Whitehorn ’16 places fifth at U.S. Olympic Trials

by Max Zhuang | 7/7/16 5:30pm

Kaitlin Whitehorn ’16 turned in her best performance in her young career on Sunday, July 3, finishing fifth in the women’s high jump at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. Although Whitehorn failed to finish in the top three and qualify for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro later this year, she set both a new school and personal record of 6 feet 2-1/4 inches in her final competition in a Big Green uniform.

“It’s really exciting to see Kaitlin having the opportunity to jump against some of the best people in the world,” said Barry Harwick ’77, director of track and field. “Some of her competitors are even favored to win medals and the meet for her turned out almost perfectly.”

The path for Whitehorn to get to the Olympic Trials, however, was not always so clear. The three-time All-American and six-time Ivy League Champion at the women’s high jump is by no means a “middling-athlete,” but up until the last meet of the school season, the Heptagonal Indoor Championship meet at Cornell University, she was still unsure if she could jump high enough to qualify. That’s when it all finally came together — Whitehorn used the meet as her first opportunity to test a change in her high jump approach from an 8-step to a newly refined 10-step high jump approach. She smashed her former personal record of 5-10.87 with a high jump of 6-00.5, just short of the Women’s High Jump Olympic qualifying standard of 6-00.83.

“That was the first big thing for me where it was like ‘Okay, I can jump 6 feet now,’” Whitehorn said. “It’s like the barrier between someone who is pretty good to someone who is very good and it gave me the opportunities I needed to get to the Olympic Trials.”

Still, Whitehorn failed to hit the Olympic qualifying standard of 6-00.83 all season. As a result, she had to wait and see if the U.S.A. Track and Field Committee would give her a chance to compete at the Trials. Whitehorn said the committee wanted to take 24 athletes for the women’s high jump, even though not every athlete selected had met the qualifying standard. In the end, the committee added Whitehorn to the field to compete on the biggest stage of her life in what might have been the last competition of her high jumping career.

“She was very excited to be there,” Harwick said. “It was the biggest meet of her life and she should be very proud that she was able to jump her best.”

In terms of physical training, Whitehorn believes what propelled her performance at the Olympic Trials was rest. During the collegiate season, Whitehorn trained relentlessly: constantly adjusting her approach throughout the season, lifting weights regularly and competing at meets every weekend. She said she never had the rest she needed for everything to come together. After graduating, she spent time off and fine tuned the technical aspects of her jump. When it came time for the Olympic Trials, Whitehorn said she just needed to get in the zone and focus to perform in the face of pressure.

“I feel really blessed to have had the opportunity to go to Dartmouth because it doesn’t scare me to be on such stages. These four years at Dartmouth taught me how to be tough,” Whitehorn said. “It was already hard to perform at a meet, but then I would get back to campus and have to prepare for a test the next day which is also really, really hard. I had to be tough all the time and so, mentally, I was ready for the Olympic Trials.”

Harwick was impressed by her ability to compete at such a high level.

“It’s really been a great trials for Kaitlin,” Harwick said. “One thing she’s going to have to think about is that because she jumped so well, she has consider continuing her jumping career post-collegiately.”

Whitehorn seemed very excited and optimistic about the prospect of continuing her high jumping career. When asked about whether she believes she could qualify for the Olympics in 2020, Whitehorn replied, “Definitely -- after that [Olympic Trials], I really think I even could have made 1.91 meters and so 1.93 [meters] really isn’t a question in the next four years. By the time the next Olympics are around I really could be a contender.”