East Xtra: Forest Hills girl wins in Jr. Olympic heptathlon
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The University of Oregon had Bill Bowerman. Villanova had Jumbo Elliott. Samantha Gibson's heptathlon authority is "Coach YouTube."
A 5-foot-6, 17-year-old rising junior at Trinity Christian School in Forest Hills, Gibson is not a conventional athlete.
This Forest Hills resident had a very successful track and field season this past spring as she placed second in the WPIAL Class AA 400-meter dash with a time of 58.85 seconds. She advanced to the PIAA championship meet in that event with a qualifying time of 58.12 seconds, and earned All-State honors with a fifth-place finish in the championship race with a time of 58.15 seconds. She also was credited with a top effort of 107 feet, 7 inches in the javelin.
Gibson, however, is someone who embraces new challenges as she had displayed some proficiency in at least two events.
"I wasn't very good at just one thing," she said. "I considered myself more of an overall track and field athlete."
With an interest in several areas, Gibson did some research and found something on YouTube that appealed to her -- the heptathlon.
This is a track and field competition that is not offered by either the WPIAL or the PIAA. Neither could sanction it as both athletic organizations only permit a track and field athlete to compete in four events -- including relays -- at a single track and field meet.
And that's where she found "Coach YouTube."
Gibson went to the search engine and tried to find the best performances while comparing her technique in the various events to the ones she has taped on her cellular telephone.
The heptathon -- like its male counterpart decathlon -- requires a female athlete to compete in seven track and field events over a two-day period. The 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200-meter dash are contested on the first day. The meet wraps up on the second day with the long jump, the javelin and the 800-meter run.
"I'm able to critique what I've done with what [the best athletes] are doing in the heptathlon," she said by watching the top competitors online and trying to implement their best techniques with her own. "I watched events that I didn't know on the screen and I tried to learn them through trial and error. I compared my effort with that of the [best athletes], and I'm not where I'd like to be, but I think I'm getting better, actually."
Is she ever!
At the USA Junior Olympics Region 2 Track and Field championships last week at the University of Delaware in Newark, Del., Gibson surpassed her own expectations by placing first in a field of seven competitors with 4,357 points. The next competitor was 500 points behind.
"I did awesome," she said. "I had [personal records] in five of the seven events."
Those top efforts came in the 100 hurdles (16.8 seconds), high jump (5 feet, 5 inches), 200-meter dash (26.25), long jump (16-7) and 800-meter run (2:22.69). Her non-record setting performances came in the shot put with an effort of 7.59 meters (approximately 24 feet, 9 inches) and the javelin with a throw of 26.9 meters (approximately 88 feet, 21/2 inches).
According to girls track authority Jim Faiella's WPIAL Class AA records for the recently completed 2012 season, Gibson's efforts this past weekend would have been the best among WPIAL athletes in the high jump (5-4). She would have been 16th in the 100 hurdles, ninth in the 200-meter dash, seventh in the long jump and sixth in the 800-meter run.
The winning effort last weekend earned her a trip to the Junior Olympics National Hepthathlon Championships which takes place July 23-24 at Morgan State University in Baltimore.
"I went into the [regional] meet thinking I'd be in a battle for second place," Gibson said. "There was a girl from New Jersey, and I thought she would win. This is the first year I've ever competed in the heptathon."
Although Gibson considers the 800-meter run one of her stronger events, she said there is no way a heptathlete can adequately prepare for the mental and physical stress that greets the athletes as they prepare to run the metric equivalent of the half-mile run in the event that concludes the two-day competition.
"After doing six events over two days, it gets really exhausting," she said. "There really is no way to train for the 800 as all of the other events involve explosive body motions or sprinting. With the 800, you have to race with your heart."
Gibson also believes that each heptathlete has to focus on the event at hand and not be concerned with the success -- or failure -- of a previous event.
"If you don't do [well] in one event, you have to erase it from your mind," she said. "There's no way you can change what you have already done, but you can affect what you are going to do with your mental approach."
Gibson hopes to compete in the heptathlon at a Division I college, and she expects some correspondence from colleges following the national meet.
First Published July 12, 2012 12:00 am