Chaquinn Cook was a spindly triple jumper with a modest personal best and relatively low expectations heading into the Pac-12 Track & Field Championships last year.
Then she jumped a massive PR to win the conference title, setting in motion a year of accomplishment and improvement for the 5-foot-10 junior from Portland.
Bigger, stronger, faster and unquestionably more confident, Cook enters the Pac-12 championship meet Saturday and Sunday in Stanford, Calif., as the Oregon school record-holder, the top-ranked triple jumper in the conference and the fourth-ranked triple jumper in the nation.
She’ll be joined by first-year junior Tristan James to give the defending conference champion Ducks a men’s and women’s triple jump threat this weekend.
“I would say my confidence is very different from last year, when I came into the program and just wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Cook, a former three-sport standout for Benson High School who transferred to Oregon after one year at Portland State. “Just knowing that I can do it makes a very big difference for me. I’m basically right there and it gives me that extra oomph to do what I need to do.”
Cook’s PR was 41 feet, 1¾ inches before she jumped 44-1½ to win the Pac-12 title last season. She topped that with a jump of 44-4 for a win at the NCAA West Preliminary meet two weeks later, and then finished ninth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
What followed was a dedicated offseason program that has led to both an indoor (43-0¼) and outdoor (45-7) school record this year.
“I’ve definitely gotten a lot stronger in the weight room,” Cook said. “I have gained a lot of muscle and that has been something that was a struggle for me because I’m so tall. Getting that muscle and getting my speed up has been great.”
The NCAA triple jump leader is Georgia senior Keturah Orji, the collegiate and American record-holder, who has a season-best mark of 47-0¼. Florida’s Yanis David (46-4¼) and Kentucky’s Marie-Josee Ebwea-Bile (45-11¼) also have better marks than Cook, whose determination to be great has put her in the national conversation, Oregon coach Robert Johnson said.
“She has some lofty, lofty goals of wanting to jump really far,” Johnson said. “Of course, everybody has goals. It’s easy to have those, but do you understand what it entails to accomplish those? That’s the hard part.”
No need to tell that to James, who is at his third school in as many years.
The former three-time state champion in the triple jump for West Salem, James is attempting to become the Ducks' first Pac-12 champion in that event since Todd Bleakney in 1994.
James spent a year at Oral Roberts before moving back to his home state when his coach left the program.
He enrolled at Lane Community College where he won 2017 Northwest Athletic Conference titles in the triple jump and long jump as he completed his associates degree and dreamed of becoming a Duck.
“I had my sights set on Oregon but I came to Lane on my own with my own plan in my own mind and I worked hard to execute it," James said. “While I was at Lane I reached out to coach Johnson and was able to talk to him. After that, everything just worked itself out.”
James’ wind-aided mark of 51-6½ is the third-best jump in the Pac-12 this season, behind California’s Thomas Kaukolahti’s 52-3¾ and USC’s Eric Sloan’s 51-11¾. He also has the second-best long jump mark at 25-4, behind only teammate and defending Pac-12 champion Damarcus Simpson’s 26-0.
“He keeps telling me he’s going to beat me, but I keep telling him he’s going to have to jump 28 (feet) if you want to win,” Simpson playfully said. “We’re pretty competitive but I want him to go out there and try and beat me if he can.”
James is entered in both events this weekend, as is Cook, who was also fourth in the long jump at the Pac-12 meet last season, won by Oregon sophomore Rhesa Foster.
“It’s amazing,” James said. “At my other schools, I was always the best jumper there. So being in a program where that’s not the case and I’m surrounded by people who are just as talented or more talented, it’s great. I love it. I go to practice and we train and train and train and we just get better.”