By Kyle Merber
May 10, 2023
You may remember that as of one week ago Tara Davis-Woodhall had the second-best jump in the world so far this year. That’s because her big leap was not wind-legal and therefore did not count. This led to an entertaining back and forth with Quanesha Burks, as the two Olympians traded shots and the talk of a potential 1 vs. 1 battle heated up. Backing up the posts, Tara took to the runway this past weekend at Arkansas to land 7.07m (+1.9) and establish the new No. 1 mark in the world. The former Longhorn, now-lululemon athlete, and YouTube star has been in the news quite a bit recently, so I caught up with her to hear how everything is going.
THE LAP COUNT: Congratulations on an awesome performance this weekend. What was your takeaway from it… besides that you jumped very far?
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: I was just trying to execute a couple of things. At these meets, it’s a glorified practice so I’m really just trying to perfect my craft rather than jumping far, but perfecting how I’m jumping far.
THE LAP COUNT: Please share specifics because I love getting into the details. My audience is distance runner-heavy, but it’s time they learn about the long jump.
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: Okay, so for this weekend I was working on my form in the air because I just changed it. I was going from a hang – like, a half-hitch hang – and now I’m going into a complete full hitch, which means I’m running in the air. I’m doing this now because I feel like I’ve perfected… or I have out-jumped what I can do with the hang. I realized as you go into the professional world, there’s smaller technical things to work on. And that’s what I was doing this weekend, trying to just get my hitch to be more consistent. In recent meets I would do some jumps with the actual hitch, and for some jumps I would revert back to my old ways. And so this week I was just trying to get consistent with the speed and with carrying that hitch through the pit.
THE LAP COUNT: And so that big world-leading jump was with the new hitch?
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: Yup!
THE LAP COUNT: Well, then that’s very exciting!
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: Yes, it is. And it just kind of puts it in perspective that I can do the hitch without reverting back to my old ways. So it kind of gives me both confidence in myself and confidence that I can actually make it work.
THE LAP COUNT: I have the perspective that your speed is your strength. Is that fair assessment?
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: Yeah, I would say that as well. That, as well as my power off the board — a lot of people don’t put as much power down. And that’s the crazy thing from this weekend: there were multiple jumps where I was landing way too early because I was getting so much height and I have become way stronger in the weight room and way stronger on the track. So now I’m learning how to use my speed plus my power. Whereas previously it would have been maybe just by speed, or if my speed wasn’t there, I could use that power to get the distance that I was looking for.
THE LAP COUNT: Coming off a week ago you cleared seven meters, but with a nice tailwind…
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: Which wasn’t true!
THE LAP COUNT: Tell me more.
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: We had really strong winds this weekend, but it wasn’t even touching +5.0 m/s. And I swear to you, there was no +5.9 – but if that’s what the wind reading wants to say, let it say that! But everyone on the track for that agreed: that was definitely not a +5.9. But we’re just going to go with it.
THE LAP COUNT: Looking at the results, it did seem like it was the one outlier on the day.
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: Exactly. So, you know. Whatever that means!
THE LAP COUNT: So then this new legal mark must feel very validating.
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: Yes, 100%.
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: You know, I was trash-talking a little on the Internet, which is a bit out of character for me. But it’s honestly super fun because it brought so many eyes to the sport and so many eyes to both of our pages. And I think that is what the sport needs. Once it started happening, I was like, full send, let’s go. I’m not going to hold back. But definitely had some motivation, trying to get that world lead once again.
THE LAP COUNT: What does your coach say when he sees you taking to the Internet?
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: He laughed hard. He said this is great and what the sport needs. And my coach knows that I am not a trash talker, but he thought it was funny that I got into that zone and thought it was good for me. It puts an extra emphasis on training, and on how you want to be in the world and to be perceived. I was able to clap back and go 7.07m. I didn’t know it was going to be over seven meters but things are going in the right direction.
THE LAP COUNT: There are definitely two schools of thought: that professional athletes are just athletes, or they’re supposed to be entertainers. It seems like you enjoy being an entertainer.
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: I feel like I’ve always been the entertainer. I have always been a performer, and I always get the crowd involved. I’ve always wanted more eyes on my sport – to long jump. My main goal in track and field is to change the sport. And I’ve been saying that since high school, and I will do anything and everything in my power to bring eyes to the sport. If that involves putting $5,000 on the table for a 1-vs.-1, I will do that.
THE LAP COUNT: It seems like it’s not going to happen though. Is that accurate?
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: Well, news for you! The 1-vs.-1 is not going to happen, but a showdown will be happening in two weeks in Bermuda at the USATF-Bermuda track meet.
THE LAP COUNT: That’s great news! Is having more showcases or showdowns the answer for the long jump? Do fans need to see you jump over a car or something?
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: I would love to have a street meet made of jumps. I do genuinely believe this is what we need. You know, these sprinters are on the track for less than 10 or 11 seconds and that’s the only time you get to see them. But for the long jump, we are out there for at least an hour and a half, going head-to-head, and things change [every round]. Athletes understand what they are doing wrong and come back and adjust. And I feel like people don’t realize how much is happening on the runway. We have the ability to hear our coaches’ feedback.
Whereas in the sprints, there is one moment to shine and that’s it. We’re out in the middle of the field and we’re still not getting eyes, which is bizarre. Everyone can long jump. And I try to tell people to go out to the track and see where they land. It puts in perspective how far we’re jumping and can change the mindset of spectators.
THE LAP COUNT: I’ve said that we need microphones to capture the trash talk. Like, there are conversations that are happening between competitors that fans aren’t aware of.
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: I know for the men there’s a whole bunch of trash talk, but the women are a bit more to themselves.
Everyone is just very to themselves, and that’s why I’m probably the one that’s being seen the most because I am not to myself – I get nervous. I just bounce around like a rabbit sometimes unlike the normal long jumper who is focusing on the next jump. I’m like, ‘What is the crowd doing? What other events are on?’
All of this trash-talking that I am doing is out of love and out of hope for the sport to be more recognized and seen. But if we could get some mics down there I would make it a whole different ball game.
THE LAP COUNT: I got a hint of something on Twitter, that there have been some politics recently bothering you. That’s probably the least fun part of professional athletics. You have only done one Diamond League in your career to date, is it related to that?
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: Track and field is so weird. Coming out of college, I thought I was going to be able to just go to all of these European means. I personally don’t have a track and field agent. My dad is my agent who is attempting to get me into these meets. But now we’re realizing that the athlete needs someone more recognizable than the athlete themselves to back it up, which is honestly bizarre.
I can be the top jumper in America and I can’t get into these European meets because they are invite-only and they’re inviting the same people over and over. And I just feel like that’s unfair to me and to other athletes who are working their asses off, wanting to get into these track meets. What about those who don’t have the ability to have an agent behind them because they don’t have a professional contract?
THE LAP COUNT: It’s that or they hit the quota for having Americans.
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: I’ve definitely had a better performance history than those athletes, many of whom are coming into retirement. There are new athletes coming in who have actually put stuff on the table. Give those athletes a chance! Why does an agent have to be behind your back trying to shuffle and pull strings?
That world is a trap, almost. And I don’t want to fall into the trap of having to get a sports agent because my name is not big enough for you. Like what am I doing wrong? My dad was going back and forth with an agent who was like, ‘Well, let’s wait until next year after the World Championships so she can win a world title and then we can see.’ Say what?
THE LAP COUNT: I saw you took to YouTube and addressed your recent month-long ban. Sha’Carri’s situation obviously made that a huge conversation before you, but what was the overall feedback from that news?
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: At the end of the day, I had way more support than I had haters. And I do believe that this world is changing in such drastic ways that our sport can’t keep up with it. What happened with Sha’carri was very unfortunate, the way that the media perceived it and I feel really bad how hers was handled because it wasn’t right. It was immediately released, which was understandable because the Olympics were so close.
Luckily enough, I was able to serve my suspension before it was released. It was hard doing it behind closed doors because I wasn’t sure how people would respond. But luckily it was taken very well on social media and with the track community. There were some people who believed that my 30-day suspension should have been more, which is their opinion.
But they also aren’t living the life that I live and they aren’t involved in my life. So I had to take all those comments with a grain of salt. It was very hard watching my name go up like that. I have gotten through it and it’s made me more powerful as an athlete and more eager to get back out there to show them that I’m still the same person and the same athlete.
THE LAP COUNT: My opinion is that the rule is bullshit.
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: Yeah, I agree. But the rule is a rule and I did not obey the rule. But hopefully, that can change one day. I’m just kind of pushing it down and moving forward. If you search my name it’s no longer Tara Davis the Olympian, but Tara Davis stripped of her title. So I’m working on changing that narrative and being back to the person that everyone saw me as.
THE LAP COUNT: You said that you enjoy being an entertainer. What you do is under a microscope and that’s partially because of YouTube and social media. What is the best and worst part about having the audience you have?
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: The best part is that my work has been seen. My craft that I am perfecting is being seen. And it allows me to know that I’m not going unnoticed and that all of my work is for something.
The worst part about it is that I am under that microscope. I can’t do things that people my age are doing. I am just a normal person behind track and field who hangs out with friends and enjoys going on trips and travel. I’m a normal 24-year-old, but at the same time I’m a professional 24-year-old and sometimes it can get taken out of context. If a normal 24-year-old consumed THC, then no one says anything. But because I’m a professional then that becomes my persona.
THE LAP COUNT: Well, thanks so much for sharing! I am excited to see you and Quanesha in Bermuda.
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: And I do want to reiterate that the “beef” is all out of love for the sport and wanting to see it grow. I have no ill feelings toward Quanesha. She is a bomb-ass jumper.
THE LAP COUNT: And You want to be the best so you can finally get into more Diamond Leagues.
TARA DAVIS-WOODHALL: Exactly.
After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.