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Olympian with Alaska roots leaps into celebrity

Mark Kiszla

LONDON -- Don't pop quizzes stink? Sitting in class at Colorado State University not so long ago, Janay DeLoach was totally unprepared for the question.

"Someone asked, 'Can I get your autograph?' '' DeLoach recalled Thursday. "And I looked at her and said, 'Are you serious?' I thought it was kind of weird."

Well, after winning an Olympic bronze medal in the long jump by one silly, glorious centimeter, the former Alaska high school standout better practice her penmanship.

After a clutch leap of 22 feet, 71/4 inches on her fifth of six trips down the runway Thursday, the 2003 Eielson High grad had to wait to see if the mark would hold up during the tense, final round of competition.

"I just prayed it was going to be good enough for a bronze," DeLoach admitted.

When the last challenger failed to bump her off the podium, and she had beaten Latvia's Ineta Radevica by the gotta-be-kidding margin of one centimeter -- about three-eighths of an inch -- DeLoach jumped for joy.

And you better believe this woman has got some serious hops.

Although she stands 5-foot-5, DeLoach can posterize any guy in a pick-up game of hoops.

"I can't dunk," DeLoach said. "But I can touch the rim."

When DeLoach showed up at Colorado State as a freshman in 2003, she wanted to play basketball. She was a high-scoring star at Eielson, but once she got to college, track paid the tuition bills.

Olympic dreams? Not really. But life really is weirder than fiction. At Colorado State, DeLoach not only discovered her passion in occupational therapy, she met the love of her life in fellow student and teammate Patrick Soukup.

At the U.S. Olympic track trials four years ago, DeLoach finished 21st. When many athletes would have given up, she pushed on.

"Until last year, when I won the indoor national championships, I was a nobody," she said when she landed the third and final spot as a long jumper on the U.S. team earlier this summer. "No one had a clue who Janay DeLoach was."


By MARK KISZLA
Denver Post