Jeff Henderson had an Olympic gold medal in his grasp. Just not one he could call his own. With a pressure-packed jump on his last try of the night, the American long jumper changed all that. He won his own gold medal in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday and returned the one he carried for motivation to its rightful owner.
And now both Henderson and his coach, 1984 triple jump champ Al Joyner, really have something to celebrate.
“He said, ‘I want you to give me back my gold medal and keep your gold medal,” Henderson recounted. “I gave it back before I went out there. I knew I was going to win.”
He was clutch on his last attempt. It’s becoming an American trend. The night before, Michelle Carter won the shot put on her final attempt.
Henderson rocked back and forth before starting down the runway. He flew into the air and when he landed in the sand, he instantly knew that was good enough for gold. His jump of 8.38 meters surpassed South Africa’s Luvo Manyonga, who finished with silver. Defending champion Greg Rutherford of Britain was left with the bronze.
“I came here to win,” Rutherford said. “I’m going away disappointed.”
Just imagine how Jarrion Lawson feels. The American had the last jump of the evening and thought his was well out there maybe even gold-medal worthy but he dragged his left hand in the sand before landing.
That was the spot to where officials measured. He finished in fourth place.
“I still think I had it. Maybe I hit my hand, maybe I didn’t,” said Lawson, who was an All-American at the University of Arkansas. “Just can’t argue with technology.
“But I think that was a No. 1 jump.”
History will reflect Henderson as the winner, though. He said Joyner had used a similar ploy as motivation before _ with his late wife, Florence Griffith-Joyner.
It certainly got Henderson’s attention.
“He’s always like, ‘You’re a champion. Believe in yourself,”’ explained the 27-year-old Henderson, who’s from McAlmont, Arkansas. “The last jump I was just like, ‘OK, just keep everything the same, don’t change nothing.’
“I knew it was the winning jump after I saw it.”
How’s this for a little more history: Henderson captured gold medal No. 999 for the United States in the Summer Olympics. He was about 30 minutes shy of winning the magical 1,000th, but it went to the women’s 4×100-meter medley relay swim team.
“Feels amazing,” Henderson said. “To be in that group and that category is awesome. To have that, 999, I didn’t know that. It feels like I’m in a dream, honestly.”
Still think the long jump is boring, Carl Lewis? The track icon recently took issue with his former event and the lack of more star power. Henderson has no issues with Lewis’ sentiment.
Although, he will give his good friend some good-natured ribbing.
“I know Carl Lewis, he’s biting his tongue right now,” Henderson said. “I have nothing against Carl. Wait to see what he says after this.”