Area star covers new ground

Boca Ciega's Neidra Covington is headed to the Pan-American Games, beating out national competition in the long jump.

Published July 2, 2005

The USA Senior and Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championships were held last weekend at the Home Depot Center, a state-of-the-art facility in Carson, Calif.

With both meets at the same site, area standout Neidra Covington had a chance to hobnob with some of the sport's elite athletes, such as Michael Johnson, Maurice Green and Justin Gatlin.

Soon, she could be competing on their level.

Covington, a senior-to-be at Boca Ciega, won the long jump in the junior division (ages 19 or younger) to earn a spot on the U.S. roster for the Pan-American Junior Championships July28-31 in Windsor, Ontario.

She took first by clearing a personal-best 20 feet, 1/4 inch to beat out a strong field that included several collegiate jumpers.

"I wasn't really surprised that I went that far," Covington said. "My goal this year was to hit 20 feet. I was close before, and I finally got it."

Covington usually saves her best moves for last. But she couldn't wait to hit her mark because of the competition.

Covington, who won the Class 3A state title by leaping 19 feet, was seeded sixth and faced several girls who had cleared 20 feet, including top qualifiers Sarah Matthew (21-2) and Chelsea Taylor (21-3/4) of the Colorado Flyers Track Club.

"Neidra usually likes to wait and come back to hit her mark at the end," said former Lakewood coach Eileen Givens, who works with Covington in the offseason. "But that's too much pressure. I told her to make the first one count. That's the last thing I said to her."

Covington took off with the shadow of her toe just behind the scratch line and jumped so high she performed her hitch kick and got her legs out in front while she was still above the pit.

She was not aided by wind as she descended, and when her heels hit squarely in the sand, she left a lasting imprint on spectators.

The winning mark came on her first attempt and she beat runnerup Gayle Hunter, a freshman at Penn State, by nearly 5 inches.

"Neidra was the ninth jumper, so I had a chance to look at some of the other girls," Givens said. "On paper, it looked like she might need to hit 21 feet to win. But the other girls weren't hitting that, so I started thinking all Neidra had to do was hear the sound of the board and pop a 20."

Covington also competed in the triple jump and went 40-91/2 to place fifth. Her mark was well off the 41-6 she hit to finish second at state. Nevertheless, Covington was the only high school athlete to compete in the event and placed higher than 10 collegiate jumpers.

She might have fared better if not for a lower back injury she suffered while going through plyometrics to strengthen her legs.

"I wanted (Neidra) to represent the USA in both events," Givens said. "I think we were still on cloud nine after the long jump, but I can't be too disappointed with how she did in the triple jump. Her lower back was a little sore, and that was hindrance for her. But injuries happen, and she was still able to do well against 15 other competitors who had more experience."

Late Sunday afternoon, Covington left the track at the Home Depot Center, where in four days she had turned potential into reality.

"My next goal is to go 21 feet in the long jump," Covington said. "Hopefully, that'll be enough to win."