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Track & field
Covington sets her sights high - and long
Boca Ciega's long jumper hopes to make her mark at upcoming Pan-Am Junior Championships.
By BOB PUTNAM
Published July 28, 2005
Neidra Covington was so fast down the runway her hair seemed ready to peel from her scalp. The Boca Ciega High senior-to-be hit the long jump board with power and soared to an impressive height.
Then she exploded out of the sand, knowing this leap was awfully good. An official sank a marker at the spot. It read 20 feet, 1/4 inch.
With that jump, Covington sailed past the nation's best and onto the world stage.
By winning the long jump in the junior division (ages 19 or younger) at the USA Junior Track and Field Championships last month, Covington earned a spot on the U.S. roster for the Pan American Junior Championships, which start today and end Sunday in Windsor, Ontario.
She will be joined by former Palm Harbor University standout and current Howard University runner Lauren McNary, who qualified by placing second in the 400 at the junior meet.
Covington made sure she was ready to shine at the U.S. junior meet, getting her passport beforehand.
"I didn't get the passport because I was overconfident," Covington said. "I was just doing that to be prepared. Still, I felt like I could jump well enough to make the Pan-Am Games."
This is the 25th year of the Pan American Junior Championships, a meet where many Olympians such as Carl Lewis and Jackie Joyner-Kersee got their start.
Will Covington follow in their footsteps?
"Neidra's got a lot of potential," said Eileen Givens, a former coach at Lakewood who helped Rose Richmond and Nadia Covington win state long jump titles. "I think at this stage of her career, she is more advanced than some of the others in how far she's gone. But the biggest thing is she's just now starting to make strides in the event."
In 1991, Gisele Covington decided to have her daughters, Nadia and Neidra, run track. Back then, there was no talk of state titles or potential Olympic stardom.
"I just wanted to get them involved in athletics," Gisele said. "It was a way to keep them busy."
But it wasn't long before Nadia and Neidra started taking off in leaps and sprawling into sand pits. They became stars on the AAU and Junior Olympic circuit. By the time they reached high school, they made long jump titles family property.
Nadia was the first anointed star, setting school records by winning the triple jump and long jump in 2003.
Neidra followed that sister act at another school. Zoned for Lakewood, she opted to enter the medical magnet program at Boca Ciega. For two years, Neidra came close but never won a state title.
Part of the problem: Neidra was so athletic it didn't matter in local meets whether her approach was tactically deficient. But in an event where fractions of inches can be the difference between gold and no medal at all, Neidra knew she had to improve in order to compete at the national level.
Enter Givens. The coach was brought in to fix Neidra's technique and develop the power necessary to deliver gravity-defying leaps.
"The first thing I had to do was correct Neidra's form," Givens said. "Then we started working on strength training."
Before, Neidra could do only 11 pushups and 100 situps. Now, she can do two sets of 47 pushups and two sets of 100 situps.
"My whole body was sore after those first couple of workouts," Neidra said. "I've never worked harder than that. But I've noticed the difference."
Covington was shooting for 20 feet in the long jump at this year's state meet but had to settle for 19. It was enough to win her first title, but for the first time this season, she took all her jumps in an attempt to set a state record.
Now, she's aiming for a bigger target.
"I hope to go 21 feet at the Pan American Games," Covington said. "I'll probably need that to win."