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McPherson Reaches New Heights In The High Jump

By Karen Rosen | June 29, 2014, 11:43 p.m. (ET)

Inika Mcpherson clears a height on the way to win the women's high jump at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hornet Stadium on June 29, 2014 in Sacramento, California.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Inika McPherson considers it a compliment that people thought she was in over her head in her chosen event.

She’s a 5-foot-4 high jumper who cleared 6 feet, 6 ¾ inches – an even 2 meters – on her first attempt after clinching her first USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships title.

“Ever since I was younger, everyone’s always said, ‘Why do you keep doing high jump?’” McPherson said. “I feel like if you just do the same things that you need to do as a high jumper, it doesn’t matter what height you are.”

Chaunte Lowe, the American record holder who has jumped 6-8 ¾, is 5-foot-9, while 2012 Olympic silver medalist Brigetta Barrett is 6 feet tall.

Their height differential made no difference Sunday at Hornet Stadium. Lowe, a mother of three who is still nursing her 10-month old baby, was second with a jump of 6-4 ¼ while Barrett was third at 6-3 ¼.

Alas, McPherson is officially listed at 5-foot-5 (1.65 meters) in her USA Track & Field and IAAF biographies. That means she only tied the world record for women’s all-time highest jump differential, which is 35 centimeters. McPherson matched Antonietta Di Martino of Italy, who is 5-6 ½ (1.69 meters) and has jumped 6-8 ¼ (2.04 meters).

As the high jump began, McPherson didn’t play it safe. She was the only competitor to pass at 5-10 ¾. She cleared 6-0 ¾, 6-2 and 6-3 ¼ on her first attempt, then McPherson and Lowe were the only athletes to clear 6-4 ¼. Lowe made the height on her second attempt while McPherson, whose personal best coming in was 6-foot-4, got over on her third try.

Lowe went out at 6-5 ½ while McPherson sailed over the bar on her second attempt. She then conquered 6-6 ¾ on her first go, clearing so easily that it looked like she had more in her.

“My coach wanted me to stop before 2 meters,” McPherson said. “I was like, ‘One more,’ and he said OK. Then I said, ‘One more,’ and he’s like, ‘No!’”

Her coach wanted her to save some spring for the Diamond League meet in Paris on July 5.  

“I feel like now I just want to stay over 2 meters,” McPherson said. “I’ve been working for that for a long time."

McPherson, who attended college at the nearby University of California, Berkeley, is a two-time indoor national champion in 2013-14 and was the outdoor runner-up last year behind Barrett. She jumped 6-3 ¼ indoors and credits more consistent training for her success this season.

“It was really good to see her get a personal best out here,” Lowe said. “Of course next year I’m going to put a little bit more vigor in my training. When you’re back from maternity, you try to get your fitness back together first, and then the next year I’ll try to sharpen everything up and get some records.”

While McPherson isn’t as highly decorated as other athletes when it comes to honors and records, she’s at the top of the list when it comes to body art.

She is covered in tattoos and has some facial piercings.

McPherson's tattoos include red lips on her left cheek. “You know how you always have a hug and your auntie or your grandmother kisses you right there?” she said. “That’s why I got it.”

McPherson, whose hairstyles have also included a mohawk, started getting tattoos while she was in college. “I go through a six-month period of wondering what I’m going to get,” she said.

Other tattoos include Betty Boop, a tiger, a skeleton, a cross, the word Bella (beautiful) on her neck, a hummingbird, a rose similar to the roses her mother and sister have and a small heart above her lip.

McPherson, who now lives in Houston, also wears a black cap emblazoned with the word “Queen.”

“I call myself High Jump Queen,” she said.

On Sunday, McPherson wore the crown well.

Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 14 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.

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