High jumper hits 10-foot mark

by Susan Filkins

Gophers freshman high jumper Staffan Strand has been jumping since he was 8 years old, but recently his teammates have been teaching him a new kind of jump — dunking a basketball.
Although Strand is not a giant, his jumping experience has made dunking fairly easy for him. But he admits he cannot palm the ball, which makes dunking all the more difficult.
“I guess with some practice I could get some technique, but I don’t have the rhythm or anything like that,” Strand said.
He will not have to worry about finding the rhythm for dunking anytime soon, though, because the native of Upplands-Vasby, Sweden is not here for basketball. He is here to dominate in the high jump.
Strand automatically qualified for the NCAA championships in the high jump earlier this season at the Texas Relays with a 7-foot, 4 1/2-inch jump. His mark broke the previous outdoor school record of 7-2 set in 1990 by Chris Murrell.
“He can jump very, very high,” Gophers coach Phil Lundin said. “He is going to be a world-class athlete over the next two to four years.”
Lundin said recruiting Strand was not too much hassle. He just used his contacts in Sweden and gave Strand a call at the right time.
“Everything just fell in to place,” Lundin said. “It’s more than anything I could offer him personally, I’m just a dumb track coach.”
Strand said he chose Minnesota over Harvard and several other schools in the United States because of its academic reputation in the Institute of Technology.
“I wanted to do both school and track,” Strand said. “I don’t simply want to do just track or school.”
His 4.0 grade-point average during his first two quarters in IT is evidence of that. Majoring in electrical engineering, Strand also speaks several languages including: French, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and English.
“I’m not a genius, that would be a lie to say,” Strand said. “I’m a pretty good learner. We’ll see how long I can maintain my grades. I guess they’re going to drop sooner or later.”
Strand’s academic success has equally matched his achievements in track.
In 1995, he won the high jump in the Swedish National Championships with a jump of 7-5 1/4. He defended his title last year while making a run to qualify for the Olympics, but a case of strep throat began to take its toll in June.
“Before I was supposed to start competing, I got sick,” Strand said. “I just kept running and running and running, and I never really got well because I refused to take the necessary week off.”
In the end, Strand missed the qualifying mark for the Olympics by 1/4 of an inch. He eventually reached the qualifying jump of 7-5 3/4 — his personal best — but it was three weeks too late.
Strand said he would like to make the Olympic Games in 2000 but will not set any real goals for the event.
“I’m not striving to get an Olympic gold, I’m striving more for perfection in my own high jump,” Strand said. “Of course I want to win every meet there is, but what drives me forward is to get better and see how good I can become.”
This year at Minnesota, however, Strand’s goals are pretty specific. One is to claim the Big Ten title in the high jump, which Strand said he feels should not be a problem. The other is to win the national title.
But for now, Strand is enjoying the mix of academics and athletics at Minnesota. He said he is satisfied with his decision to come here, although he will admit not everything is perfect.
“Adjusting to the food is not too easy,” Strand said. “The food isn’t really bad here. It gets boring in the long run to have salad, pasta, rice, salad, pasta, rice everyday basically. I don’t find that very nice at all.”

Note: The Gophers will host the Gold Country Classic on Saturday at the Bierman Track and Field Stadium. Some members of the team will travel to Columbus, Ohio, to compete in the Jesse Owens Classic on Sunday.