By DARREN MILLER
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Track and field aficionados might find this hard to believe, but University of Iowa senior jumper Jahisha Thomas isn’t always smiling.
It’s true that few collegiate competitors can match the sparkling personality of Thomas, who less than two weeks ago won titles in the triple and long jumps at the Big Ten Championships. She was named Big Ten Field Athlete of the Championships on May 15.
You have heard of Doubting Thomas, but Iowa’s resettled Londoner seems to be a perpetual Smiling Thomas. Before, during, and after meets, you will find Thomas wearing her trademark grin. But prior to an attempt in the triple or long jumps, watch out.
“My mom said that is when the darkness comes out,” Thomas said.
Those brief spells of darkness have carried Thomas great distances. At the Big Ten Championships on May 12, she set a personal best and meet record in the long jump (21-feet, 6-inches). She came back the next day and became the first Hawkeye to win a women’s Big Ten title in the triple jump (43-3 ¼).
“That’s fantastic, but there are more things I have to do for myself and my team,” Thomas said. “It is on to the next step; (winning two Big Ten titles) was a great accolade, now it is on to (the NCAA West Preliminary) and we keep going up step by step by step.”
Iowa has 30 athletes competing in 36 events from May 24-26 in Sacramento, including Thomas in the long jump (Thursday at 9:30 p.m. CT) and triple jump (Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT). The top 12 performers from the West and East regions qualify for the NCAA Championships on June 6-9 in Eugene, Oregon.
“Being in that top 12 is my No. 1 goal in both events,” Thomas said. “Last year I only made it in one and I was (15th) in the triple jump. Two this time.”
A year ago at the NCAA West Preliminary in Austin, Texas, Thomas placed eighth in the long jump (20-10) and 15th in the triple jump (42-9 ¾). At the NCAA Championships, she became a second-team All-American by placing 16th in the long jump (19-9 ¾).
Thomas is making the most of her final days as a Hawkeye.
“Coach always talks about leaving a legacy,” Thomas said. “I hopefully left a good enough one with the Big Ten, now I’m trying to leave one with the national. It is my last chance to do that, so I want to represent Iowa in the best possible way. Hopefully I can do that at the regional and then qualify to that national event.”
Iowa associate head coach Clive Roberts said that when action begins at the NCAA West Preliminary on Thursday, in a way, the season begins for the Hawkeyes.
“She has had a nice little campaign up to this point, but his is when track and field really starts for us,” Roberts said. “The Big Ten was a good meet, but for what we have worked hard for is the national meet, getting on that stage, and being able to compete against the best of the best.”
Thomas has already gained exposure at a national championship this season. In March, she was first-team All-America in the long jump, placing fifth (21-0). She also qualified in the triple jump by did not register a fair mark.
“She was close indoors,” Roberts said. “We have kept building and I think we have a shot (outdoors) if we can get out of this meet and into the national championships.”
Thomas enters the NCAA West Preliminary feeling well, that includes body, mind, spirit, and soul.
“Good energy, good vibes,” she said.
Track and field aficionados would expect nothing less.
“I am always known as the one screaming, cheering for the team, so I’m trying to be that fantastic teammate who brings everyone along,” Thomas said. “I’m all about the positivity; I believe positivity leads to success.
“I try to walk around with a smile. You do a lot of things better when you’re smiling.”
Except for those brief moments on the long and triple jump runways.
Thomas and the Hawkeyes begin competing for spots in the NCAA Championships on Thursday, beginning at 2 p.m. (CT) with the women’s javelin. A live stream of the meet is available through FloTrack.