The Dartmouth women’s track and field team has found a veritable gem in Kaitlin Whitehorn ’16. Less than a year after making history as the first woman to win both the 100-meter dash and high jump at the 2014 Ivy League outdoor Heptagonal Championships, Whitehorn isn’t showing any signs of slowing down as she continues to dominate across events in the 2014-2015 indoor season.
Although the women’s track and field team has only seen action in four meets this season, Whitehorn — “K.O.” as her teammates and coaches affectionately call her — has already established herself as a double-threat. At the 2015 Dartmouth Relays this past weekend, Whitehorn took first in the high jump (5-8.50 ft/1.74m). On Dec. 13 at Northeastern University’s Jay Carisella Invitational, Whitehorn delivered a meet record-breaking performance with a 7.49 seconds finish in the 60-meter dash.
“Finishing first in the 60-meter dash was a great start for the winter season,” Whitehorn said. “But I fell short of breaking my personal best so I need to work on getting my form as close to perfection as I can.”
Whitehorn’s never-ending desire for perfection and improvement began long before her arrival at Dartmouth. Now, with two years of collegiate track experience under her belt, Whitehorn has found her niche as a multi-event athlete.
Whitehorn’s path is somewhat convoluted, but fairly common among track and field athletes. Whitehorn initially developed her passion for sports by playing soccer as a child, but she eventually followed in her older sister’s footsteps and converted to track and field in the seventh grade. By the tenth grade, her high school coach at Elwood-John H. Glenn School in Elwood, New York noticed her natural talent for jumping and suggested she focus on the high jump in order to develop her form.
By doing so, Whitehorn qualified for the state track and field championship in New York as a sophomore and was eventually recruited to Dartmouth as a high jumper. High jumping, she said, became her pride and joy.
“It’s what got me to Dartmouth and is what I’m known for in the Ivy League,” Whitehorn said.
Due to the razor-slim margins of the sport, success in track is highly dependent on superb technique. Whitehorn brings a composure to practice that allows her to tweak the minute aspects of her form and shave critical tenths of a second off her time or add height to her jumps. However composed she may be, Whitehorn — like many great athletes — brings a heightened level of intensity to competitions.
“Kaitlin understands that practice is an opportunity to hone her skills and work on her weaknesses,” women’s jumps coach Timothy Wunderlich said. “During competition, however, she really shines.”
Through training for high jump, she developed raw strength and the ability to accelerate quickly, which improved her sprinting so much that she became the top 60-meter and 100-meter sprinter on the team. Her talents not only put her at the head of Dartmouth’s own team, but she also became the first woman in the Ivy League to compete in the high jump and short-distance sprints during the outdoor season.
Whitehorn’s sprinting success is especially impressive due to her lack of starting block experience prior to her freshman year. Explosion off the starting blocks is critical to maximize speed in sprinting events.
“Kaitlin still seems like a novice sometimes in the sprints, but always rises to the competition,” women’s head coach Sandra Ford-Centonze said. “She has the ability to turn up the intensity when she needs to.”
Currently, Whitehorn is looking to improve her finishes from last year’s indoor Ivy League Heptagonal Championship, where she placed fourth in the 60-meter dash with a time of 7.55 seconds and 11th in the high jump (5-4.50 ft/1.64m). Even though she’s an outdoor specialist, Whitehorn believes she can finish first in the high jump and 60-meter dash at the indoor competition before attempting to defend her titles at the outdoor championship.
“I’m stronger now than I was last season,” Whitehorn said. “If I can combine my strength with an improved form, then I should do extraordinarily well.”
When Whitehorn isn’t busy training for her next meet or studying for an upcoming exam, she is conducting research and lab work at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center or singing with the Handel Society of Dartmouth College.
Whitehorn and the women’s track and field team are preparing to host the University of Vermont and the University of Maine on Saturday, Jan. 17.