At the 2013 IAAF World Championships, speed was a problem for Marquis Dendy. He took off down the runway on his first attempt of the long jump, sprinting with the sheer excitement of being at his first global competition as a senior.
“I felt extremely fast,” Dendy remembered almost two years later. “I was extremely amped up. I was so ready to go and I get up, I take off on the board and I get a little over-rotated because of so much speed that I have: that slight inch of rotating forward, I couldn’t maintain, I couldn’t handle it.”
The result was an awkward landing, dislocated left shoulder and a torn labrum.
He knew something was wrong when he hit the sand, but didn’t want to drop out of an IAAF World Championships. Two attempts later, he finished 27th overall in qualifying and called an end to his season.
Two years later, the mishap in Moscow remains one of the few setbacks in a jumping career that began when Dendy was eight years old.
Jumping at the opportunity
Other kids on his youth track and field teams flocked to the sprints, and coaches wanted Dendy there as well.
But his father knew there were more opportunities for Dendy in the horizontal jumps.
“He just saw the talent,” said Dendy. “It was just so raw, so uncooked and he was just saying that when it’s cleaned up and polished and worked on, it will be great. And nobody was trying to buy into that. They were saying ‘yes he’s fast, yes he’s a little taller and a little bigger than most 8, 10, 11-year-olds, and with that he should be a 200 or 400 guy. He shouldn’t be a jumper. He’s not going to succeed like that.’”
The protests of the coaches aside, Dendy’s father stayed firm and took Marquis off track teams that wouldn’t let him jump.
Nevertheless, each level brought more success.
He set Delaware state records for the long jump and triple jump in high school, finished eighth at the 2010 World Junior Championships in the latter event and then earned a scholarship to the University of Florida.
In the USA, Florida has deservedly earned the reputation as a hot bed for the horizontal jumps.
Christian Taylor, Will Claye and Omar Craddock, among others, all attended the college in Gainesville before continuing on to successful professional careers.
“Certainly, he was labelled as the next guy for sure coming after Christian, Will and Omar,” said Nic Petersen, Dendy’s coach at Florida since 2013.
The year before Dendy arrived, Taylor and Claye finished first and third at the IAAF World Championships in the triple jump. During Dendy’s first year at the university, Craddock was the NCAA champion in the triple jump.
“These guys set the bar for me,” said Dendy. During his four years at Florida, he won seven NCAA titles. He broke all the school records in the long jump and triple jump, indicating he might possibly be the best jumper ever to come out of Florida.
The same physique that his youth coaches thought made him perfect for a sprinter turned out to also be helpful in the jumps.
“I don’t think Dendy has a torso, I feel like his legs go up to his shoulders,” joked Petersen.
And then there is that speed. Petersen thinks Dendy might have been intrinsically the fastest person on the Florida team this past year, a squad that included Dedric Dukes who ran a 19.97 200m.
But in the long jump, that speed needed to be controlled. The injury in Moscow was a painful signal that if he was going to jump farther, he needed to be more composed in his approach.
“His word is he’s a barracuda. He’s going to be a barracuda on the runway,” Petersen said.
“Ok, you can be a barracuda, but the last two steps you’ve got to change to a clown fish, where you’ve done all the work, you’re as fast as you can be, but you can’t be pushing the button. You can’t be grunting and so aggressive.”
Dendy’s toned-down approach to the long jump has paid off. Once foul prone, he now makes an effort to secure a good, legal first attempt, which puts him last in the jumping order for the second half of the competition.
“If I’m seeded last and I see (Jeff) Henderson or (Mike) Hartfield or anybody going out there jumping 28 (feet), I’ve seen it and that feeds me; that way I get to come back and I get to respond,” Dendy said.
From caveman to clever thinking
Petersen says Dendy has gone away from the “caveman thinking” that dictated that he must use every inch of the board. It’s resulted in fewer fouls and better jumps.
In June, at the USA Championships, he pushed his personal best out to 8.39m. He also jumped a wind-aided 8.68m, which gave him the US title and a chance to return to the World Championships.
“You watch Christian Taylor, you watch Will Claye, if they’ve got one more jump, you should be scared because as long as they’ve got one more jump, you haven’t won it," said Petersen. "And Marquis is really the same way when the lights come on, he really is ready to go in competition mode."
If Dendy needed more finesse in the long jump, then the remedy in the triple jump was aggression.
His speed helped there and he set a personal best of 17.50m this season. At the US championships, he also qualified for the World Championships, finishing behind his current training partner Craddock, and Will Claye.
Those three, along with Christian Taylor and Pedro Pablo Pichardo, comprise the medal favourites ahead of the World Championships in Beijing. And while Dendy has a good chance for gold in the long jump, especially after his first IAAF Diamond League outing which resulted in a win in London last month, he knows he is stepping into an enormously competitive triple jump field.
“But I want to be part of history and have all five of us, top five, jump 18 metres; that’s definitely something I really want to have happen and dream for.”
Based off the results this year, it’s not a crazy proposition. Pichardo and Taylor have already exceeded the mark, and Dendy gained confidence from a 17.95m jump that was called a foul at the SEC regional collegiate championships. He protested the jump, but the camera apparently overheated.
However, first things first. Both athlete and coach have targeted a gold medal in the long jump at the World Championships, with the final on 25 August the day before the triple jump qualifiers.
Beyond this season, Petersen thinks the world record in the long jump is possible before Dendy’s career is over.
“I’m never going to put limits on that guy," said Petersen. "Telling Marquis Dendy he can’t do something might be the easiest way to get him to do something."
Kevin Sully for the IAAF