AUGUST 11, 2012: BRIGETTA BARRETT WINS SILVER MEDAL IN LONDON OLYMPICS
Nobody refers to Arizona as “High Jump U.” It’s not as sexy as “Point Guard U” and, besides, Americans pay about as much attention to the high jump as they do to rugby and synchronized swimming.
But when I got a do-the-math email from former UA assistant track and field coach Bob Myers a few days ago, the numbers were astonishing:
Since the UA’s Ed Caruthers won the 1968 Mexico City Olympics silver medal, the Wildcats have won 13 NCAA high-jump championships and finished second 10 times, indoors and outdoors.
In 1985, during Myers’ days on the staff, Arizona finished an unprecedented 1-2-3 in the NCAA women’s high jump finals. Katrena Johnson was first, French Olympian Maryse Ewanje-Epee was second and Camille Harding third.
After that, the UA really became a factory for high jumpers.
Tanya Hughes won three straight NCAA championships in the early ’90s. The Pac-12 record book lists seven Wildcats among the league’s 10 best women’s high jumpers ever: Hughes, Johnson, Liz Patterson, Julienne Broughton, Erin Aldrich, Cristina Fink-Sisniega and the great Brigetta Barrett.
Nick Ross was the league’s top men’s high jumper from 2012-15, and Edgar Rivera-Morales became an All-American.
Ross jumped 7 feet 6½ inches at Drachman Stadium in his final home meet, breaking the record of All-American James Frazier set more than three decades earlier. Ross finished third at the 2012 Olympic Trials.
But it was Barrett who became the Sean Elliott of High Jump U.
She won six consecutive NCAA championships (indoor and outdoor) from 2011-13, broke the Pac-12 and NCAA record and at the 2012 London Olympics, cleared 6-8 to win the silver medal.
“One of the first times Liz Patterson walked into my office I told her that Arizona has arguably the greatest high-jumping history in all of college athletics,” said UA head track coach Fred Harvey. “I challenged her to carry on the tradition.”
Patterson won the NCAA championship in 2010. Her young teammate, Barrett, then a freshman, would be better.
Former UA jumps coach Sheldon Blockburger discovered Barrett at a Texas high school. The nation’s top track and field schools hadn’t properly evaluated her.
When Blockburger went to Texas to recruit Barrett, he wasn’t sure what he had. She was a theater arts specialist, a singer and dancer who had been a standout in volleyball and cheerleading. Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas Tech had tried to recruit her, but she was looking, she said, “for the best high-jump coach and that is Sheldon.”
How did she know?
“We were in the coaches office at my high school and Sheldon saw a picture of me high-jumping,” Barrett told me in 2011. “He said, ‘Hey, you’re not doing anything right on that jump. Your body is in the wrong position. This is wrong. That is wrong. It was cool that he could just look at a picture and know what I needed to do to jump higher.”
By her senior season at Arizona, Barrett was the Pac-12 Woman of the Year. She won her final 25 college competitions.
In the history of women’s athletics at Arizona, Barrett ranks with distance runner Amy Skieresz, swimmer Lacey Nymeyer, softball pitcher Jennie Finch and golfers Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa as the best ever.
Where are they now: An honor student at Arizona, Barrett chose not to compete in track this year, bypassing a chance to return to the Olympics. She lives in Los Angeles and is pursuing a career in acting and singing. On her website, she describes herself this way: “I sing, dance, act, write poetry and so much more.”
How she did it: In the week she graduated from the UA in 2013, Barrett’s mother, Lottie flew to Tucson for the ceremony. They continued on to Los Angeles for the Pac-12 championships.
In a Twitter message, Barrett wrote: “The high jump collegiate record is going down!!!”
She cleared 6 feet, 6¼ inches to become the greatest female college high jumper ever.