Chris Benard On His Career Path From JUCO to the Rio and Tokyo Olympics

Out Of The Blocks

April 26, 2022

“Life is going to have ebbs and flows. When we start to get doubtful, we start to make rash decisions. If you can see the path clearly, stick to it. If you can’t, figure out the unclear parts. Chances are if you’re a developmental athlete, you’re pretty low on your developmental path. It takes a lot work to be far along on that path. So if you are low, there’s a lot of things you can pick at to get better. If you just think that it’s going to take care of itself or you’re falling back on the place that you’re at, it’s kind of being lazy. If you want to be as good as these other people, you can’t assume it was handed to them. You’re better off assuming they trusted the process, they were analytical – that’s how they got to that place. Their path could’ve started years earlier than you but it’s better to assume everybody is working hard and you need to be working hard too. Trust in that hard work.”

Two-time Olympic triple jumper and training partner Chris Benard kicks back to share a bit about his career path from Riverside City College to Arizona State to two Olympic Games. Benard also dives into the mindfulness practice that has helped him stay focused in some of the biggest national and global stages.

You can watch the full interview here. The interview is also available on Spotify so subscribe to Out of The Blocks With Jasmine Todd there. You can also listen on-the-go on Apple Podcasts.

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JASMINE TODD: Take us through your career path and how you ended up jumping

CHRIS BENARD: I played football in high school and that was my main sport and all four years that’s what I was very focused on. In my junior year, I decided to do track because some of the upperclassmen did it and I looked up to them so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it out.’ I was specifically long jump. I knew I could jump. I didn’t even know what the triple jump was so I wasn’t about to risk my life doing it. I would do it every once in a while. A couple of times I didn’t make the pit from a 38-foot board. Didn’t you jump further than 38 feet in high school?

JASMINE TODD: Yes. (Laughs)

CHRIS BENARD: Yeah so you would’ve beat me in my junior year. But then in my senior year, I got a little bit more locked in and the upperclassmen that got me into track went off to Tennessee. He came back and showed me hot to bound for like two practices. Then, I just kept on progressing. The first week, I jumped 42 feet. The next week, I jumped 43 feet, 44 feet, 45 feet…And then 49 feet. Once I went 49, I was like, ‘OK. Maybe I have a better shot at doing track than football.’ Now, I’m here. It worked out.

JASMINE TODD: Being an Olympian is an accomplishment. Two-time Olympian shows you chose the right path.

CHRIS BENARD: I’m not mad about it at all. (Laughs)

JASMINE TODD: Can you explain the triple jump and what makes it so difficult?

CHRIS BENARD: It’s one of the most technical events in the sport. I feel like that’s obvious to see. The higher your athleticism, the more bad habits you’re able to get away with. I would always have that middle level. With sprint mechanics, the better your sprint mechanics then the further you’ll jump. The better you understand biomechanics and positioning – like where your feet need to be beneath your hips– the further you’ll jump. A lot of the time with high-level athletes, they do that very naturally so they’re not the ones blowing their backs out when they’re trying to do a triple jump because intuitively they know how to get out of positions. I would just say that either you study a lot or pay attention very closely to the event or you’re just a natural freak athlete. That’s the many ways that people end up excelling in the triple jump. The triple jump hands out no favors. You really have to figure out this stuff out or you end up out of the sport very quickly.

JASMINE TODD: What do you think makes you the elite jumper that you are?

CHRIS BENARD: Definitely attention to detail. My whole career has been a progression. If I was still doing the stuff that I was still doing when I was still in college, then my leg would probably be broken in three places. Because I pay attention to the details and make sure the mistakes I was making from last season weren’t being made again, I need to be adaptable if I want to continue to do this. Adapting that mindset and my lifestyle got me into a steady progression in the triple jump and I just continued to get better. It’s just that attention to detail.

JASMINE TODD: The men’s triple jump is super competitive. The women’s triple jump is starting to get there. If someone pays attention at USAs, they can see that there tends to be a lot of smack talking. What is that environment like and how do you handle that?

CHRIS BENARD: I know myself well and I’m a reader of situations so I’m not going to give any energy to something that’s not going to give me energy. I see everything down there for what it is. If I see someone down there talking, they’re passionate about what they’re doing. If they’re doing it to pump themselves up, I’m not going to give them some energy. If they’re doing it to pump me up, then I’m going to give something back. The tension down there is from a place of passion and a place of respect. I can’t just come out there and lollygag. I need to be on my best game. If my best game means I’m a shit talker, I’m a shit talker. If my best game means I need to be locked in and focused on whatever is going on, I need to get focused on whatever is going on. I definitely know how it looks from the outside looking in. For me, you might just see me minding my own business and it looks like I’m in my own world. One kind of person is doing this and another person is doing that. Who cares and if you make me care, then we’ll see what happens. It’s genuine energy down there and none of us take it back with us when we leave the event. What was said down there was said down there. What happened down there, happened down there. We’re all warriors. We’re happy we made it out healthy and safe. Hopefully, we had a good competition.

JASMINE TODD: We’re starting to see a lot of athletes opt for JUCO, NAIA, Division II or Division III before stepping up or in some cases not going to Division I at all. Do you remember what the competitiveness was like at the JUCO level?

CHRIS BENARD: It was mildly competitive. JUCO is really tough in the sense that – and I think all sport outside of Division I has this – to an aspect, not everyone is there to be professional. Some people are just there to be there. That’s especially true at a junior college. It’s like continued high school. Some people are there because they don’t know what to do next. For me being at Riverside Community College, it was very competitive and we won a few state championships at the time. I had some athletes around me who could push me. I also had some that could drag me down. Luckily for me, I had this inner drive to where I’m going to try to be competitive no matter what. That’s why maybe I saw a level of competition that others don’t notice. Nowadays, how it differs is that social media is way bigger than when I was in JUCO. Kids are starting to understand that it doesn’t matter where I go but if I run fast then it’s going to get blasted across the internet. People are going to see this. I think that’s raising the competitive level. For those, Junior college kids running under 10 seconds (for the 100m), it’s like why are you even that motivated to be this radiant? You don’t even realize what that kind of time can get you for you to be pushing yourself that hard. I think they do know that now. They can see other junior college kids running 10.00 and what that did for them. They can see what other kids are doing and what kind of work ethic it takes to get to that level. It’s like, ‘I saw this kid do this on Jumpers World. I know he’s working out like this. I know I’m as athletic as that kid is. I’m going to do 10% more than he is or 50%. I think having access to information is raising the level of competition on all levels.

JASMINE TODD: What do you think would’ve been different if you would’ve had social media as accessible to you as it is today?

CHRIS BENARD: That’s a good question. It’s hard to say. The variables in life are completely random. It could’ve been lit for me. Potentially, I could’ve been the face of a program and then the program being as good as it is then the program being viral enough to get my attention. Or the attention could’ve completely pulled from my focus and put my mind in things I don’t need to be doing to triple jump far. I think social media has so much potential. You have to respect it because it can change people’s lives but on both ends. It can also drag people’s lives down.

JASMINE TODD: I’ve mentioned how you’re a two-time Olympian in the triple jump. If that was the case in the 100m, life would be significantly different for you.

CHRIS BENARD: Absolutely.

JASMINE TODD: What do you think within track and field we can do to shine more light on the triple jump or enhance it to give it that sense of how the 100m is handled?

CHRIS BENARD: I’ve been thinking about this lately. I’ve had a realization that we’re stronger together than we are apart. I feel like, throughout the years in the sport, we talk about how the 100m is the elite event and how they get so much of the money and shot putters do well by sticking together. Pole vaulters do well by sticking together. Events that are capable of self-sustainability can individualize themselves. When the 100m was being shown, if they offered up clips of the triple jump – just with media saying how both events have very competitive athletes that need to be respected rather than just promoting that the fastest guy in the world is running. It can be that the fastest guy in the world is running but during this intermission, watch how great these triple jumpers are. Evening out the prize money structure or appearance fee structure to where we all are even rather than giving somebody more money based on the fact that their event brings more attention. What you don’t realize is that event brings more attention because it’s what’s being blasted to the people. The masses are going to take whatever we show them. If we decided to make the marathon the event to watch, that’s going to be the event to watch. A lot of people relate to the marathon but a lot of people also relate to shot put or discus. A lot of people ran track. It’s not being pushed to them like other sports are. When it is, people care. When you put cornhole on ESPN, people care. I didn’t know people were this good at cornhole. In the same way you didn’t know someone could triple jump 57-feet or 60-feet. It’s not easy to do. It just needs to be put into the media the sense that we’re all equal but we’re not all thriving so we can all thrive eventually.

JASMINE TODD: What was the difference between your experience and Tokyo?

CHRIS BENARD: Rio in comparison to other Olympics was already seen as the red-headed stepchild. Rio’s pool water turned green during some of the swimming competitions. The transportation was terrible. The taxis were taking you every which way and running your bills up. The toilets I heard were clogging in the sense that a volcano effect would happen to some people because you couldn’t flush toilet paper down. These are all negatives. But within that, there was still a festival. It was definitely like a world event for enjoyment. Seeing all the countries get together and the outfits that showed ‘I’m from Denmark!’ or ‘I’m from Fiji’. That camaraderie and knowing that we all earned our way here could be felt in the air. No matter what was going on, people were going to enjoy the moment…Rio – even though it had all this nonsense happening, it still has it’s opportunity to enjoy it. I saw a basketball game. I saw a bunch of competitive table tennis. They were whipping that thing and it was so cool to see.

Understanding what Rio was and knowing what was taken away for Tokyo, it made me take for granted less what I had in Brazil. At that time, I didn’t understand the magnitude of what the world could really turn to. In Tokyo, it was like we’re having the Olympics but are we having the Olympics? Is there camaraderie? Can we talk to each other? Is it safe to be around each other? Am I going to contract COVID and then give it to somebody else? There’s nobody in the stands. A big thing at the Olympics is trading pins but that takes a lot of hand-to-hand interaction so is it safe to trade pins? It’s almost like everything that was promised about the Olympics wasn’t taken away but if you do it, you’re at risk. It made it hard to thrive and enjoy. All you could do was take it for what it is and accept it. It was a stark difference between the two Games. But when you consider that Tokyo could not have happened at all, it’s better than nothing.

For me, having gone to both, saying that it’s better than nothing came with a little bit of salt since I know how much better it could’ve been.

JASMINE TODD: Some athletes thrive with an audience and others prefer the opposite. How did it impact you?

CHRIS BENARD: I have radical faith acceptance. Whatever it is, it has to be. I was already telling myself that fans or no fans, you have to get out there and jump against everybody anyway. I didn’t compete as well as I wanted it. It could’ve been because of a combination of different things. I’m not going to sit here and point blame that it would’ve been better with fans or worse, I know in terms of my experience I for sure would’ve loved to have had fans there. Outside of that, it is what is. We all have to compete.

JASMINE TODD: You get to meet a lot of cool people in the process. Who were the top three athletes you got to meet outside of track and field?

CHRIS BENARD: First one that ones to mind is Nyjah Houston the skateboarder. I like skateboard culture a lot. I ride my skateboard every day. I had never seen him in person but I’ve been following him since he was a kid and developing. I didn’t say much to him but I asked him for a picture. That was the only person I asked for a picture at the Games. I remember being like, ‘Oh shit! That’s Nyjah.’ I’m probably older than he is but I still thought it was really cool to meet him. There wasn’t a lot of interaction out there. I was lucky to get to know my roommate Steven Bastien. He is a decathlete. He was a solid guy. It’s cool when you get stuck in a room with somebody but you don’t have to be too much different from yourself. I could tell the same jokes. We’re all weird in our own ways. It’s cool if you’re kind of weird in the same way someone else is. I could say that about everyone I was in the dorms with. It was cool seeing people in their own element and being comfortable being themselves in a way that’s inviting.