The Local Olympic Movement: McPherson reaches new height in Rio

Published 10:40 pm Thursday, August 4, 2016

This is the seventh and final part of a series on Olympic participants with ties to greater Port Arthur.

Inika McPherson has not forgotten where or when her journey to Rio de Janeiro began.

“Fourth grade, I was introduced to it,” the Port Arthur native said of track and field. “Two years later, Gerald Armstrong asked me to join his track and field team and try out the high jump. I just kept going on and getting better. I learned about goal-setting and believing in myself.”

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“The first day she came out for the high jump,” Armstrong said, “and I tell this story all the time, I told Inika: ‘If you can’t jump off one foot, you can’t high jump. She went home, tied a rubber band to her bed, and practiced jumping off one foot. She came back the next day, and she said, ‘Coach G, I got it!’ From that day on, she was magnificent.”

That was only the beginning.

Along the journey have come plenty of peaks.

A high school state championship. Three NCAA All-America honors at California. One outdoor and two national indoor championships in USA Track and Field.

Then there are the valleys. McPherson, who turns 30 on Sept. 29, has plodded through them, and it adds more meaning to her latest climb to the mountains of Rio.

On the surface, her story adds to the intrigue of not just the American pursuit of gold, but the Port Arthur pursuit. She’s the ninth athlete with ties to greater Port Arthur competing in the games, and the first since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1932 trying to win the high jump.

“Being more clear-minded and being closer to God, I’m pretty sure we’ll bring home the gold medal,” said McPherson, who’ll celebrate a birthday Sept. 29. “That’s the goal.”

And it would be her most rewarding present, albeit early.

McPherson is used to golden moments.

Her coach at Lincoln High, Ora Smith, saw a wealth of ability in her and is credited with pushing her to competing on a national level. She set a national freshman record of 6-foot-1, according to Armstrong, and won a state championship at with a 5-7 jump that year.

Memorial High was established the following summer, and McPherson remained a contender in the UIL state meets for the next three years, although she didn’t bring a title to the Titans. She did, however, equal the second-best outdoor jump of the 2000s in her regional meet at 6-2 in 2005. That helped her earn the All-Decade All-American honor from

McPherson enjoyed an All-American career when she had to undergo ankle surgery following her junior season at California. With a coaching change and rehabilitation to deal with, McPherson decided to step away from the sport.

“I took a year or two off,” McPherson said. “Things didn’t go as planned.”

But she came back strong.

The 5-foot-4 McPherson finished third in the U.S. outdoor championships in 2011, second in the U.S. indoors in 2012, and second in the U.S. outdoors in 2013. She tried out for the 2012 Olympics in London, but a tear in her right quad caused her to not record a height during U.S. team trials.

In December 2014, months after winning her first outdoor crown, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency issued a 21-month ban, retroactive to July of that year, for testing for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine. McPherson told The News after making the 2016 Olympic team that it was a recreational drug.

“That kind of shook up the road a little bit, but we had to keep connecting with God,” McPherson said. She had jumped her personal best of 2 meters, or 6-6¾, in the 2014 nationals, tying the world record for the women’s all-time highest jump differential (head to height) with Antonietta Di Martino of Italy at 35 centimeters, according to Team USA.

Being able to come back from the suspension made her “journey” much sweeter, she said. In July 2016, she placed third in the trials with a 6-4 jump, finishing third to Vashti Cunningham and winner Chaunte Lowe.

Throughout the process, McPherson said, her mother Symanthia has been her biggest supporter.

The plan since the trials has been simple for McPherson, who lives and trains in Houston — getting stronger and faster.

Her Olympic competition begins Aug. 18 with qualifying at 8 a.m. Central. The final is at 6:10 p.m. Aug. 20. An American sweep of the medals — not to mention McPherson on top of the podium — is her vision.

“One-two-three, I believe, is definitely in the stars,” she said. “As you can see, it was a very good competition [the weekend of July 3]. We are ready for the Olympic Games. I feel like this is the best time.”

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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