Stanford junior Darian Brooks won the men's triple jump title on the last jump of the competition at the Pac-12 Conference Track and Field Championships on Sunday at Washington State, breaking a school record that stood since 1970.
Despite setting three personal records already in the competition, Brooks found himself trailing Arizona State's Josh Dixon by three-fourths of an inch with one jump left. Brooks responded with a jump of 52-6 3/4 to win by 17 inches, breaking Allen Meredith's longstanding Stanford mark of 52-3.
The victory was Stanford's fourth of the two-day meet and helped the Cardinal to solid team finishes from its men and women's teams. The Stanford women tied for third with 75 points and the men were sixth with 71. It was a substantial improvement over last year when the women were fifth and the men 10th.
Stanford highlights Sunday included second-place finishes by Aisling Cuffe in the 1,500 and 5,000, freshman Valarie Allman in the women's discus and Steven Solomon in the men's 400 meters. Michael Atchoo provided a gutsy third-place in the men's 1,500, and Nick Budincich earned a huge personal best to finish fifth in the discus.
"We were thrilled," said Stanford head coach Chris Miltenberg. "We're pretty excited with how we've moved the needle with this program. Last year, the men scored only seven points in distances from 800 and above and last night we got 17 from the 10,000 alone. And if you look at where our points came from, they came from all over, the throws, jumps, and on the track."
Brooks, though, stole the show as far as Stanford was concerned.
"That was the most exciting part of the meet," Miltenberg said.
Brooks, competing in front of family, friends and others who had followed his career since his days as a state champion at Seattle's Kennedy Catholic High, entered the meet with a personal record of 50-6 3/4.
However, Brooks also has been nursing a heel injury that has severely limited him this season and caused him to redshirt in 2013. He had competed only once in the triple jump this season -- setting his personal best at the Stanford Invitational -- and hadn't jumped at all since aborting a long jump attempt at the Big Meet against Cal on April 12.
Jumps coach Michael Eskind and Brooks struck a balance in striving to keep Brooks healthy for Pac-12s and the NCAA West Prelims in two weeks. So, they dialed back his competition and training with the understanding that Brooks doesn't necessarily need to compete a lot to perform well.
"Darian was probably the most under-trained and least-competed athlete in the field," Eskind said. "But we've known he was capable of big things since the testing we did in the fall. The ability level was there. He just needed to step up to competitions like this to bring it out."
Brooks admitted to being extremely nervous, but said the heel was not a cause for worry.
"When you get into competition, the adrenaline is pumping," Brooks said. "Even if I had broken my foot, it wouldn't have mattered. I would have kept jumping."
Brooks opened with a 49-6 1/2, fouled on his next attempt and was in fifth place after two rounds. But his third jump -- of 50-9 3/4 -- represented the turning point. Brooks moved into a tie for first and, more importantly, allowed him to jump last when the field was reseeded for the finals. That advantage would prove to be huge.
From that point on, Brooks felt that "whatever the next person jumps, I'm going to beat it," he said.
That confidence never wavered, even though Brooks admitted to physically shaking as the competition unfolded.
With each of his last four attempts, Brooks jumped farther than he ever had before. He went 50-10 3/4 on his fourth jump to match Arizona's Nick Ross for the lead, only to fall behind on Dixon's fifth effort. Brooks reached 51-1 -- the No. 6 jump in Stanford history -- to draw agonizingly close on his next-to-last jump.
With the conference championship in the balance, Eskind felt the pressure was off on the decisive attempt.
"He'd already PR'd three times," Eskind said. "I thought, if he finishes second, it still would be a great story. I was less nervous, and more excited."
Standing on the runway, "I thought to myself, I spent all this time since September working for this moment," Brooks said. "It wasn't about PR's. It was about showing support for the all the friends and family who have stood by me.
"I was feeling strong, I've been working for something special and I felt today had to be that day."
What a day indeed. When Brooks descended into the sand, in an event in which improvement is marked by centimeters, he had jumped two feet farther than he'd jumped in any other meet in his life. The mark is the 10th-longest by a Division I jumper this year and marked the first men's conference triple jump title since Meredith set his record in the Pac-8 meet 44 years ago.
"He's a whole new jumper now," Eskind said. "He's put himself on the national level."