Caroline Ehrhardt soared over 14 metres and set the Canadian triple jump record by a single centimetre at a track and field meet last weekend in London, Ont.
The enormity of that achievement was easy to see right after her 14.03-metre jump, which bested the 14.02 mark set in 2007.
She saw the measuring tape and crumpled to the track, face in her hands, overcome with emotion. And that was before she was mobbed with hugs by her coach, family, friends and fellow athletes, including those she now coaches at Western University, who all know just how much she’s been through in this hop, step and jump event.
Ehrhardt is 31 years old and she’s been working towards a record jump like this for 18 years.
“I wanted it so bad for so long and there were so many times when I thought, you know, maybe it’s just not in the cards for me, maybe I’m not going to get the ending that I know I deserve,” she said.
When Ehrhardt talks about the ending she deserves, she isn’t talking about signing a lucrative contract or getting to compete at the Paris Olympics, though, those would be really nice. She’s talking about something more fundamental to the pursuit of sport: to strive and to improve.
“I’m just trying to jump as far as I possibly can, and I don’t know how I will ever know that I’ve done that but definitely that 14-metre mark and establishing myself as the best Canadian female triple jumper ever, that has been huge,” she said. “I’m jumping like the athlete that I now know that I am and I don’t have to doubt anymore.”
Ehrhardt grew up in small town Espanola, Ont., an hour’s drive from Sudbury. Her parents put her in a track and field club when she was 11 years old so she would have something special to keep her going because they knew her mom was about to lose her battle with cancer.
At 13, she was already focusing on triple jump, an event she calls “one giant rhythmic puzzle” that demands both explosiveness and “poetic patience.” In her Grade 10 statistics class she did a project on the characteristics of elite triple jumpers.
She set her goals high: to be Canada’s first female triple jumper to make it to the Olympics. For a time, things trucked along nicely. But after setting triple jump records at the high school and Ontario university level, progress slowed and there were some frustrating years — national teams not made — and injuries to build back from.
“A few years ago, I really decided that the Olympics was no longer going to be my ultimate goal. It so much feels out of my control with the way that it works now with the world rankings. I decided to really simplify things and just try to jump as far as I possibly can, whatever becomes of those distances and whatever happens to me as a result, that’s kind of a bonus.”
The automatic qualifying distance for women’s triple jump for the Olympics is 14.55 metres, beyond her new Canadian record. To qualify through world ranking points, which is how many of the 32-member field will get there, requires her to continue to jump well and at meets with bonus points.
She had expected this would be her last year before retiring from competition to focus on her coaching and the next stages of her life. But breaking the 14-metre barrier has made her reconsider that.
She says she’ll give herself one more year to see what’s possible. “I can definitely retire happily but at the same time I want to see how much more I can do.”
After she launched herself in the air on the third takeoff in the triple jump last Sunday, she realized it could be the jump she’s been waiting so long for and she got overexcited and didn’t finish the landing properly, leaving centimetres unclaimed.
But already it’s enough. She’s feeling something she’s never felt before: “I really do feel content.”
“And that’s a fear that I’ve always had, that I’d spend my entire life chasing this and still have to walk away disappointed. I can’t imagine how I would ever feel OK with that. Not to be dramatic, but to have done this, it’s like anything that happens after this, truly is just like icing on the cake.”
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