 12-year Olympic odyssey of Larry Myricks. After the man in the blue body singlet rocks back on his heels and explodes down the long jump runway at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, it will all be behind him. Over. Finished. In his wake will be three other Olympic trials—1976, 1980 and 1984. Each time, Myricks, now 32, made the team as a long jumper, but he has never won an Olympic medal.

In a career noteworthy for its longevity, Myricks has earned a reputation for near-misses and almosts. He was injured before the '76 Olympic final. He was the favorite to win the gold in Moscow but was sideswiped by the U.S.-led boycott. By 1984 he had improved his long jump best to 28'1", putting him among the world's foremost jumpers, but because Carl Lewis was better than everybody, Myricks set his sights on the silver or bronze at Los Angeles. He finished fourth. At the most recent World Championships, in Rome in September 1987, his luck held. He was robbed of the bronze by the Italian field judges, who cheated on the measurement of an Italian's final jump, bumping Myricks to fourth. At times during his career, Myricks must have felt that there were forces conspiring against him everywhere he turned. Even when he was triumphant, at last, at the World Indoor Championships in Indianapolis in March 1987, the competition concluded so late at night that only a few dozen spectators remained in the arena to witness his victory.

In Indy, Lewis, now 27, will again be the favorite to win the long jump, as well as the gold in Seoul. Lewis and Myricks probably won't be speaking to each other; they rarely do. Everybody else speaks to Myricks. Everybody else finds him warm and engaging. At the 1987 Pan American Games, in the same Indianapolis stadium, Myricks received good wishes and advice from other jumpers before going out and finishing second. But not from Lewis. "That was the loneliest meet of my life," Myricks says. "There were only two competitors per country per event. Carl never said a word to me. Not even hello. The only time he spoke was when I congratulated him after he won."

Why? "I don't understand it. Maybe he feels threatened," says Myricks. "Maybe he knows there's something in me, something I'll uncork, something that might turn heads from him. You know, Mike Conley [another U.S. long jumper] is a hell of a competitor, but we help each other through all our competitions. Carl is...not a person I care to hang out with...but that's only because he feels that way. You can't get to know him. I've tried."

Myricks also runs the 200 meters in 20 seconds and change, though that's not his main event. He is first and foremost a long jumper—racing for 26 steps along the runway, hoping for a fair, solid, almost vicious plant, then flying nearly 28 feet through the air while hitch-kicking 2� times. Myricks has jumped 28 feet or beyond nine times, second in the world to Lewis, who has done it 45 times. Only two other athletes now competing have ever jumped that far—Conley and Robert Emmiyan of the U.S.S.R. In May 1987, Emmiyan jumped 29'1", the closest anyone has come to Bob Beamon's 20-year-old world record of 29'2�".

Long jumping can be a dangerous business. After all, jumping 28 feet through the air is the equivalent of leaping from a second-story window. It looks easy. The ride is nice. The landing requires thought. But fatigue could be costly to Myricks. He knows it. "My one flaw is weak ankles," he says. In 1976, when he was 20 and less prone to consider his flaws, Myricks was the finest young long jumper in America. There was no Lewis to deal with then. Myricks learned he had weak ankles in Montreal. He was warming up for the Olympic final, taking "run-throughs," when he heard something pop. He had broken a bone in his right ankle. "It took a year and a half to heal. I couldn't run or jog or bowl," says Myricks, an avid bowler with a 170 average. "I went from 175 pounds to 157 pounds." That began his odyssey. He might have won medals in three Olympics, but instead he has none.

In spite of his disappointments, Myricks seems serene as he lounges on a sunny day by the track at Mt. San Antonio College, near his home in Ontario, Calif. "I figured out long ago that I'm not jumping for medals," he says. "An Olympic medal is one of my life goals. It may be my turn to get one. But that's not why I jump. I jump because I do it well. I'd jump if there were no Olympics."

Is there a scenario in which he can outjump Carl Lewis? "Well, I don't know. He's a speed jumper, period. He's faster, but I'm stronger off the board," Myricks says. "I can't fantasize. I can't say until it happens. But I know he's human. That means he can be beaten. That means I can do it."

Myricks grew up in Jackson, Miss., where his parents still live, and brought home his first track and field trophy when he was eight. "From a YMCA meet or something," says his mother, LaPearl, who is an academic counselor at Hinds Community College in nearby Pearl. "He barely noticed that he had won it."

His father, Lawrence, owns and operates the World Class Upholstery shop in Jackson. "Guess where the name comes from," laughs LaPearl. Larry is the second of four Myricks children—his brothers, twins Laird and Larrell, are 29, and his sister, Latanya, is 33. "You've got to have some get-up-and-go," says Lawrence while tending the grill at the family barbecue on the Fourth of July. "We told all four of our kids to be versatile, work hard and when you're grown, you're on your own. Keep moving."

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