James Leonard of Cornell won a record seven Heps triple jump championships from 1972 to 1975. He was subjected to the fastest five questions in track recently and here’s what he had to say:
Q: Indoor Heps added the triple jump to its schedule in 1972, which happened to be your freshman year. You then won the first four championships, setting a new mark each time. How were you doing on a national level back then?
A: I wasn’t much of factor when it came to the national level competitions. It wasn’t like I couldn’t have been — I just didn’t get it done. My highest national ranking — non-collegiate jumpers included — was 51st. To illustrate it another way, when I set the then outdoor school record of 51-3 at the 1974 Outdoor NCAAs, it was not enough to advance me to the following day’s final in which the top 12 qualifiers moved on. My best NCAA showing was at the 1975 outdoor competition in which I finished 13th in the qualifying round with a mere 50-10 performance. Even if I had matched my school record, I still would have finished 13th. If only I hadn’t had the miniscule foul at the 1974 Outdoor Heps (unofficially measured at 53-2 3/4 or 16.22m). However, even if that jump had counted, I would not even have been the champion of my hometown (Pittsburgh, Pa.). Pittsburgh residents with better PRs than me in those days included Ed Lennex of St. Joseph’s (about a 54-7 performer) and Mike Williams of Widener (53-4 or so). Pittsburgh also had William Rea of Pitt at 51-2 who realized more success in the long jump (26-8). I was typically a factor at the IC4A level, finishing in the top 3 on several occasions.
Q: Cornell has produced the last two NCAA champions in the triple jump — Ray Taylor and Muhammad Halim. What is it about Ithaca that makes such great jumpers?
A: I like to feel that the tradition of horizontal jumping at Cornell — a major factor of which is the dedication and knowledge of the coaching staff — breeds its own success. While I can’t speak for him, I would bet that the precedents set by the likes of Flash Gourdine and Bo Roberson influenced Glenn Fausset’s decision to enroll at Cornell. His success along with that of Walter Jones encouraged me to enroll. I would bet that the likes of Darren Roach and Chris Chrysostomou influenced people like Ray Taylor, Muhammad Halim, Jeomi Maduka and Duane Teixeira when came time for them to consider where they would like to enroll and compete. Their successes will truly inspire others to become part of the Big Red jumping tradition. I eagerly look forward to following those future success stories.
Q: You won seven of the eight Heps triples during your career. Do you remember what happened in the other one?
A: I did not compete in the 1973 Outdoor Heps due to a death in the family. Coincidentally, the event was won by my good friend Leonard Stachitas of Penn. Aside from his first name being the same as my last name, we were exactly the same height and weight, both originally from Pennsylvania, and have the same birth date. I like to think I would have been a factor had I been able to take part in the competition that day.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory from Heps?
A: I have many cherished memories from the Heps. Most featured my wonderful teammates and the great friendships I had with my rivals. For example, I will be forever grateful that by winning the 1974 Indoor Heps 4 x 880 relay, my teammates saved me from having to sing “Anchors Aweigh” in the packed stands of Barton Hall as part of my friendly wager with some Naval Academy athletes. I also remember how we won the Ivy portion of the Heps team championship at that same meet and how we came so close to winning the overall title the following year. There are many fond memories of the enthusiastic Barton Hall crowds. They really gave all of us Big Red Heps performers lots of energy. As for the horizontal jumps competitions, I am grateful to have been the first winner of the indoor TJ title in 1972, especially when being quite the underdog as a freshman. Topping the 50- and 51-foot barriers in the 1974 indoor meet was also very satisfying.
Q: Since your college days, what have you been up to?
A: My proudest accomplishment is being the father of a great son who has just completed his first year at Beloit College in Wisconsin. He considered Cornell at one point, by the way. Career-wise, I have been in the field of Environmental Compliance for most of my working life. Recently, I have resumed a long-deferred pursuit to become a published science fiction author. As for athletic endeavors, I competed in the horizontal jumps until age 37, only once exceeding my best collegiate TJ mark. Other athletic pursuits over the years include novice level cross country ski racing and bicycle racing, mountaineering and my current interest — Martial Arts, an activity I share with my son. The Martial Arts training keeps me fairly fit; I weigh only about 10 pounds more than I did as a Cornell triple jumper.