Olivia Rodriguez likes working above ground…way above ground. The South Side high jumper feels like she’s finally mastered the art of aerial movement, something that is very important in an event that is unlike any in track and field.
“In past seasons, I had a habit of always kicking my legs underneath the bar,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been focusing on keeping them out in front of me as I’m going over the bar.”
Changing a habit is always a long, arduous process, but Rodriguez seems to be as close as she’s ever been to high jump perfection. She cleared five feet, five inches at a Nassau meet on Dec. 5. That mark has held up as the best in the state, tied with Catalina Zaloj of Lansing, as of Friday, according to milesplit.com.
In addition to her work in the air, Rodriguez has made a minor change to her approach that has started to pay dividends. The senior has shortened her movement to the bar from 10 paces to eight — allowing her to cut down on any minor mistakes that may affect her when she gets airborne.
“My approach is so much more consistent. Sometimes, it just feels right,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve learned in high jump that consistency is really important...“I’m not sure there’s a huge difference between the 10 and the eight [paces], but I’ve found that a longer approach gives you more of a chance to get your steps messed up. The eight has just been working.”
A student of the event, Rodriguez is very aware of the technical aspects of jumping and how one false move can alter the entire competition. She said that, eventually, she could increase the number of paces she takes to the bar, but not anytime soon.
“The more speed you accumulate, that velocity can turn into potential energy and height,” Rodriguez said. “Eventually, more speed will help, so the further distance back will also help, but for now I’m working with eight.”
Rodriguez relies heavily on video. Her parents or a teammate will record each jump and, later, Rodriguez goes over it with a fine-toothed comb.
“I love watching film, even if it’s not one of my best jumps,” she said. “I think being able to see it and then critique myself is so beneficial. I always look for how I take off from the ground, if I’m too far away [from the bar] or too close. Then, how I extend upwards is also really telling of how the jump is going to turn out.”
Film study is especially beneficial in the winter, when outdoor practice time can be limited by cold temperatures. Rodriguez said that, on colder days, she and her teammates sprint and do core workouts in the high school hallways.
“It helps with my overall fitness and with staying healthy,” she said.
Rodriguez said she’s been consistently hitting 5-4 this season and attempting 5-6, which is her goal.
“I’ve noticed that each height that, last season, was more of a struggle is becoming easier and more attainable,” she said.