EUGENE, Ore. – It’s fair to say Arkansas got its full scholarship value out of track and field star Jarrion Lawson at last year’s NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Fans at Hayward Field saw plenty of Lawson in 2015 as he ran a leg on the school’s winning 4×100-meter relay team, took second to Florida’s Marquis Dendy in the long jump, ran a personal best 10.04 seconds in the semifinals and went on to finish third in the 100 meters, and as a final act, summoned the energy for duty in the 4×400 relay. With that yeoman’s work, the Razorbacks were able to finish third in the men’s team standings.
“Last year he proved he’s a team player,’’ said Travis Geopfert, Lawson’s sprints and jumps coach in Fayetteville, Ark.
Now a senior, Lawson will be back at Hayward Field, June 8-11, for an NCAA Championships run in which he might take on even more of a workload in his final competition in an Arkansas singlet. He’s added the 200 meters this season to see what he can accomplish in the furlong.
“He’s obviously run a good 100,’’ Geopfert said. “That speed and endurance is there. His strength has improved this year. He has the desire to do it and he’s willing to try it. We’re not married to it.’’
At the very least, Lawson will take on the same events as he did in the 2015 NCAA meet with the long jump, 100 and both relays.
“Last year when I did four I didn’t think it was too much of a workload,’’ he said. “The 4×400 is the last event. I think I’ll be able to handle it OK. Half of it is I want to get points for the team. The other half is those are events I love. I want to get in and do them.’’
Like most elite college athletes, Lawson wants to extend his season to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field – July 1-10 at Hayward Field – for a shot at making the U.S. team that will compete in the Rio Olympics in August. His best chance is in the long jump, where his personal bests are 27 feet, 4 ½ inches (8.34m) outdoors and 27-6 ½ (8.39m) indoors. Lawson was ranked No. 4 among U.S. jumpers last year by Track & Field News magazine after Dendy, Jeff Henderson and Mike Hartfield.
“I definitely want to be at the Olympics in contention for a gold medal,’’ Lawson said. “To do that, I have to take steps – SEC, regionals, nationals. My coach is very smart. He knows when I need to peak. I’m getting fit to peak around the Olympic Trials.’’
Based on his indoor season, the 2016 version of Lawson is improved over 2015, which is saying something. He jumped 26-9 ¾ in the long jump at the Razorback Invitational in January, clocked a PR of 6.60 seconds in the 60m and won his second NCAA indoor long jump title.
Lawson transitioned to the outdoor season in April and had encouraging results of 26-2 ¼ in the long jump and 10.19 in the 100 meters.
“I think he’s stronger than he’s been in the past,’’ Geopfert said. “His vertical (jump) has gone up four inches (from 36 to 40). You look at those metrics and you assume he can do better things. There’s goals to do in terms of time and distance. When you go out and compete at that level, you’re going to have to do it. I focus on competition. He competes really well.’’
With the long jump and 100m both contested in front of the West Grandstand at Hayward Field, fans are close to the athletes and certainly appreciate a good competition – even if it’s someone not wearing University of Oregon colors.
“I love Hayward Field,’’ Lawson said. “I love the fans. They’re very nice. It gives you adrenalin and helps you compete at the highest level. I love being on that side of the finish line. It definitely gets the crowd into it.’’
Whether it’s the NCAA Championships or Olympic Trials, Lawson might achieve, or at least get close to, two of his goals this summer in TrackTown USA.
“I want to get down in the 9.8s legal and get in the 28s,’’ he said.
The former might be a little more difficult than the latter for Lawson. In the history of track and field, only two men, both Americans, have ever run sub-10 seconds for the 100 and surpassed 28 feet in the long jump in their careers.
Over a span of six days at the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Tokyo, the great Carl Lewis ran a then-world record 9.86 and soared 29-1 ¼. With Mike Powell extending the world record to 29-4 ½ in that epic competition, Lewis thus is the only man in history to jump 29 feet and lose. The lesser-known Kareem Streete-Thompson had personal bests of 9.86 and 28-3 ¾ from 1994-97.
Running a wind-aided 9.90 last year along with his personal best of 10.04 stamped Lawson as a legitimate sprinter to go with his chops in the long jump. “Until then, I didn’t focus on being a sprinter,’’ he said. As with many athletes who attempt this double, Lawson believes his sprinting helps his jumping.
“I think it works both ways,’’ Lawson said. “Being able to run great converts over to the long jump. I definitely think so.’’
At the University of Arkansas, Lawson earned his undergraduate degree in three years and is now working toward his MBA – an academic goal seemingly on par with his athletic goal of making the U.S. Olympic team. This is one squared-away 22-year-old.
“He’s a great kid,’’ Geopfert said. “Great student, great family. He’s a kid you never have to worry about off the track. You know he’s going to take care of business off the track.’’
As fans at Hayward Field saw a year ago, Lawson does a pretty good job of taking care of business on the track as well.