She paused, inhaled and stared down at her left hand.

She pulled her thumb into her palm, one half of the Girl Scouts hand signal.

It's amazing, she said, isn't it? Her thumb is connected to tendons and muscle, and to neurons and to her brain.

Thousands of nerves and muscle fibers and brain cells have to fire just to move her thumb, she said. But she's just her wiggling her thumb, y'know?

It's so complex, she said, but so simple.

"It's the same thing with high jump," Brigetta Barrett said. "Everything's so complicated, if you think of physics.

"The way our technique works, the last four steps are like the turn or the curve. You're bringing speed into that curve so that the momentum can carry the speed through.

"And then you put your foot down - and you're basically shot over a bar.

"But within that, it's, 'If I mess up the angle of the curve this much, it'll change everything.' But your body still has the ability to adjust to that change, too."

Barrett has been thinking a lot about detail lately.

The Arizona Wildcats junior is favored to make the U.S. Olympic team, beginning with Thursday's prelims at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore.

She's posted her most consistent season. Barrett set the UA record with a jump of 6 feet 5 1/2 inches on Jan. 27. Earlier this month, she became the first ever to win two straight NCAA outdoor and indoor titles.

Then why does she seem frustrated?

After riding a rocket the past two years, Barrett is fine-tuning.

Consider her rapid ascent: After setting her high school's record by jumping 6-1, Barrett jumped 6-3 1/4 inches as a UA freshman at the 2010 USA Outdoor Championships.

At the same event a year later, she added an inch and a half to her jump.

It was run fast, turn left, jump high - and the numbers kept climbing.

It's not that way now.

"It's kinda frustrating, because you want the remarkable growth you had the first two years," she said. "It becomes more of a mind game than anything else. You start thinking too much about technique instead of just going out there and jumping."

When Barrett talks about "my crazy journey for purpose," she means much more than track.

She's a religious, All-Academic theater-arts major who once tried out for "American Idol," singing Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love For You," and wanted to try "Fear Factor."

Realistic thinking, Barrett said, is a "mediocre lifestyle."

Plus, her beloved sport has records to break. She remains a half-inch shy of the all-time NCAA mark of 6-6 despite her technical improvements. It's driving her crazy.

"There's this one thing you want so bad," Barrett said. "but it keeps slipping out of your hands."

Expectations are nothing new.

"It doesn't surprise me at all, the progress she has made," said Liz Patterson, Barrett's roommate and fellow high jump competitor Thursday. "It was almost expected, because she has the potential. She had an awesome year. If she was jumping lower right now, it'd be, 'Awwwwww.' "

The two compete at home - in Words with Friends and for Twitter followers - but get each other birthday cards meant for siblings.

They're family. Earlier this week, they spent the night composing music and singing together.

That's how Barrett thinks of Olympic pressure: Even in a packed house, the singer must take the stage.

"Everyone expects you to do so much," she said. "I don't want to let anyone down."

She expects to make the team.

"At the end of the day," she said, "it's an audience of one."

The devil may be in the details on which she's focused, but she will jump with a Bible verse on her block and a Gospel song on her lips.

"I'm slowly coming to the conclusion," she said, "that purpose is just living your life on purpose."

One approach step at a time.

Title IX Anniversary

As Title IX turns 40 this weekend, participation numbers for women in college and high school athletics are at an all-time high.

But perhaps the greatest legacy of the legislation originally intended to prohibit gender discrimination in education is found in Arizona track and field star Brigetta Barrett and hundreds of thousands of athletes like her: a generation of young women growing up strong and self-assured because of their participation in sports.

A generation for whom sports is so ingrained in their lives, they can't fathom being on the sidelines.

The Associated Press

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