Port Arthur’s latest Olympian: Memorial alumna McPherson high-jumps way to Rio

Published 7:19 pm Monday, July 4, 2016

Inika McPherson’s comeback story will continue on the world’s biggest athletic stage.

Months after completing a nearly two-year competition ban, the 2005 Port Arthur Memorial graduate became the ninth known athlete with greater Port Arthur ties to qualify for the Summer Olympics on Sunday, finishing third in the high jump at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Ore. The trials also serve as the national championships.

McPherson jumped 6 feet, 4 inches (1.93 meters internationally) to earn the third and final spot in the event on Team USA for next month’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Chaunte Lowe won with jump of 6-feet-7, (2.01 meters), followed by Vashti Cunningham at 6-5 1/2 (1.97). The latter is the daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham.

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“Coming into the Olympic trials, it was no question whether I was going to make the Olympic team,” said McPherson, who trains and lives in Houston. “It was a matter of how. What did we need to do? What were the conditions going to be?”

McPherson jumped as high as 1.95 meters weeks ago in another meet earlier this year to surpass the USA Track and Field standard of 1.85, her coach Patrick Pyle told LetsRun.com, but the jump didn’t count because her meet did not include the minimum of five jumpers.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency banned McPherson on Dec. 19, 2014 for 21 months, retroactive to July 27 of that year, for testing positive for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine. The month before, she had just won the outdoor national championship in the high jump with a personal record of 6-6 3/4 (2.00 meters).

“It was a recreational drug,” McPherson said. “It was the wrong place at the wrong time. Surrounding myself with the right people in the right places really made a difference.”

Pyle told LetsRun.com he and McPherson had mapped out a plan for her to make it to the Rio Games since learning of the ban.

“Ever since we learned of it and what it was going to be, there were more ways we approached it than just the training,” Pyle said, adding he didn’t want the training to be “super-serious” but McPherson worked out five to six days a week since October 2015.

McPherson’s Olympic qualification is just the latest in a career of high bars she’s set.  As a high school freshman, she won the UIL 4A state championship for Lincoln during the school’s final year of existence. Her senior year at Memorial, she equaled the second-best outdoor jump of the decade in her regional meet at 6-2 and won the National Scholastic title at 5-11 1/4, according to her All-Decade All-Americans bio on ESPN.com.

She earned three NCAA All-American honors at California but had to have ankle surgery in 2008. She came back from a two-year hiatus from the sport to become the 2013 and 2014 USA indoor champion, the 2013 outdoor runner-up and 2012 indoor runner-up.

Dealing with a 6-millimeter tear in her right quad, McPherson did not record a height during the 2012 Olympic trials.

McPherson doesn’t compete with an official track club professionally, but she said she’s learned a lot in the two years since her ban.

“Making the team was just phenomenal,” she said. “It’s still unbelievable. This was a team effort, not just me.”

The Rio Olympics officially begin Aug. 5 and conclude Aug. 21. McPherson will compete during the final week of the games.

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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