Imani Brown - Finding the strength within to go long
Brown overcomes nerves to claim a title and a record. He’s not happy.
By CORY MULL
SHIPPENSBURG -- You can always sense the fear of an athlete on the cusp of failure.
You can see it in their eyes, their movements, the way they’re cautious about their next move.
Some buckle under the weight of the moment.
Those strong enough -- and more important, those confident enough -- find the inner strength to make it, to make their next lap, their next throw, their next jump.
For Reading High junior Imani Brown, he had the wherewithal on Friday to find that extra gear.
He lived another series in the triple jump after making his final preliminary leap a qualifying one and then went on to claim gold and the District 3 Class AAA record that came along with it.
He jumped to a mark of 48 feet, 6.5 on his last and final leap of the evening, besting the record of 48-1.50 that stood since 1984.
“I was real nervous after those first two jumps because my jumps were real off,” said Brown, who faulted on his first two attempts, “but I got a safe one in and so I came in again. I usually come in as the top seed, but I was a little low this time. I’m still happy with the finish.”
It’s true that Brown was the overwhelming favorite to win, as his 50-0.50 entry was over three feet better than the next best competitor, but sometimes favorites have to fight too.
“I had to place and in my last two jumps I attacked it and jumped harder,” said Brown, who defended his title from 2010.
It still wasn’t his best. Because he was forced to grind out a place in the finals, Brown never really got into a good rhythm.
He tried to slow clap the crowd on his last two jumps in the finals. But he jumped 48-6 on his first attempt and then recorded 48-6.5 leap on his second attempt.
“I’m really looking to be more consistent in the 50 range,” said Brown, who hit his career high at an invitational at Wyomissing a couple weeks ago. “But it was an off day for my steps. I’m working on steps and form and I should be ready for states.”
His coach, Anthony Greene, thinks he’s got the potential to hit in the range of 51 and 52. If everything is right. The Berks county record currently stands at 50-3.
“At the beginning of the year, we were behind schedule,” said Greene, a 1978 graduate of Reading. “I thought he’d be at 51. But when he hit the 50, it woke him up.”
Greene seems exactly like the coach who can make that happen.
People around Berks County know him as a triple jump expert. He was Muhlenberg High’s head coach a year ago, but after things didn’t work out he found a position with Reading.
He had seen enough of Brown in meets across Berks County to know he was a talent, albeit a talent with a lot to learn.
“In his sophomore year, he let people get to his head,” Greene said. “So the first thing when I got here I said to him, ‘I don’t want you to be anti-social, but you have to focus.’ So he’s been doing that this year.
“He’s focused on breaking records. And that pushes him, it drives him.”
Brown also has the smarts to realize the technical aspects of his event. He’s working on fixing some minor parts, like his third phase. Greene doesn’t want him to sit so much.
“I’ve worked with other kids who I try to tell them what to do and they look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language,“ Greene said. “But he’s right there.”
“He’s helped me a lot,” said Brown, who’s getting interest from several colleges. “He brought a lot of things to my attention, things I needed to know and be more aware of. “
Off the track, Brown’s story is an interesting one. He doesn’t play any of the major sports related to the successes of Reading High, like basketball or football.
He takes part in golf, but he admits he’s not very good. He says his best round was a 94.
He picked up track as a freshman, though didn‘t find himself competitive in the 100.
That’s when he wandered over to the triple jump. It’s been a home for him ever since.
“I have a big passion for triple jump,” Brown said.
Now Greene and Brown have their sights set on the PIAA Class AAA Championships.
For Brown, it’s go big or go home.
“He’s hype because he wanted to go fifty today,” Greene said. “He wants that state record. Monday we’ll go back and work on steps and get it down.”
High jumper makes it three in a row:
Bishop McDevitt senior Zach Morrow made it three straight years for a Crusader to claim the boys’ Class AA high jump title.
His jump of 6-4, which he cleared on his first attempt, gave him the gold medal.
“Once it happened, that’s when I thought about it and what an accomplishment it was to the school and the program,” said Morrow.
Berks county record broken:
Brown wasn’t the only Berks county jumper to break a record.
Schuylkill Valley’s Derek Gaul unleashed a standout 24-6.50 leap in the long jump, which was a new Berks county record. It also improved his now PA#1 and is now US#12 on MileSplit.
It was also a District 3 record. He broke the 24-00.75 mark that stood since 1973.