South Pasadena High School will be represented at the 100th annual California Track and Field State Championships, with prelims kicking off this afternoon in Fresno.
The lone Tiger in the field has emerged this season as a force to be reckoned with in the CIF Southern Section, and, ranked 6th overall entering today, Tianhao Wei can’t help but taste his sport’s ultimate prize, a state championship. Who could blame him?
The top ranked sophomore triple jumper in California, with a PR (personal record) of 47’6’’ set just last weekend at the CIF-SS Masters Meet, has improved by almost 10’ in just over one year since recording a 38’ in his first competitive jump as a freshman.
Wei is setting PRs at a blistering pace. Defying the physical toll the high impact sport puts on his body, he has not only competed for four straight weeks, beginning with Rio Hondo League Finals on May 4, but turned in PRs every single time. Wei has improved his PR by 2’1’’ in the last four weeks alone.
Simply put, the most successful sports program at South Pas in the last seven years has produced its next superstar athlete.
It’s time to enjoy the ride.
Two years ago, Wei had never competed in the triple jump, participating in the event on a whim as a freshman. But just months later, he reached CIF Finals. He set his PR that year at 43’2 during CIF prelims. That’s a 5’2’’ increase over the course of one season.
This year, Wei qualified for CIF in four events: the triple jump, the long jump the 100 meter dash and the 4×100 meter dash.
“I don’t know where I got this from,” Wei said before his workout Tuesday afternoon.
“I think technique has been a big part of it, but I think there is a mental aspect as well. From the beginning, I wanted to get better, I wanted to beat people around me.”
Longtime SPHS track and field head coach C.B. Richards believes Wei’s intellect – his GPA is over 4.0 – deserves a lot of the credit.
“It really helps in triple jump when you’re a good student,” Richards said. “It’s an event where you have to retain a bunch of information that the coach is giving you and be able to apply it. Obviously, being a fast athlete and being able to jump helps tremendously, but if you have those traits and can’t apply technique, you’re not going to be successful.”
Triple jump is kind of like athletic hop scotch, Richards said. A hop followed by a step followed by a jump. “You have to maintain your speed throughout. Someone told me once its like power ballet. You have to come down and control your body while you’re moving at a high speed.
The world record is just over 60 feet. Richards senses Wei is close to breaking the 50’ mark.
“One of the keys for TH is not focusing on the result but on everything that it takes to get there,” Richards said. “It’s a great life lesson to learn not to worry about the result.”
Wei will be competing tonight against 29 jumpers from across California, from every division. “Track is still old school, there is only one division when you get to this level,” Richards said. “In football, you’ll have 13 state champions. In track and field, you only get one.”
The sophomore is currently ranked 6th overall, meaning he will likely compete in this evening’s final heat. That’s an advantage. Wei can survey the jumps he needs to beat and shut it down if he qualifies for Saturday’s final before his tries are up. The top 12 qualify for Finals Saturday evening.
One of the top competitors is a state defending champion from Great Oak High School in Temecula named CJ Stevenson. A senior, Stevenson qualified for the State Championships with a 46’2’’ jump, but has hit the 50’ mark this year.
A first place ranking only means so much, Richards points out. On the day of the race, anything can happen.
“You could be the number one overall, but it only matters what you jump the day of the State Championship Final. You could have an unknown come out of nowhere.”
Wei was the only freshman in all of CIF Southern Section to reach CIF Finals, so he’s not exactly coming out of nowhere, but his rise has certainly been meteoric.
“Choosing the left, left, right was a strategic decision that really improved my jumping quickly,” Wei said. “My right leg is my dominant leg, the one I usually use for long jump, so I could take my first hop and skip from my left and keep my stronger leg for the final leap.”
This has led to an interesting development for Wei, one he didn’t see coming. “From doing left, left, right [in the triple jump], I’ve actually switched legs in the long jump from my right to my left. Now my left is my dominant jump leg.”
Wei reached CIF finals this year in long jump, but scratched. He jumped over 23’, which would have qualified him for Masters, a fact that encourages Richards.
“Knowing that he’s physically capable of doing it, I believe long jump will be the next event he can excell in.
The qualifying mark for state during last weekend’s Masters was 45’11’’, and Wei’s first jump was recorded at 45’10 ¾’’. He reset and jumped again. This time, he set his PR, 47’6’’. With three jumps left, and an automatic place in State locked up, Wei shut it down for the day.
“I just wanted to save my legs for next week. After I jump at a meet, the next day I’m totally sore, I can’t do anything.”
Richards believes triple jump is one of the toughest events on an athlete’s body: “It’s one of the most demanding physically, because when you’re landing, you’re landing on 300 percent of your body weight.”
Unsurprisingly, Wei has spent much of this week resting. Monday was a cool down day, mostly stretching. Tuesday, Wei did some short sprints to keep up his speed. Wednesday was a pool workout to limit the stress his shins.
“Right now, we’re just taking it meet by meet,” Richards said Tuesday. “TH just keeps doing the little things correctly. He’s jumping well, but the exciting thing is, there are a lot of technical things he knows he has to work on too. I don’t think we’ve ever really talked about distance much. That’s not really our goal. Our goal is to do the stuff in between the jumps as well as we can. Distance is just a product of all those little details.”
“It’s not easy to get back, to repeat, but if you look at his path so far, as long as he can stay healthy, I like where he’s headed,” Richards said.
Wei also plays soccer for South Pasadena High School and is part of the Destination Imagine program.