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Cassandra Richards likes freedom of the long jump
PA girl dreams of world record
by Don Rich, publisher of DyeStatPA
"I should probably know that. Darn. I should know that."
Cassandra Richards can be forgiven for not having the women's Long Jump world record on the tip of her tongue waiting for someone to ask. After all, it's easy to look up. And she has more important things to think about, like that Penultimate Step. About getting her hands forward and keeping them there during flight. About all those little things that will, she hopes, ultimately get her ever closer to that record, whatever it is.
"Cassy, ("that's with a 'y' not an 'i.e.'), says her father, "is a classic combination of speed and technique in motion." A perfectionist of sorts, she views the specific aspects of her various track and field events as a series of challenges.
You see, Cassy isn't just a gifted long jumper. She also has excelled in the 100 hurdles, the 200 and the 100.
A senior next year at Winchester-Thurston, a small private school in Pittsburgh's Shadyside section, Cassy has been a member of the city's premier track club, the River City Elite for quite a while. When she hit the high school level, she and her parents asked the school to start a program. "They have been very generous. Now, there is another girl working out in track. And it looks like we're making some progress starting a team."
Like many of the elite athletes, she started competing as a Midget (11-12), in both the 800 and the Long Jump. She quickly dropped the 800, and because of her speed, soon added the 100, 200 and 100 hurdles.
Cassy has actually qualified and competed in the USATF Junior Nationals Long Jump for all 3 years of high school. As a freshman, she says she finished near last. "I was intimidated by the college girls. They try to intimidate you." As a sophomore, she went 19-11 and finished fifth. "I stopped being scared last year." This year, she went a wind-aided 20-9 and got fourth, just one inch below the Olympic Trials qualifier. The top two at Jr Nationals make the US Juniors national team and have summer meets in Montreal (July 17-23 and Monterrey, Mexico August 3-5. Cassy was the top prep long jumper, but because none of the college athletes passed on the international meets, she won't be competing in either.
Her PR is actually the 20-6 she did at Golden West. Her wind-aided (+2.7) 20-09 at Junior Nationals put her #3 in the US in high school on DyeStat Elite. She is # 2 on the Track & Field News List.
Cassy is coached by River City Elite head coach Greg Mundy, and long jump coach, Frank Richards. Yes, her father.
Frank wasn't always a coach. Cassy was invited to an Olympic training camp, and the expenses covered two, the athlete and the coach. So she was joined by her dad. He took the certification courses offered at the camp and has spent a lot of his time since continually reading and watching videos to learn as much as he can about the long jump.
"I am her eyes outside to let her know what she is doing wrong and what to do to correct it," says Frank. "Technique is important in this event. Athletes attempt to get lower as they're taking off to create an upward, almost spring-like motion. They then swing their arms up around toward the front and use that weight to carry them further. In the final stage, the athlete collapses their legs so they don't fall backward. Consistency is the key, from the initial run right through the landing."
Actually, Cassy uses her own landing technique, one that Frank has seen some of the elite jumpers use. He believes it gives her at least another two inches on her jumps.
But it wasn't coaching that led Cassy to adopt the technique of turning slightly to her side on landing. It was actually an injury. One that has caused her to (temporarily) drop an event, and one that is only now starting to worry her less and less.
She had worked all last summer to really improve her 200 times. An event she thought, and still believes, she can do with the best. "I ran a lot of hills last summer. I really pushed myself so I could do well in the 200. Then, when I pulled my right hamstring in December, I just couldn't handle it. I was really frustrated and disappointed."
She pushed her father to let her come back as fast as possible. What she ended up with over the next several months was another pull and two strains. "I came back too fast each time." She was out until April to finally allow the injury to heal.
Last year, she had dropped the 100. "It's not my race. Too boring. Maybe I just don't get it."
But the injury forced her out of the 200 the remainder of the year. In her remaining two events, the 100 hurdles and the Long Jump, all she did was win two PA AA State Championships. The Long Jump of 19-10.75 was tops in the state by over a foot.
Cassy says she is going to be back next winter in the 200. "I guess I just can't let go of an event until I master it. I was the same way in the hurdles. When I first started, I kept falling and kept getting back up. I hate to lose."
That frustration sometimes leads to a loss in her focus during an event. "My father gets me back by telling me to look to the future. Both my father and mother push me to where I want to be. They pay attention. It pumps me up a lot." At States, when she was getting ready for the hurdles finals, it was all rain. Her father took her to the car, where she listened to her church music and stayed warm. She won the state championship.
Sometimes she gets so focused, her competitors even take notice. At Golden West, Cassy jumped over 20' several times. One of the other athletes noticed, observing that "you'd think she (Cassy) does this all the time."
So there is no doubt that the Long Jump is her first love. "I guess I like the freedom of it. It's hard to describe."
But academics has always come first. In fact, as a freshman and sophomore, during the two weeks just prior to the state competition, her father wouldn't allow her to practice so she could prepare for finals. "She loves to practice. It was really tough on her," Frank says. "At the beginning of this school year, she asked me to let her practice before States. I said we'd see. Well, she made honor role the whole year. I couldn't keep her from practice."
Her long-term goals? Like many of the top athletes, they are setting the bar high. Without hesitation, Cassy states that she wants to be the top athlete in the long jump. "Not just against women. Men, too."
With her academic and athletic credentials, it is no surprise she is setting her college standards high. She has been contacted by many schools, and so far, is interested in TCU, Abilene Christian, and Stanford, among others.
Look for Cassy (that's with a 'y') on the top of the awards stand at States again next spring. Then look for her on bigger stages in the years that follow, chasing that world record in the Long Jump.
The World Record? It's 7.52m by Russian Galina Chistyakova in 1988. Jackie Joyner-Kersee set the American Record of 7.49m (over 24.5 feet) in 1994.
Cassy, go get it!
Cassy Richards' Career Highlights (through July 16)
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