Janay DeLoach Soukup: New Approach, Same Goal
|Bronze medalist Janay DeLoach poses on the podium during the
medal ceremony for the women's long jump at the London 2012
Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on Aug. 9, 2012 in London.
MOSCOW -- Janay DeLoach Soukup wasn’t your typical bouncing baby girl.
“My mom said that she’d hold my hands when I was a baby and I would just bounce the whole time,” she said. “When they stopped me, I’d cry.
“From the beginning, my parents said I was a jumper.”
Now DeLoach Soukup is one of the longest jumpers in the world, having earned an Olympic bronze medal in the event at the London 2012 Olympic Games. She is competing in her first IAAF World Championships after winning her first outdoor national title in June.
DeLoach Soukup will try to break even more new ground as the women’s long jump qualifying helps kick off the opening day of competition Saturday at Luzhniki Stadium.
She’ll be jumping off her right foot instead of her left.
It’s a switch born of necessity. On June 22, DeLoach Soukup sprained her ankle on her second jump at the national championships. She passed her final four attempts, relieved that her first jump was good enough to win.
The sprain, which DeLoach Soukup thinks is more of a bone bruise, is still causing her a lot of pain. In the Diamond League meet in London last month she said she had “a horrible jump,” posting a legal mark of 20 feet, 7 ¾ inches, which is about 2 feet shorter than her bronze-medal jump a year before. But she had a “small foul on a pretty big jump, so I’m confident that I can do it.”
DeLoach Soukup has an edge because she jumps off her right leg when she hurdles. She was third in the 60-meter hurdles at the 2013 USA Indoor Track & Field Championships (along with winning her third indoor long jump title).
“It wasn’t like, ‘Whoaaa, this is so foreign to me,’ because I’ve already done it,” she said.
DeLoach Soukup, 27, of Fort Collins, Colo., has that same can-do attitude in her job as an occupational therapist. She was certified in February and works at a rehab hospital one or two days a week. DeLoach Soukup doesn’t have to work, but wants to keep her clinical skills current.
Occupational therapy, she said, “is kind of like being a psychologist and being a physical therapist together, so it’s a merge of the things that I wanted to do.”
DeLoach Soukup mainly works with stroke patients and amputees.
“I absolutely love it,” she said, “because you see these people who come in who have had their independence taken away from them. I like knowing that I’m helping someone get back to where they really need to be in life. And nine times out of 10, the individuals that come into the hospital in a wheelchair end up walking out.
“It makes me feel on top of the world.”
In Moscow, she’ll try to get that feeling on the track. DeLoach Soukup, the 2012 world indoor silver medalist, is one of four U.S. female long jumpers who are competing at worlds. The other three are Tori Polk, Funmi Jimoh and Olympic champion and two-time world outdoor champion Brittney Reese.
“We’re really good friends,” DeLoach Soukup said of Reese. “We motivate each other, but she wants to win and I want to win, so we’ll be butting heads in the competition.”
They’ll also be butting heads with four Russians (including Yelena Sokolova, the Olympic silver medalist) who will have the home crowd behind them.
DeLoach Soukup started long jumping in the ninth grade. She attended high school in Alaska, where the permafrost limited her team to five meets a year. Her first love was basketball, but DeLoach Soukup got a better scholarship – at Colorado State – to long jump.
At 5-foot-5, she is considered short in both of her favorite sports, but said, “If you can jump far, you can jump far.”
DeLoach Soukup also wanted to hurdle in college, but her coaches wouldn’t let her because she had a stress fracture they didn’t want to aggravate.
After graduation, “They couldn’t tell me, ‘No,’ anymore,” she said. “I was healthy. There was no reason for me not to do the hurdles. So I picked it up. Plus, I was a little burnt out on just long jump alone, so it was the refresher I needed to fall in love with the sport again.”
DeLoach Soukup also has competed indoors in the pentathlon, which is composed of the 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800 meters. She has never contested the outdoor heptathlon, which also features the 200 and the javelin, but has plans to do it next year.
“I throw stuff now,” she said. “I jump over stuff instead of into the dirt all the time, and I run over hurdles.”
DeLoach Soukup married former Colorado State high jumper Patrick Soukup in September and he joins her in her pursuit of new activities.
“We’ll see something, and we’re like, ‘Shooting arrows? Let’s go,’” she said.
DeLoach Soukup had fun, but hurt her fingers pulling back so many times and probably won’t go back.
She does go snowboarding every year, a sport which most coaches frown upon.
“My coach knows I do it, and he knows he can’t stop me because he knows I enjoy that stuff,” DeLoach Soukup said. “He also knows that I’m very careful; I don’t do anything crazy. It’s not like I’m out there going down black diamonds at full speed.
“I also feel like even though I do track & field, I don’t need to put my life on hold for that,” she said.
She'll be no holds barred in Moscow.
Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 13 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.