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Published May 27 2010

Olson jump-starts her high jump career after patella injury

Not being able to get off the ground poses a problem to kids that want to be state high jump champions.

Kali Olson faced that problem this year, but she decided to put a new twist on an old favorite.

After an injury to her patella grounded her, Olson flipped her approach to the left side where she jumps off her opposite leg.

“It’s like trying to write with your left hand when you’ve always written with your right hand,” said Lisbon jumps coach Brad Bittner. “It’s pretty rare for somebody even to try that.”

Just before the start of the outdoor track season, Olson – one of the state’s top high jumpers the past two years – injured the patella in her left leg while practicing the high jump.

High jumpers that approach the bar from the right side jump off their left foot, and off the right foot when approaching from the left.

It was taking longer than she would’ve liked for it to heal, so she started over from scratch.

Olson, the Class B state high jump champ in 2008 and runner-up last year, had to teach herself the timing and twists and turns high jumpers go through all over again.

“Convincing myself that I could do it was the hardest part,” Olson said. “It’s hard. It takes a lot of concentration because everything is the opposite from how I’ve always done it.

“But it was getting down to crunch time. I had to try something.”

Olson, who will compete in college at South Dakota State, has competed in just two outdoor meets this season. She cleared the state qualifying standard of 5 feet, 1 inch two weeks ago, and last week she won the Region 1 title.

“At that first meet, I just kind of cannonballed over opening height and went from there,” Olson said. “It’s been an adjustment, for sure, but I’m getting more used to it. Even though I’m so used to jumping off the other leg, it’s something I know I can do.”

The idea to switch sides came from Bittner, who went through something similar. When he was competing in college at Valley City State, he pulled his left hamstring. The long jumper adjusted by jumping off the opposite foot.

So did a pulled hamstring 20 years ago help get Olson back to the state meet?

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Bittner said with a laugh. “Everything she’s done, she’s done herself. It’s a big change, and she knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

“But she’s a good athlete and she wants to compete. She wants to jump and show everybody she can do it. If she gets it done, she’ll defy all of the odds.”

Olson’s knee feels better than it did a few weeks ago – well enough that she might try jumping off of her left leg if it means the chance to win another state title.

“It was frustrating because I was lifting all winter and getting ready for this season – my senior season,” Olson said. “And then the injury happened. I was just tired of sitting around, so I had to try something.

“It’s nice to get back to state with all that’s happened, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not going there to compete. I want to win it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kerry Collins at (701) 241-5548