Most people would be thrilled to have their workload reduced by 75 percent. Not Texas A&M’s Tyra Gittens. She is just fine with the full load, even when it involves running from job to job.
Gittens is one of the nation’s top heptathletes, in part because she is also among the NCAA’s elite high jumpers and long jumpers, two of the eight events in the heptathlon. She won’t have to compete in the two-day multi-event this week at the NCAA West Preliminary Round, instead focusing on her two specialties at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California.
“Definitely it’s a lot more time on my hands,” said Gittens, who already is qualified for the NCAA Championships in the heptathlon. “It’s like, ‘I only have two things to do today, oh, shoot. I really need to focus on these two things.’ I’m not sure why, but last year I didn’t even qualify for the high jump and I came in with the top mark, and the long jump I barely made it. I’m not nervous or anything, but at the same time I know I need to really focus.”
Gittens finished 18th in the high jump in the preliminary round last season, six places from qualifying. She advanced in the long jump with a 10th-place finish.
She’s seeded third in both events this season. The top 12 performers from the field of 48 in each event advance.
The heptathlon and decathlon are not contested in the preliminary rounds. Gittens finished second in the heptathlon with 5,793 points at the SEC meet and will enter the national meet in Austin on June 5-8 seeded sixth.
“It would seem that I would be so excited and relaxed, but for me, open events are a lot more stressful than doing those events in the heptathlon,” Gittens said. “With open high jump, if you miss one, that can determine on whether you get first place or second place, even though it’s not really scored like that. It’s stressful.”
The sophomore from Nashville, Tennessee, has a season best high jump of 6 feet, 1 1/2 inches and a long jump best of 21-5 1/4. Often she is called over to those events while competing in the heptathlon. Although the time issues can play havoc with her schedule, Gittens believes the additional jumps help her perform better overall.
“In the heptathlon long jump [at the SEC meet], I had good attempts but nothing as good in open long jump, because I just spent three jumps on that one event and I’m warmed up already,” Gittens said. “I know what I need to do. I know what I didn’t do on the last one. With the high jump, I already have my mark down and did an approach on the apron. Already I know how it feels. I know how fast it is, so it definitely gave me a little bit of confidence knowing that I’ve already been here.”
The goal this weekend for Gittens is to get back on her busy schedule for nationals, where she placed eighth in the heptathlon and ninth in the long jump last season. It’s a difficult feat but one her coach Pat Henry expects her to handle.
“Her every day training gets her ready for this,” Henry said. “That’s part of the job that she takes on, and that’s part of the fun that she gets out of it, too, because she can do it better than 99 percent of the people. She is a good athlete, and she wants to get those things done. Long jumping, high jumping on top of doing a multi-event is what she wants to try and do.”
Gittens already holds the A&M record in the heptathlon with 6,074 points and is tied for the long jump mark with Adrien Sawyer (1997) at 21-5 1/4.
As a multi-event athlete, Gittens wants to prove she can excel in every discipline.
“My goal by the time I finish my eligibility here is to be in at least the top 10 in all the events in the heptathlon, surprisingly also in the 800, which is going to be a lot of work, but I really want to do that,” Gittens said. “Shot put, too. People always underestimate me because of my size. Anybody can win, and I love to win, but I do want to break records, and that is what I need to do.”
NOTES — The West Preliminary Round opens Thursday and ends Saturday. The No. 3 A&M women have 37 entrants in 14 events. A&M’s fourth-ranked men have 26 entrants in 13 events. ... A&M’s Devin Dixon is seeded first in the men’s 800 meters at 1 minute, 44.76 seconds and is part of the men’s 4x400 relay team seeded first at 3:01.77. Ciynamon Stevenson is seeded first in the women’s triple jump at 43-6. She was also the next to last to qualify in the long jump. ... A&M’s Ashton Hutcherson was the final qualifier in the 3,000 steeplechase. ... A&M has four runners in the men’s 400 hurdles — Infinite Tucker, Robert Grant, Ilolo Izu and DeWitt Thomas.