Jumper falls just short in NCAA meet


It wasn’t as easy as a hop, skip and a jump for Lehman College triple jumper Pierre Francois to reach the NCAA Division III indoor track and field championships this past weekend.

Born in Haiti, Francois moved to the states in 2007 and starred at DeWitt Clinton High School and Bronx Community College before earning a scholarship to Lehman. He spent the last year “getting rid of the bad habits he had,” according to coach Pete Charles, and only now has the sophomore begun to realize his potential.

Advancing to the championships was one hurdle, but physically getting there was another.

After an early wake-up call on Thursday, Francois navigated to Kennedy Airport before he skipped his way to Lincoln, Nebraska aboard two flights. There was a dinner for all the participants upon arrival, but when competition began the next day, Francois was relegated to a practice runway, as the triple jump heats weren’t scheduled until Saturday.

Days of buildup led to Francois’ first of three jumps. He took off, barreling toward the take off line — he hopped, skipped and jumped. Foul. 

His foot stepped over the line. His second jump was clean, and his mark of 14.15 meters placed him 10th in the country. But only the top nine advanced to the final.

“I wasn’t really happy with my performance, I expected to do much better,” Francois said. “I wanted to be the champion.That’s what I worked for the whole season.”

The trip was far from a failure, Charles said. Because Francois had never mastered proper technique, he was susceptible to injuries, and they came to all parts of his legs — ankles, knees, hamstrings, quads. But he has now learned to come off the ground quicker, relying less on his power and more on his speed.

“It’s his first season with me, so I totally had to break down his technique and start from scratch,” Charles said. “He picked it up quickly.”

So Francois is optimistic his championship dreams can be realized in the outdoor season this spring.

“I just have to learn from my mistakes,” he said. “It was my first time competing at the NCAAs. I’m very happy I made it.”

Francois’ disappointment in his finish speaks to the confidence he has in himself. He described the competition as “about the same as I expected,” and wasn’t intimidated by the stage despite the long anticipation. Instead, he soaked in the moment — even comparing the Nebraska countryside to the areas where he lived in rural Haiti.

“I wasn’t nervous, I was calm, I was ready,” he said. “It just happened that I didn’t get it right.”