Time of her life: McPherson soaks in Olympic experience

Published 10:18 pm Saturday, August 13, 2016

There she was, in front of some of America’s best athletes for the entire world to see.

Inika McPherson walked on the same front row where arguably the greatest Olympian ever, Michael Phelps, bore the American flag during the Parade of Nations of the Opening Ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro.

She wasn’t very hard to miss, even at 5-feet-4. Known for her sense of fashion, she was the only athlete — on the front row, anyway — with a ballcap sported backward and sunglasses.

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She had finally arrived in the venue where she’ll try to win the biggest prize of her high jumping career, an Olympic gold medal.

“The opening ceremonies, I met some of the greatest athletes on the planet, not only from the U.S., but all around the world,” McPherson said in an interview through Facebook. “Experiencing the energy of the crowd that night was unbelievable. This is the greatest time of my life.”

The Olympic Games, sans the early soccer competition, are now eight days old, and McPherson is still four days away from beginning her event. The 2005 Port Arthur Memorial graduate has taken as much time as possible soaking in the Olympic environment itself and Rio, posting photos with her compatriots in track and field and other sports on social media.

“I’ve learned all the athletes here are here to do one thing, and that is to compete at their highest ability,” she said. “It has helped me because that, too, is my mission to be the best I can be and leave it all on the field.”

From the time McPherson qualified for the Olympics on July 3, she’s only talked about winning gold in Rio. She was third in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., her 6-foot-4 jump, or 1.93 meters internationally, behind Chaunte Lowe’s 6-7 and Vashti Cunningham’s 6-5 ½.

Lowe is an eight-time U.S. outdoor national, and Cunningham, 18, is the daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham and reigning world indoor champion. The Associated Press predicted Lowe and Cunningham to win gold and bronze, respectively, and Ruth Beitia of Spain to take the silver.

The prediction doesn’t matter to McPherson, the 2013 and 2014 U.S. indoor champ, who doesn’t train with her teammates.

“My greatest challenger is in the mirror,” she said. “I predict myself to win gold, and that is the only prediction I pay attention to.”

McPherson is a strong contender. Her personal best is 6-6¾, which she set in the 2014 outdoor national championships, just shy of Lowe’s best of 6-8¾.

A three-time All-America performer at California and professional high jumper since 2011, McPherson doesn’t seem too concerned about what’s in her future. All that’s mattered to her is that the eyes of the world are on Rio, and the former Golden Bear is looking to add to America’s golden moments in the 31st Olympiad.

She now has an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Babe Didrikson and Buddy Davis — Jefferson County natives who high-jumped their way to the top of the victory podium.

“Right now, my focus is on being the best athlete I can be here in Brazil and winning the gold medal, bringing it back home to my friends and family and those who believe in me and what I have to offer the world,” she said.

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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