Could Maine witness its first 7-foot high jump by a high school athlete this weekend?
Cayden Spencer-Thompson of Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln certainly is making no predictions for Saturday’s 74th annual New England Interscholastic Track and Field Championships at Hill Stadium in Saco.
But the graduating senior knows just how close he came to the magic height last weekend while setting the state meet record in the event with a leap of 6 feet, 11 inches at the Class C state championships.
Spencer-Thompson, who is headed to Division I Louisville on a track scholarship this fall based on his record-setting career in the triple jump and long jump, took three tries at 7 feet after eclipsing both the Class C record in the high jump of 6-8¼ set by Brandon Hall of Foxcroft Academy in 2004 and the all-class standard of 6-10¼ held by Anthony Stanton of Noble High School in North Berwick since 2008.
His first attempt was the closest.
“I hit the bar just a little bit with my back,” said the 6-foot-4, 165-pound Spencer-Thompson. “I landed on the mat and looked up for a second and started cheering, but the bar was wiggling and then it fell. It was right there.”
That Spencer-Thompson set new state meet records in the long jump (23-2¾) and triple jump (48-3¾) earlier in the day came as no surprise, with his triple-jump best also establishing a new all-class mark by a foot.
But his rise to prominence in the high jump is a new achievement. He has been familiar with the event since before high school; he attended a track camp in southern Maine as an eighth-grader where his clinicians included Dick Fosbury, the 1968 Olympic high jump champion whose back-first style known as the “Fosbury Flop” is used by nearly all high jumpers today.
“It was really cool to learn from the inventor of what you’re doing. It was surreal,” Spencer-Thompson said. “He actually signed a pair of my shoes, and I still wear those in competition for some good luck. I’ve almost outgrown them, but I still wear them.”
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Spencer-Thompson had focused on the triple and high jumps throughout most of his high school career — earning All-American honors in 2018 with a fourth-place finish in the triple jump at the New Balance indoor nationals.
“I haven’t consistently high jumped since my freshman year, and not at all since the first meet of my sophomore year until this spring,” he said. “High jump is a fun thing to do to give my body a break from the triple jump, so me and my coach [Bernice Stockley] decided to try the high jump and I ended up jumping 6-10 my first meet. I thought, ‘Maybe it’s my new thing.’”
After he called his mother to let her know about the 6-10 jump he made during a May 6 meet at Bucksport, he called his future jumping coach at Louisville, Jeff Petersmeyer.
“I could hear in his voice that he was super happy, so next year it’s looking like I’m going to do long, triple and high jump — all three in college,” Spencer-Thompson said. “On my visit to LouisviIle I talked about maybe doing it, and they said I had the body type to do it.”
Spencer-Thompson followed with a 6-9½ in his next high jump competition at the Penobscot Valley Conference small-school championships, where he won all three events at the same meet for the first time.
But his bid to repeat the triple almost was short-circuited the day before states during a senior class trip to Six Flags New England in Agawam, Massachusetts.
“At the amusement park I was on a ride and hit my (right) knee as the ride was going,” he said. “It was one of those twisty rides and I hit my knee off the side of it because I was more worried about hanging on. It started swelling pretty bad.”
The MA entourage returned to Lincoln about 2 a.m. Saturday, Spencer-Thompson said, leaving him four hours of sleep before rising for the trip to Farmington.
“I ended up saying forget about the pain, forget about being tired, just go out with a bang and don’t be disappointed in yourself,” he said. “As soon as I started jumping I forgot about how tired I was.”
Spencer-Thompson began his day by breaking his own state record of 23-1¾ in the long jump on his third attempt of the preliminary round.
Two hours later, he improved on his 2017 state record of 47-3 in the triple jump on his final try.
He had little time to celebrate.
“I literally landed in the sand for triple jump and I heard people yelling my name to go to the high jump,” he recalled.
Spencer-Thompson began the high jump at 6-2 and also made his first tries at 6-4, 6-7, 6-9 and then for the state record at 6-11 before coming up just short on his three attempts at 7 feet.
“I wasn’t too sure on how I was going to do but I put the pain behind me and just focused on getting the records,” he said. “My goal was to get all three records that day. I knew I had the long and triple jump but I wanted to get all three so I could graduate knowing I had every record that I could possibly have in the jumps.”
Spencer-Thompson plans to compete in all three events at the New Englands, where last year he won the long and triple jumps while breaking the Maine all-time outdoor record in the triple jump at 48-3¾ and becoming the state’s first long jumper to surpass 24 feet (24-1¾).
Spencer-Thompson hopes to establish a similar personal milestone this year in the high jump, which he admits remains a technical mystery to him despite his record-setting season.
“I watch myself jump and I’m not technically sound at all in the high jump,” he said. “I’m technically sound in the triple jump and almost there in the long jump. In the high jump I look like a flopping fish.”
But the 7-foot mark awaits, and after winning his PVC and state titles by 11½ and 9½ inches respectively, the best jumper in Maine high school track history hopes the additional competition he’ll face at the New Englands might help him establish one more standard.
The New England interscholastic high jump record is 7-1, a mark that’s stood since 1997.
“I have a buddy in Massachusetts who’s been jumping 6-8 and 6-10,” said Spencer-Thompson. “Hopefully I’ll get to jump against him and that will push me.”
Watch: Old Town track star Emma Hargreaves explains the shot put