What are the keys to high jumping?

Failing to qualify for the high jump finals in May's IHSA state track and field meet left Hinsdale Central's Michael Prieto understandably low.

"I wanted to definitely do better," said the rising senior. "So that's really when I decided to jump in the summer."

Suddenly Prieto was elevating his performance. On June 24 he placed first at the USATF Junior Olympic state championship for ages 17-18 at the University of Illinois-Champaign with a personal best jump of 6 feet 7 inches.

"I didn't expect it," he acknowledged. "The win was nice to have, but the 6'7" was cool. I was just super excited to be able to move onto the next step."

Which was the USATF Region 7 meet on July 9, also in Champaign, where Prieto again soared again to victory. Next week he'll head to the University of Oregon in Eugene to compete in the USATF Junior Olympic National Championships on July 30.

Prieto credits Hinsdale Central coach Michael Huseth, a former Red Devil and competitive high jumper, for his impressive recent results after tweaking his jump approach technique.

"My form was getting messed up because I was coming in on nine steps. So I switched it to seven steps, and that's really when I started to jump a lot higher," he said. "The more steps, the more speed, so it gets more complicated. It's just keeping me more focused on the jump."

Prieto's natural prowess in the sport became clear when he competed for his Clarendon Hills Middle School track team as a seventh-grader. He acquired a conference championship and a new athletic pursuit. After the pandemic disruption, he kept rising, setting new sophomore indoor and outdoor records at Central - one of which has particular significance.

"The outdoor one was held by my coach (Huseth) in the '70s," he said. "So I broke his sophomore record with him coaching me, which is kind of cool."

Off-season work involves extensive weight training, especially squats and deadlifts. Prieto keeps his legs in condition with regular jump roping and workouts on elliptical machines. He joked that during the season, high jumpers evoke scorn from fellow track athletes "because we're always standing around." But there's a reason for that.

"You can't just jump back to back to back because it is really tough on the body. So you only get like seven to 10 jumps a session," he said. "After each jump you're watching the film, seeing what you did right, seeing what you did wrong."

At a little over 6 feet 5 inches tall, Prieto appreciates the vertical advantage he has.

"I think the taller you get, the easier high jump becomes," he said. "I definitely am grateful that I'm tall."

Prieto avoids looking at the bar before a jump so as not to psych himself out. He said he's embracing his opportunity to compete at one of the most venerated venues in the sport and believes a personal record is not out of the question.

"The Oregon track is one of the best in the world," he said. "I'm definitely hoping for a PR, but we'll see what happens."

- by Ken Knutson