Jumping for gold

It's hard to pinpoint why Sydney Robinson can jump farther than other girls her age, though her quirky choice of socks may be one factor.

Sure, the Amateur Athletic Union gold medalist is tall for a 9-year-old at 5 foot 1. And she's fast, always able to outrun kids in a footrace or a simple game of chase.

According to Sharron Smith, who has coached the Pointers Run Elementary School fourth-grader for two years in the all-girl Elite Track Club, what it really boils down to is dedication and desire.

"Sydney has worked very, very hard," said Smith, a 20-year track and field coach who is excited to have her first national champion on the team roster. "She put into play what she was taught and deserved to win."

And win she did, big time.

Sydney, who lives with her parents in Clarksville, captured Maryland's only female individual gold medal at the AAU's Junior Olympic Championships Aug. 2-8 in Norfolk, Va. She won in the Girls Sub-Bantam division for 9-year-olds with a long jump of 13 feet 11¾ inches.

She also took first in her heats in the 200-meter quarterfinals and semifinals, sixth overall in the 200-meter finals, and qualified and ran in the 400-meter run. About 16,000 athletes participated in the AAU's annual multi-sport event.

Woodbine resident Samuel Tvardzik, 14, also took home top honors as the winner of the boys' high-jump gold medal in the youth division.

While Sydney knows her accomplishments are a pretty big deal, wearing a mismatched pair of socks had a lot to do with her victory, the young athlete insisted teasingly.

Holding up one sock with rainbow polka dots and the other imprinted with "Tuesday," Sydney smiled as she described the pre-competition ritual all the teammates practice. She is now a firm believer.

"I didn't even know I'd won at first, but when I realized it, I started jumping up and down," she said.

"I thought to myself, 'I am done and no one can beat me! Thank you thank you for not making me do those two last jumps,' " she said. "Then it really started to sink in, and I just ran around in a circle."

Her father, Ernest D. Robinson, said he and his wife, Benita, knew she had nailed the jump the instant she took to the air.

"She has to have the right speed and everything clicking when she hits the board," Robinson said of his daughter's approach to the long-jump starting line. "You can see when she's putting all the pieces together and all you can do is hold your breath and wait for the result."

The way a long-jumper hits the sand pit is similar in importance to a gymnast's landing on the mat after an event. Where these athletes place their feet determines their final score.

"She needs to put her hands out in front of her [for balance] and not shift her feet backward or she can lose inches" off her distance, Robinson said.

Smith has told her girls that "every time they go to a meet, it's payday" for all their hard work and preparation, and that their office is the pit, he said, but she also places emphasis on having fun.

"Miss Sharron always makes us laugh, like when she says, 'Shabba, dabba, dabba, dabba' " when the team is gearing up to compete, Sydney said with a laugh. Members of the Elite Track Club, who practice at Long Reach High School and the Supreme Sports Club in Columbia, are known for that cheer as well as their distinctive turquoise uniforms.

Smith, who works for the department of corrections in Baltimore and coaches the girls three evenings a week, says her job is to prepare them physically and mentally.

When practices resume in October, she intends to introduce her young champion to three events from a pentathlon — the high jump, shot put, and 800-meter race — while continuing to practice the long jump, which Sydney mastered "so young and so quickly."

"I know her body will be changing, so I want to give her the chance to try other things," Smith said. "Ultimately, she's not going to pick the sport; the sport's going to pick her."

Robinson said his daughter would do all sports if allowed, but he and his wife try not to over-schedule her. She also takes piano lessons and plays basketball on a county rec league.

"We just want her to have time to be a kid," he said.

The day Sydney returned home from the AAU championship, she crossed the street to play with her neighbor, Robinson said. When she returned, he asked his daughter if she'd told her friend about winning the gold medal.

Sydney said shook her head, saying she didn't want to brag.

"I just told her I had a good day."

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