Part three in a series of some of the most memorable moments in Barton athletics
It was May 18, 2002.
Morning was turning into afternoon and the sun was starting to heat up the Texas plains. Gathered inside iconic Ratliff Stadium in Odessa were hundreds of NJCAA track and field athletes.
The stadium is famous for its high school football – most notably Odessa Permian and the movie Friday Night Lights.
But on this day it would be the site of the best triple jump competition the NJCAA has ever scene.
That competition featured three Barton Community College jumpers.
The amount of talent and future Olympians on that 2002 Barton team was ridiculous – stupid ridiculous.
That Barton team featured eight future Olympic athletes. That’s right eight. Four for the women and four for the men.
The team had such notables as Tyson Gay and Veronica Campbell. Campbell, now Campbell-Brown, is the only woman to win back-to-back gold medals in the 200m at the Olympics.
But the highlight of the meet came in the men’s triple jump where three future Olympic athletes – two medal winners – went head-to-head.
Leevan Sands, LeJuan Simon and John Moffitt hooked up in a triple jump competition for the ages that Saturday. The three had competed regularly for two years in both the long jump and triple jump. But none would be better than May 18, 2002 – their final competition as teammates at Barton.
“We were like warriors, me, John and LeJuan,” Sands said. “LeJuan and I went head-to-head in the triple jump and John and I went head-to-head in the long jump. Even after Barton we kept that rivalry going.”
The preliminary round saw Sands get better as the three jumps went along topping out on his third jump at 56-4.75. Simon easily moved into the finals with 54-10.25 on his second attempt.
Moffitt made things a bit more interesting. The native of Louisiana was more comfortable long jumping. He fouled his first two jumps then eased his way into the finals on his third jump with a leap of 52-1.75.
No one else in the competition had a jump better than 51-1.5 and only two jumpers not wearing a Barton uniform had passed the 50-foot barrier.
“LeJuan hadn’t even jumped 55 feet before that meet,” Sands said. “I had a PR of 56 feet. He told me he was going to jump 57 feet. I told him if he was going to jump 57 feet I was going to jump 58 feet.”
In the finals Moffitt moved closer to his teammates with a jump of 53-2.75 on his first attempt. Both Simon (52-8.15) and Sands (55-3.75) had good jumps to start the finals but could not better their prelim efforts.
Then came the final two jumps. After Moffitt fouled Simon busted out an NJCAA meet record leap – 57-0.75. Sands had trouble with his steps on his fifth jump and could only muster an effort of 44 feet.
“I remember on his fifth jump he came back and said he went 57-1,” Sands said of Simon. “I remember looking into the stands and my Barton teammates were saying “what you going to do now Leevan?”
That set the stage for the competitions’ final jump. Moffitt and Simon would not better their mark. Moffitt was in the books in third place with his leap of 53-2.75. Simon was finished and sitting in first place with the 57-0.5 effort while Sands was second at 56.4-75.
Nearly the entire stadium in Odessa was watching as Sands rocked back-and-forth to a chorus of claps. Slow at first then gradually faster and faster.
Then he took off down the runway. Then he took flight.
“On the way down the runway I felt it was going to be the biggest jump of my career,” Sands said.
Jump-hop-jump and the man known in the track world as Superman was airborne. He would not land until he reached 57-5.
“That is still one of my most memorable moments,” Sands said. “I remember it like it was yesterday. It was one of my best events. It was the first time I jumped 57 feet.”
As the years passed it became even more evident just what those in Odessa witnessed that day.
Moffitt and Simon would go on to LSU and Sands to Auburn where they would meet regularly in the SEC. All would earn multiple All-American honors.
The trio would win six of a possible eight indoor and outdoor long jump and triple jump titles at the NCAA level the next two years.
Moffitt would win the 2004 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor long jump titles – the first athlete in LSU history to do so. He won the outdoor title in his final jump as a Tiger with a school record leap of 27-6.75. He was a 6-time All-American for the school.
Simon earned All-American honors for LSU in 2003 in the triple jump and won the NCAA indoor triple jump title in 2004. His jump of 55-11.75 is the second best indoors ever at LSU and helped the Tigers to the 2004 indoor title. He was a 3-time All-American at the school.
Sands won the 2003 outdoor long jump title at the NCAA championships and the 2004 outdoor triple jump. The triple jump title gave former Barton athletes its third title in four years with Walter Davis winning in 2001 and 2002. Add Moffitt’s long jump title in 2004 and former Barton athletes won that title in 2002 (Davis), 2003 (Sands) and 2004 (Moffitt).
Moffitt would go on to win the silver medal in the long jump in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. He jumped 27-9.5 to earn the silver medal that year for the United States. Moffitt was sitting in fourth place – just outside a medal – when he busted his 27-9.5 effort on his next-to-last jump. It gave the US a 1-2 finish in the event with Dwight Phillips winning gold with a jump of 28-2.25.
Injury has since taken Moffitt from the jumping stage.
“John hurt his Achilles and said that’s it, I’m done,” Sands said.
Simon represented Trinidad and Tobago in the 2004 Olympic Games competing in the triple jump. Three times he would medal in the North America Central America Caribbean (NACAC) Championships. Simon would die in 2008 in Baton Rouge, La. of heart failure at the young age of 27 from complications of primary pulmonary hypertension.
”LeJuan was a great friend,” Sands said. “I was sorry to see him go. I still think about him just about every time I jump. He helped push me to be as good as I am. We were competitive but we wanted the best for each other.”
Sands has become a national hero in the Bahamas. He would earn a bronze medal in the 2003 World Championships. He followed with a fifth place finish in the 2005 World Championships then made his mark in Beijing in 2008.
During the XXIX Olympiads Sands jumped a career best 57-8.5 to earn his Olympic medal – a bronze medal. It took until that jump in Beijing to best the 57-5 he jumped that day in Odessa.
“That jump set my whole life up,” Sands said of his jump in Odessa. “After that I was able to hit the circuit that summer. I remember meeting the record holder in the triple jump. Everything I was able to do was set up by that jump.”
He finished the 2012 Olympics – his third – with a fifth place effort in London. But he also injured himself. He tore his patella tendon completely away from his bone. He was carted off and had to have surgery to repair it.
Sands just recently returned to competitive jumping after recovering from the injury and has his sights set on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
“I always had pain before the injury,” Sands said. “I wore a brace back at Barton. I don’t feel that pain anymore. This year I am just coming back from the injury. I am mostly looking forward to next year and the Olympics. It is my goal to get back there.
“I probably needed a break. I hadn’t had one since I started jumping at 15 years old. It gave my body a chance to rest and my mind a chance to rest. I think it was my body telling me it needed a break for a while – although it was a little more than I wanted.”