Ryan Grinnell, an assistant coach with Campbell University’s track and field team, finished third in the triple jump at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in June and has the third best mark in the triple jump in the country so far this year. He credits much of the success he has had this year to what he has learned from coaching.
On June 20, at the 2013 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, Ryan Grinnell jumped 55 feet, 10.25 inches (17.02 meters) in the triple jump to finish third in the event. Seven days later, at a USA Track & Field-certified meet at the University of Chicago, he jumped 56 feet, 6 inches (17.22 meters), which was the third best jump by a U.S. athlete in the past year and the ninth best in the world.
A six-time All-American in the triple jump, high jump, and long jump in college, Grinnell thought both performances were enough to qualify him to be one of the triple jumpers who would represent the U.S. at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 10-18. And for several weeks this June and July, he was excited and pumped because he thought, after previously falling short at two U.S. Olympics Trials and five U.S. championships, he had finally made his first national team.
“It was surreal,” says Grinnell, an assistant coach with Campbell University’s track and field team. “I thought I finally did it.”
Then, in late July, the USA Track & Field national governing body informed him that he wouldn’t be part of the team competing in Russia. Though he had finished in the Top 3 at the U.S. championships, Grinnell also had to attain a qualification mark of 17.20 meters. He had passed that mark at the University of Chicago meet on June 27, but there were only four competitors in the triple jump. USATF told him there had to be at least five competitors. Hence, Grinnell won’t be in Russia, after all.
“It has been a tough pill to swallow, especially because I was ready to compete in Moscow,” Grinnell says. But, he adds, the experience doesn’t take away from what he has accomplished the past year. That includes a third place finish at the U.S. championships -- his best showing in his career -- and the third best mark in the triple jump in the nation in 2013 (through July 19), putting him only behind the 2012 Olympic gold medalist Christian Taylor and silver medalist William Claye, both of the U.S.
Also, he says, the experience has only “added fuel to my fire” to make the U.S. national team and to perhaps someday compete at the Olympics in the triple jump. “This is only the beginning for me,” he says.
Grinnell talked to Campbell.edu about how he’s moving forward, how he got started with track and field, and how coaching has helped his training. The following is an edited transcript.
For several weeks you thought you were headed to Russia this August to compete in the triple jump at the 2013 IAAF World Championships. And in late July, you found out that you wouldn’t be going. What has these past few weeks been like for you?
As you can imagine, it has been a rollercoaster of events. But I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I am now shifting my focus toward 2014. There is the World Indoor Championships in March 2014. There is no doubt that I can make the U.S. team.
What have you learned from the experience?
This entire experience this year has only added fuel to my fire. I am extremely motivated to train harder than ever before and come back next year better than ever. This is only the beginning for me. I will move on from this experience and remain positive. I will not let it affect my attitude or confidence. I will come back from this experience stronger than ever before. I have no regrets about this year. It has been an unbelievable year.
Previously, you had competed at two U.S. Olympic Trials and five U.S. championships; and this year you had your best showing at the U.S. championships, finishing third. You’ve also set several personal records in the triple jump. What was the difference this year?
Last year I went to the Olympic Trials and I think I put too much pressure on myself. I knew I had the ability to be in the running to make the team, but I tried too hard and almost forced it. It was a hard pill to swallow. For about four or five months afterward, I wanted to say, “I’m done with track. I don’t want to do it. I’m not going to do it.” It was frustrating. I was done training and was just going to coach. But being around the student athletes and seeing them practice and train, I thought, “You know, I have the talent. I have nothing to lose. I’ll just train in my spare time. I’ll just go with it.” I trained not as intense but more when I had free time. I think that helped me to take a step back and not put pressure on myself. And, by coaching, I also got to understand the triple jump so much more. I had been making silly mistakes in the past, and the coaching helped me know what I had to do.
To be less passive and more aggressive when running down the runway. I think I’ve been a bit hesitant in the past; but this year, I’ve learned that you’ve just got to run off the board and be aggressive.
In what other ways has coaching helped with your training and competing?
It helps you see the overall picture. When you deal with student-athletes, you work with them to not think too hard, but to relax, be aggressive, and execute the technique. It goes hand-in-hand with what I need to do. Sometimes you get tunnel vision, and you think, “I have to try as hard as I can.” But jumping is a fluid motion. You have to be focused, but you have to be relaxed because once you’re in that air and you tighten up, you’re not going to be as explosive as you can be.
What would you like to achieve in track and field?
To make a U.S. team would be a tremendous honor. It’s the toughest team to make in the world. Other countries take you based on what you’ve done in the past; but the U.S., you have to finish in the top three. It’s competitive. Nothing is a given. You know you are in an elite class if you make the elite team. It’s not easy.
Is your ultimate goal to compete at the Olympics?
That has always been a goal, but the Olympics are three years away. Realistically, I like to focus on the here and now. I’ll start thinking about 2016, an Olympics year, when the time is here. That’s a long time away, and anything can happen between now and then. That’s the same thing I tell the student-athletes. You want to focus on “meet the meet,” not the Big South Championships that’s two months away. You want to focus on getting better. Keep it small. Yes, you have big goals and expectations, but you’ve got to do the small things that will add up to be big things.
When did you know you could compete at an elite level?
The first breakthrough year was 2008 when I qualified for the Olympic Trials. That’s when I first thought, “Wow, I can compete at this level.” I was good for a collegian athlete at the time, but not a professional. I knew I had work cut out for me.
How did you get started in track and field?
I started my junior year in high school. I was playing basketball, and the basketball coach said, “You can dunk the ball pretty easily. I bet you can be a good high jumper.” He convinced me to go out for the track team junior year. The first time I did the high jump, I jumped 6 feet, 4 inches. I ended up winning a state title that year. I was hooked, I was good at it, and I fell in love with it. The long jump and triple jump came along after. I was blessed to be All-American in all three in college.
How did you come to focus on triple jump?
When you get to the elite level, you have to focus on one. My true love has always been the high jump, but my personal record in that event is 7 feet, 3¾ inches. You have to go 7 feet, 5 inches or 7 feet, 6 inches to be among the elite. Realistically, it’s not in the cards for me. But in triple jump, everything clicks. I’ve focused on triple jump for the past three or four years.
How did you get into coaching?
I moved to Georgia in 2009 because my coach at Boise State got the coaching position at the University of Georgia. I trained at Georgia, and I was a volunteer assistant coach there. You don’t get paid as a volunteer assistant, so I worked two jobs to make ends meet. I was working, training, and coaching. It was a tall order, but I believed that eventually something great was going to happen.
What do you enjoy about track and field?
The most rewarding thing is being an example to the student-athletes and being able to show them that you can do it on this track [at Campbell]. I’m able to tell them, “I’ve trained on this track, and you guys can do it. You don’t have to go to a huge university with all the bright lights and glitz and glamor, you can do it right here.” That’s rewarding, and it’s rewarding to see student-athletes succeed and to see them buy into your coaching philosophy and improve, get better, and gain confidence in themselves.
What is your coaching philosophy?
I’m going to do my very best to help you compete at the best level possible. I’m not going to yell in your face or be over the top, but I’m going to be passionate. With the field events, on the day of the meets, it’s getting a rhythm clap going and getting people fired up. When they see you’re excited, that gets them excited. I’m definitely passionate and high-energy, but it’s a good excitement, not negative. It’s not, “If you don’t jump this far, you’re going to be punished.” It’s, “Let’s go. Have some fun. Put on a show. And compete.”
What do you hope your student-athletes learn from you?
Persistence. To not give up. Six years I’ve gone to the U.S. championships, and I’ve been in the mix but came up short before finally making it in the Top 3. When I thought, “I can’t do it anymore,” I didn’t quit. I kept going and moving forward. If you have a dream, keep striving and putting in the work. Know what your goals are, and go after them and keep going for it. Be hungry, stay hungry.
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Interview conducted by and edited by Cherry Crayton, Digital Content Coordinator
Photos by Bennett Scarborough