High-jumper resumes

David La

It’s just not fair.
This simple statement of frustration was muttered time and again by competitors in the Big Ten high jump finals on Saturday. The source of their struggles was Minnesota’s Staffan Strand, who looms over this event with a presence that exudes total confidence.
After all, before Saturday’s triumph, Strand had already won the high jump five consecutive times: three times indoors, twice outside.
On Saturday, while the mortals of the Big Ten struggled to clear seven feet, Strand was merely warming up. His first jump of 7-2 would have won the title by itself, had it not been for teammate Marc Johannsen’s clearing of a personal best 7-3.25 — daring to challenge Strand some three inches above the rest of the Big Ten field.
But in the end, there could only be one outcome, as Strand leapt to a Big Ten-best 7-4.50 and took home his sixth straight title.
“It’s great to win back-to-back Big Ten Championships,” Strand said. “It’s my sixth in a row, so I’m starting to get used to it.”
Strand, who is from Sweden, was a four-time national junior champion and three-time national senior champion there. In addition, Strand was the 1997 under-23 European champion, and placed fifth at the 1997 World Indoor Games.
The plethora of honors leave the question of how Strand’s Big Ten titles rate on his list of accomplishments.
“The Big Ten championships are always important,” Strand said. “I’m always going to carry them with me. I wouldn’t say (Minnesota) is where I learned to jump, but this is where I’ve continued to develop from being very good to world class. Minnesota, the Big Tens and collegiate athletics are always going to be an important part of my career.”
Gophers coach Phil Lundin acknowledged his star high jumper was a machine that needed little to no tinkering, and as a coach he preferred just to sit back, enjoy the show and leave well enough alone.
“I’m more of a consultant and a bag carrier for him than I am a coach,” Lundin said. “I help where I can.”
Though he won the event, Strand was one of four Gophers to score. When they succeeded, Strand was adamant about meeting his teammates with a congratulatory hug or cheer. When they faltered, Strand offered pointers and consolation. Lundin said Strand’s physical abilities should not overshadow his other qualities.
“He’s obviously very suited to the event,” Lundin said. “He’s been very well trained. It’s always good to have the bar literally and figuratively set higher by people. He’s a great model.”
Strand — who will now shift his focus to training for the 2000 Olympics — has competed in his last Big Ten championships, meaning the title will finally be up for grabs again. Teammate Marc Johannsen, whose second-place finish was still three inches better than the third-place mark, could be next on the champions list. If that’s the case, the Big Ten will have to wait yet again for those Gophers high jumpers to come down.
And that just doesn’t seem fair.