MOUNT VERNON — They have two different and distinct styles of jumping, but they have one goal in mind.
Mount Vernon High School high jumpers Sam Bethea and Cory Berg want to clear the same bar and stand together on the top step of the podium at Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus. Placing a pair of high jumpers on the podium at the State Track and Field Championship would be a tremendous accomplishment for any high school athletic program. For Berg and Bethea, the dream of sharing the state podium is a major part of what is driving them to jump higher.
“It’s really exciting to have two athletes that are jumping at such a high level,” said Mount Vernon jump coach Karen McConnell. “They really work together to support each other by pushing each other. It’s great to have two elite jumpers.”
Bethea, a senior, earned a state berth in the high jump last season. His eighth place finish got him a place on the podium as an All-Ohio athlete. This year is his final season of high school track and field and he wants to get as far up the steps of the podium as he can in the high jump, as well as his other two events — the long jump and the 110-meter hurdles.
“I’m doing more running,” Bethea said. “I’m working on the legs. More squatting. I’m working on my stride to get my legs more loose. I’m working on technique, making sure my arch is right and at the perfect angle when I jump.”
Bethea’s high school career has come down to a few short weeks. He wants to break the school record high jump of 6-feet-8.25, which he set at Ashland, this season.
“Mostly, I just clear my mind,” Bethea said. “I try to think about something good. I’m not thinking about missing my jump. If I were taller than the bar, it would be easy for me, so I think about myself being taller than the bar.”
Berg had an outstanding sophomore season, earning the Ohio Cardinal Conference 2018 Male Track Athlete of the Year. He got to the regionals, but injuries cut his season disappointingly short. Berg, who also runs in the 300 meter hurdles, is playing it a little more carefully in 2019.
“The only thing different is making sure I’m staying heathy,” Berg said. “The workouts don’t really change. It’s just increasing intensity. Most of what we work on is technique as we jump higher, but also, getting in the weight room helps a lot.”
Bethea and Berg’s names usually come up, one after the other in roll call. The two friends can usually be found working together, but they approach their jumps from opposite sides on the bar. Berg, who is a finesse jumper, leaps off his right foot. Bethea, who is more of a power jumper, springs with his left foot. Until Tuesday, Bethea and Berg had not participated in the long jump in the same meet, at the same time this season. Each know that, having the other there will make a big difference.
“I think it’s good,” Berg said. “It’s friendly competition, which will help us outjump our competition without even thinking about it. We’ll just do what we do in practice. Just another day, together.”
For these two best friends, it couldn’t have happened at a better time.
“He’s going to push me, this year,” said Bethea. “It’s going to give me more motivation to get up over that bar.”
Now, Berg will have his best friend, who knows what it takes to get to the state, standing behind him.
“We push each other a little bit,” Bethea said. “I’m like, ‘Come on, you know you can get this,’ or ‘If I get it, then you’ve got to get it,’ and stuff like that.”
Berg has cleared the bar at 6-feet-5, this season, but he went an inch higher in 2018 — his best jump ever. Surpassing that will take a combination of technical, physical and psychological approaches. Most of all, it takes belief in one’s self.
“Just visualize on it,” Berg said. “Just know that you can jump that height, even if you have never jumped it before, you have to think to yourself that you can.”
Last year Bethea brought Berg up on the state podium with him. This year, the goal is even loftier.
“We’re sharing it,” Bethea said. “We’re going to be up top together. Last year, I made it to the state and, unfortunately, Cory didn’t, but he was with me every step of the way. This year, we both want to make it.”