Former Gophers long jumper going to Games

Tris Wykes

Several long jumps for the British Virgin Islands, one giant step for Keita Cline.
Cline, a former University track All-American and a dual citizen of the United States and the British Virgin Islands, will compete for the British Virgin Islands as a long jumper and possibly a relay team member in the Olympics later this month.
The 21-year-old hails from the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, a nation of 14 inhabited islands and approximately 17,500 people located about 60 miles east of Puerto Rico.
As a long and triple jumper with the Gophers from 1991-95, Cline won five Big Ten titles and was a two-time All-American. He is also no stranger to international competition, having competed for the British Virgin Islands in the World Junior Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the World Senior Championships.
The Olympics, however, represent a higher plateau.
“If you see a future for yourself in track after college, (the Olympics) are the goal you’re shooting for every four years,” Cline said. “Any good track athlete is looking towards it. There’s no draft or big professional leagues in the sport like in basketball or football.”
Many Olympic track and field events, including the long jump, have two entry standards. If a country is sending only one participant in a certain event, that person must post a time or mark at least equal to the event’s “B” standard.
If two competitors from the same nation are to qualify in the same event, however, both must do so at the slightly better “A” standard.
In the long jump, the “B” standard is 7.9 meters, and the “A” standard is 8 meters.
Cline qualified in May as the British Virgin Islands’ only competitor in the event by besting the lower standard with a leap of 7.97 meters at a meet in Jamaica.
Cline will be part of a small British Virgin Islands delegation in Atlanta comprised almost entirely of track athletes.
Reynold O’Neal, president of the British Virgin Islands’ Olympic Committee, said he expects the British Virgin Islands to enter teams in the 4×100- and 4×400-meter relay events, which he said do not have qualifying times as a prerequisite. Cline will likely be a member of each relay team.
O’Neal said a cousin of Cline’s is close to qualifying for the 800-meter track event. He added that one British Virgin Islands’ athlete has qualified in yachting as part of the laser class.
The British Virgin Islands has produced 17 previous Olympic participants, seven in track and 10 in yachting.
Cline was born in St. Thomas, but his family almost immediately moved to Tortola. He excelled in elementary school track meets and was picked to join the British Virgin Islands’ junior national program at age 10.
When Cline was 15 his parents divorced and he moved with his mother, Sheryl Norton, to Gainsville, Fla. There he graduated from Gainsville High School and attracted the attention of University track coaches.
At the end of his Minnesota career, Cline became a volunteer jumps coach with the Gophers and started his quest to reach the Olympics.
The effort began with conditioning drills primarily involving long sprints. Throughout the winter, Cline’s workouts became more specific, involving refinements of his jumping technique as well as weight lifting to increase his power and explosiveness.
“With (the Gophers) you’re trying to peak at the Big Ten or the national championships,” Cline said. “This year I started training later and competing later so I could peak in July.”
All seems on course for Cline, who returned from a recent meet on Tortola in high spirits and in good form.
“I’m not in peak form, but I know all I have to do is fine tune,” Cline said. “The way I felt after this weekend, I recognize it as a feeling I’ve had before (Big Ten) meets when I’ve pulled out some big performances.”
Cline said he will likely check into the Olympic Village on July 12, then travel at the expense of the British Virgin Islands Olympic Committee to meets in Raleigh, N.C., the Bahamas and Atlanta in the following 10 days.
Cline is targeting the Bahamas competition as a chance to reach peak form, but said he is not overly concerned with reaching his event’s “A” standard.
“Reaching the ‘A’ mark would definitely be a big confidence boost for me,” Cline said. “But I’m focusing on every meet as it comes, even though I’m very excited.”
In the Olympic competition, Cline will have to first surpass a minimum standard during the qualifying round. Although Cline expects that standard to be only slightly above or even below the “B” standard for pre-Olympic qualifying, he cannot afford to relax.
That vigilance is based on memories of last summer at the World Senior Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, where Cline defaulted in the qualifying round because of an injured ankle.
This summer, Cline is healthy and determined to advance past the first day of competition. Should he do that, he would have three jumps to place in the top eight to 10 competitors and advance to the finals.
“I’m looking forward to being in the middle of things down there,” Cline said. “When you get a large crowd you really get into the competition. It’s the Olympics and I’ll be ready.”