Winkeler: Landon adds to SIU’s high-jump legacy

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It was something of a pleasant surprise to learn that SIU’s Kyle Landon earned All-America honors at the NCAA track and field championships at Eugene, Oregon.


For the record, he cleared 7-2.5 in the high jump to finish tied for third. Not bad for a freshman.


And, what’s even better, Landon is a local guy. He was a decorated track athlete at Chester High School, winning three state titles, two in high jump and another in long jump.


No one who watched Landon in high school can be shocked by his success. He has so much natural ability, so much innate talent; he makes soaring over the bar at 7-0 look almost easy.


Perhaps easy isn’t the right word – jumping 7-0 is a mind-boggling accomplishment. Think about that for a second – seven feet. Look at your front door – imagine throwing yourself over it.


No, there is nothing easy about it. Effortless is probably a more accurate description. Landon has always had a fluid approach that is seamlessly transformed into verticality. It’s a joy to watch.


Again, there is nothing surprising about Landon becoming an All-American. It seemed obvious that the bar would be raised higher, literally and figuratively, when he concentrated solely on the high jump.


But, moving up the time table like this? That’s a coup for the SIU track program.


The Salukis have always had a solid track program. SIU has had its share of All-Americans – 146 to be exact. In recent years most of SIU’s track notoriety has come in the weights.


However, SIU, and indeed Southern Illinois, has had an amazing legacy in the high jump.


Former Saluki and Marion resident Cameron Wright earned high jump All-American honors in both 1995 and 1996. Mascoutah native and former Saluki Darrin Plab was the 1992 NCAA high jump champion.


Plab and Wright went on to represent the United States in the Olympics.


Southern Illinoisans have dominated the prep high jump scene for years. Landon won the 2013 Class A title and Massac County’s Alex King won the AA crown. Herrin’s Zack Riley, who jumps for Kansas State and finished 18th in this year’s NCAA championships, won the event in 2009 and 2010.


Eric Thompson of Herrin won Class A high jump titles in 2005, 06 and 07. Carbondale’s Mike Petrone won the AA title in 2003. Since 1990 you can add Mount Vernon’s Jason James, Massac County’s Van Reed, Marion’s Wright and Harrisburg’s Damon Lampley to that list of state champions.


And, that’s not counting several champions from Metro East.


I wish I had an explanation for that dominance. I wish I had a theory.


And, while the sky is technically not the limit, it will be fun to see what kind of dent Landon can put the laws of gravity over the next three years.


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