Jeff Henderson at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Glasgow (© Victah Sailer)
Forced to curtail his season prematurely due to a painfully bruised left heel, and passing up a chance to have a tilt at taking the Diamond Race in Brussels this Friday as well as represent the Americas at the IAAF Continental Cup later this month, Jeff Henderson can still reflect with pride on an outstanding year.
The 2014 US long jump champion frustratingly injured his heel at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Glasgow on 12 July and pulled out of the subsequent Monaco event.
Attempting to extend his outdoor winning streak of nine victories, his last defeat coming when he failed to make the final at the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships, Henderson pushed through the pain barrier at the IAAF Diamond League meetings in Stockholm and Birmingham last month but could do no better than eighth and fifth respectively and, sadly, decided to call it quits and return home.
“It was hurting the whole time,” explained Henderson, who jumped a wind-assisted 8.52m to win his first national title in June.
“It was affecting me the whole time. I could hardly walk on it so I came home early. There was nothing to prove.”
He is currently resting and icing his heel before resuming training later this month, confident that he can make further significant improvements next year.
Henderson, 25, teamed up with 1984 Olympic triple jump champion Al Joyner last year and the results have been dramatic.
The youngest of six children from North Rock, Arkansas, Henderson went on a diet and shed 20 pounds after tipping the scales at 200 pounds (90.7kg) when he met Joyner, the husband of the late Florence Griffith-Joyner, who still holds the world 100m and 200m records, and the brother of IAAF Hall of Fame member Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
Joyner and Henderson decided to make a technical alteration, with Henderson now employing the hitch kick technique instead of the hang.
“We were kind of on the same page," said Henderson. "I told him I was a hanging person but I’m a speed jumper and it’s much easier to hitch than to hang. To hang is much harder, with my speed it’s more natural to hitch.
“We are working on my speed much more; that’s the goal for next year. If I have more speed, it’s much easier on the runway. I can do more speed, that’s the game plan.
"Al told me what was going to happen. You are going to jump far, don’t be surprised.”
In order to increase his speed, Henderson will run more 100m races in the build up to the IAAF World Championships in Beijing next summer.
He also believes he can go under the hallowed target of 10 seconds. His present best is 10.18 and he has also clocked 6.58 over 60m, reaching the semi-finals at the US Indoor Championships.
“Next year I plan to run more 60s and 100s,” he said. ”I think I can run under 10 seconds. The more speed I have, the better the long jump is going to be.”
He also plans to improve his legal long jump best of 8.43m, also set at the US Championships in Sacramento this year.
Henderson has been forced to overcome personal tragedy in his life.
His mother Debra has Alzheimer’s disease and no longer recognises him while he, himself, suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
“I worked even harder,” Henderson said. “I read more than a lot of people because I knew I had to. It helped me in school and in life. I had to go somewhere where there was silence. I do read a lot of books.”
Now his sights are set on Beijing and then the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“My coach said I can beat people when I’m hurt so there’s no way I can be beaten when I’m healthy,” he said. “I can improve a lot.”
On the evidence of this summer, at least while Henderson was healthy, Al Joyner could well be proven right.
John Mehaffey for the IAAF