JuVaughn Harrison's Road to the Tokyo Olympics

July 29, 2021

President Tate and JaVaughn Harrison

What does it take to become an Olympian? President William F. Tate IV sits down with LSU track and field star JuVaughn Harrison to discuss his journey to the Tokyo Olympics, his time at LSU, and plans for his professional career. While at LSU Harrison won a team national title, six NCAA individual titles, and owns four LSU school records. Most recently, he swept the long jump and high jump competitions at the U.S. Olympic Trials to become the first man since Jim Thorpe in 1912 to compete in BOTH events for Team USA. 

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President William F. Tate IV [00:00:11] I want to welcome you to "On Par with the President." I'm excited today to sit down with track and field star, JuVaughn Harrison, who at LSU, helped win the team national title, six NCAA individual titles, owns four LSU school records, and most recently swept the long jump and high jump competitions at the United States Olympic trials to become the first man since Jim Thorpe in 1912 to compete in both events for Team USA. I'd like to give you a little background. "On Par with the President" is focused on people at LSU who are hitting the green. I'm big into golf. You know I can't run track anymore. And the big part about playing par golf is that you're at the very top of the game if you can play and be on par. And so the whole point of this podcast is to talk to the very best people who are affiliated with LSU, who are on par. Really just, really doing great things. We're going to tee off here with a couple questions. Tell us JuVaughn, how did you first get into track and field and specifically the high jump and the long jump?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:01:24] The way I got into track and field was my family. My family's big, big on track, my mom did track my godmother, my aunts, uncles, everybody in my family did track. So track was just something that my family just, you just did it, like it wasn't a question. You did it. You could do other sports, but you were going to do track. As far as getting into high jump and long jump, that was a thing that came during high school. My high, my high school coach, you know, I played basketball, he thought, "Okay, well, you can jump, you can jump a little bit, so let's, let's see how you do in some jumping events." And that's how it started.

President William F. Tate IV [00:01:57] He said you can jump a little bit. I'm sure you were very, very good at it. So when you first started, would you run sprints? Or what did you do in track and field initially?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:02:08] I dabbled in a little bit of everything. But in high school, I mainly focused on 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles, high jump and long jump.

President William F. Tate IV [00:02:16] It makes sense. So how did you decide to come to LSU? What led you to that decision?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:02:22] Ultimately, it was just the coaching staff and the way they approached the whole process, how they would talk to my mom, my family, you know. They made it feel like I'd be welcome, and it'd be a home environment, and I'd be taken care of. So that was big for me. And also, you know, LSU is far enough away from home that my mom can't just pop up on me. But it's close enough that she can, you know what I'm saying, come anytime she needs to. So...

President William F. Tate IV [00:02:44] I like that. I like that. It's a good decision. What's your favorite experiences, you know, attending LSU?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:02:50] Probably say it's going to the football games, going down. And like, especially during the 2019 season, when we were winning every game. It was just a different atmosphere at Tiger Stadium.

President William F. Tate IV [00:03:00] So JuVaughn after you tee off, when you play golf. I don't know, if you play golf. You get that first shot off. And then the next shot you're trying to get to the green. You want to,  you want to get up there because you want to score. It's all about scoring. So I want you to tell us a little bit about, how did you get to where you are now? And more specifically, how did your experience as an LSU student contribute to your success?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:03:26] The way I got to where I'm at now was just really a lot of hard work on and off the track. A lot of practices that I did by myself where I came back after a regular practice just to try and sharpen up a few things. As far as school goes, school just kind of, it gave me, I guess, a way to get away from track. And you know, my mom was very big on school. So I knew it was something that had to be done. So I really focused in on my schoolwork sometimes just to give me a mental break from track.

President William F. Tate IV [00:03:55] You just qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, the Tokyo Olympics on our, the USA's team in two events. You talked about working by yourself and all the things required. Talk a little bit about what kind of discipline did you have to display in order to achieve what you did.

JuVaughn Harrison [00:04:16] It takes a lot of discipline, especially when you're doing two events that are, for lack of a better word, completely different. High jump and long jump are two, two events that don't really correlate so much as you would think. So it takes a lot to zone in on one, focus in on one, and then flip the switch, zone in and focus in on another event.

President William F. Tate IV [00:04:36] You talked about training your body for two different events. Help us understand what it would be like for you on a normal day. Where you are navigating your schoolwork and training for these two events. What does that look like? Help us, I don't think a lot of people really fully understand what's required to do what you did. So just give us a typical day.

JuVaughn Harrison [00:05:00] If we're in school, I wake up normally I have...normally we...Our academic advisors schedule our classes, like in the morning. So that way we, we can just go straight to practice and then go home and like unwind and have tutoring. So I'd wake up, brush my teeth, get ready for school. I'd make my way to campus. I'd be on campus. I've gotta go to my classes, whether it's two, maybe three classes for the day. I'll knock those out, then I'll probably get something to eat. I don't really eat breakfast too often. If I can, if I can grab something, I will. I'll get a lunch though, after I'm done with all my classes. I'll probably have my clothes packed, because by the time I finish class, I have to go straight to practice. So then I'll go straight to practice. I'll change into my workout clothes, if I don't already have it on. Practice will run two and a half hours, maybe, maybe three, depending on what we have for the day? And then it's back home, shower, try to unwind a little bit, and then tutoring sessions for class. And then I get to come home and be done with school and everything.

President William F. Tate IV [00:06:06] So what happened to your social life during that? Because you just described a really full day. Did you get a chance to do anything in the social realm here at LSU?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:06:17] I mean I try to make time to do stuff socially, to just kind of balance everything. But that happens more on the weekends than weekdays.

President William F. Tate IV [00:06:25] If you were talking to a potential student athlete, who's going to be in track and field, what's, what's a big lesson that you would, you would want to share with them right now about your, from your experience at LSU?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:06:38] Just really listen to the coaches. They know what they're talking about, even if it takes a while. That was something that I had to learn my freshman year, because we changed pretty much everything about the way I did and approached the two events. And I got very frustrated in the beginning, and I wasn't trusting the process. So, to an incoming track athlete, I'd say just trust the process. It'll, it'll work out. The coaches know what they're doing. So you just got to trust what they're doing. Just put all your effort into it, and then it'll all pay off.

President William F. Tate IV [00:07:05] So JuVaughn, in golf the thing you want to do is score. It's really important to score. You know, breaking even is great, on par is what we're talking about. But that's 99th percentile. But you scored big, you know. You're a double eagle person. You, you made it happen in such a way that's really special. When did you know you would be successful? At what point did it come to you and you say, "You know I could, I could really do this and be really good at it?"

JuVaughn Harrison [00:07:35] My sophomore year, my sophomore year where I won my first two NCAA titles outdoor. I'd say that was the beginning. That was the, "Okay, you've won two national titles as a sophomore. Your marks might not be super high, but they're high enough to a point where you were able to win. And, you know, you're starting to get a little bit of talk. So you know, you just iron out some more things, and then you can, you can really reach the higher level." So my sophomore year when I won my two national titles is where I was like, "Okay, I can really do this on a professional level if I keep going the way I am."

President William F. Tate IV [00:08:10] So you're telling me when you were a high school athlete, it wasn't in your head at that point, "Well hey, I could be great. I could be great at this." You didn't believe at that point?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:08:21] As a high schooler, you know, I did want to go pro, like being a professional athlete was always a dream of mine. In high school, you know, it was, the goal was to get to college. It was, it was like, you know, first step get a full scholarship to college. Then once you get to college, it was like, okay, now that you're in college, try to win as much as you can and see where the marks take you, and then ultimately try to go professional. So, you know, I tried to just take it one step at a time, but I definitely in high school thought about going pro.

President William F. Tate IV [00:08:49] Did you have a moment when you realized you could make the Olympics in both events?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:08:56] I'd probably say it was indoor nationals. Like, I always told myself, I could make it in both events. But indoor nationals, where I went, I think it was seven, six and a half and twenty-seven, four, that was the, okay, like you're, you're ranked high. You're ranked in the top three in both events. So like, you know, you can do this and you just got to go out there and perform the way you've been performing all season.

President William F. Tate IV [00:09:20] Now, what year was that indoor nationals?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:09:23] That was this year.

President William F. Tate IV [00:09:23] That was this year. So this year is the year you, you thought, "I could do this in both."

JuVaughn Harrison [00:09:28] Yes sir. Had last year continued without COVID, I would have, I would have felt the same way. Especially because last year going into indoor nationals before it got canceled, I felt great. But, you know, ultimately COVID happened, and we had to shut down. So, I say this year's indoor nationals, just because I didn't have last year.

President William F. Tate IV [00:09:48] You talked about, "I felt great." Help us understand that feeling, that emotion that you had when you, when you qualified in the first event. And then how did it feel after you qualified in the second event? What, what was going through your mind? How did you really feel? Let us just have that moment with you just a second and let it all out here. Come on now, this is the LSU family, we want to really know. How did that feel?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:10:14] I'm gonna be honest with you. I didn't really have too much time to celebrate. Like I did after they spaced everything out, because they said it had got too hot. But I had to refocus in for my next event. Like I had to run, go get treatment, go get my body situated, make sure that I was feeling good, and make my way back to the, to the track to get ready for lineup, so we could get ready for long jump. So like, I was happy, I was smiling. I was in good spirits. My mom was there. You know, I got to hug her, see her. Everything was great. But I had to refocus up for the next event. So I didn't really have too much time to celebrate till after I finished everything.

President William F. Tate IV [00:10:52] Did you know that no one had, since Jim Thorpe, had done this? Was that something, was that a history you understood and knew about?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:11:00] Not until after I had finished competing.

President William F. Tate IV [00:11:03] Well you're like the modern day Jim Thorpe now. You know, in, in golf, when you get up on the green, and it's time to putt, which is really the hardest thing, is the fine tuning to getting as close as you can to score. Somebody is standing up there oftentimes holding the flag. And they call it minding, minding the flag, you know, you're, you're... And they ask you, "do you want to keep it in or out?" And it's really an amazing time. It's an important time. You're at that point now. And I'm just wondering, do you have any time to think about "if, if I win this, what do I want to do after the putt is in and I score?" What do you want to do after the Olympics are over?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:11:50] I want to relax my body. I want to go on a vacation. I want to go somewhere, kick my feet up and just let my body relax. I have been competing since January in multiple events and my body is tired.

President William F. Tate IV [00:12:02] Now you decided to go pro, professional, you're professional. What does that mean after you, after you complete your rest and get your body healed again? What do you think you're going to be doing at that point?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:12:16] Once I'm rested and my body is good, we start fall training and conditioning sometime. I don't, I don't remember what the exact schedule is, because if I'm not mistaken, the pros and the college athletes start at different times. But it'll be right back to getting back to work, rebuilding muscle, you know, because obviously, you know, when you relax too long, you start to build a little bit of fat, you know, ironing back out the body, making sure that technique and everything is coming together, and then we start back up the season for next year.

President William F. Tate IV [00:12:47] So you've done this before at LSU. What did you learn at LSU that would help you with your transition right now to being a professional?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:12:57] The biggest thing I've learned is to just not overwork my body. Like, if my body hurts, listen. Like, I know a lot of athletes who try to push through pain and end up making things worse for themselves. So if it's one thing I've taken away from being at LSU, it's just how to work through doing two events and how to take care of myself in the best way possible. So that way I can perform as long as possible without injury.

President William F. Tate IV [00:13:22] What do you want to accomplish in your professional career? Let's say over the next five years, what do you want to get done?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:13:28] Two Olympic gold medals. I want some world gold medals. I want to get the US high jump record and take a crack at the world record at some point too for both events.

President William F. Tate IV [00:13:40] Outstanding.

How do you envision yourself giving back to the community? You're going to be a professional now, and people will look to you to be a leader, not just in track and field but, but beyond. What do you see yourself doing to, to add value in other arenas?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:13:55] Really just donating to charities, helping, helping the younger kids out who have aspirations to come to LSU, talking to kids who are in high school, just stuff of that nature to help encourage people, let them know that hard work does pay off.

President William F. Tate IV [00:14:10] What is your routine right now look like? I mean how do you start your day and what do you do to get ready?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:14:18] Sleep. I sleep as much as I can. I'll sleep, I'll probably sleep until eleven, around eleven, twelve. Wake up, brush my teeth, get some food in my system before practice. Practice at about two and come home and relax more and play the game. That's how it looks now.

President William F. Tate IV [00:14:39] Your mom is, is got to be your biggest fan. Tell me how your mother is dealing with you being in the Olympics and having this opportunity to win two gold medals.

JuVaughn Harrison [00:14:50] First off, I just want to say my brother, my brother is giving my mom some serious competition for my biggest fan. My mom is very excited. She started crying when I made it in both. Well, when I made it in one she started crying. When I made it in both, it just overwhelmed her. But she definitely is very excited and very happy for me. And she can't stop telling me how proud of me she is.

President William F. Tate IV [00:15:13] Does she have any advice for you right now?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:15:15] Keep my head on straight and don't let the fame and glory get to me.

President William F. Tate IV [00:15:19] Great advice. Tell me this. Tell us about your brother. Is he also in track and field?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:15:24] He wants to be. He's still, he's still young. So he's, he's still growing up trying to figure out what sports he likes and all of that. But he definitely is looking at track as one of the sports that he wants to do.

President William F. Tate IV [00:15:35] Well, he's got a great role model in his big brother. So I know that, that would be awesome, if he did that. I don't know if there's anything you want to tell the LSU community. Anything you want to say as you prepare to go over to Tokyo?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:15:50] Not really anything I want to say. But I want to thank the LSU community for all the love that they've given me since I've been at LSU and still continue to give me.

President William F. Tate IV [00:15:58] I did have one other question I thought about if I was a parent of somebody as special as you are. How is your mom and your family dealing with the fact that the Olympic games are happening during a pandemic and there can't be any fans? Have they, have they articulated any feeling about that?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:16:17] 

Any parent would be, would be hurt that they couldn't go and watch their kid compete in one of the biggest competitions in the world. But they're, they're figuring it out. I'm sure they're gonna figure out some way to get the family together to just watch the meet.

President William F. Tate IV [00:16:31] And how are you going to mentally deal with the fact that there, you'll just be in a stadium and just going for it? Have you thought about that without the fans, without the cheering?

JuVaughn Harrison [00:16:42] I mean, at the end of the day, you know, it's a competition. You got to go out there, and you just got to do you. So I mean, the crowd is great to have, trust and believe they really do make a difference. But you just got to focus in. They've given us plenty of time to know that there aren't going to be any fans. So, it's really just up to the athletes to make it as fun and as entertaining as possible.

President William F. Tate IV [00:17:04] Well, I know your mother is going to be rooting for you. And I know that your brother is going to be rooting for you. But I want you to know one thing, the president of LSU is going to be screaming like crazy for you to get both of these gold medals. And I could not be more proud of you, and what you have accomplished as a, as an athlete representing this country as an Olympian. I just want you to know that. And you're, you're my first "On Par with the President" conversation, because truly, you represent the very 99 percentile, the very best of the best. And I'm thankful for the opportunity to talk to you. I'm glad you took time out of your day to chat with me, and I know you could be resting. We know you want to get your rest, because we want you to go out there and be the very best that you can be. And thank you for representing LSU with such dignity, and in a great way.

JuVaughn Harrison [00:17:58] Thank you. I greatly appreciate it. It was a pleasure to represent LSU. And thanks again for having me on your podcast.

President William F. Tate IV [00:18:04] All right, you take care. Go get 'em. Geaux Tigers!

JuVaughn Harrison [00:18:08] Geaux Tigers!