Boys’ Track Athlete of the Year James Thorne Jumping to new heights

By Robert Niedzwiecki
The Winchester Star

When James Thorne was a sophomore, the idea of competing for the track and field team didn’t seem too appealing.

“I didn’t really want to do it,” Thorne said. “But more and more people just started telling me to do it. I was just like, ‘I don’t know, it seems like a little too much running.’”

There was some. But more importantly, he had the opportunity to do all the jumping he could handle.

Thorne is The Winchester Star Boys’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year after he soared to places no one else could in 2010.

The James Wood senior led the area in all three jumps — the high (6 feet, 5 inches), the long (21-31/4), and the triple (44-1). No other athlete led the area in more than two events, and no one else consistently beat his competition in as many events as Thorne did.

He topped it off by medaling in two events at the Group AA meet, one of only four area athletes to accomplish that feat in a state meet this year and of only two in Group AA.
“Not only is he the best athlete we have, he’s the hardest worker,” said first-year James Wood jumps coach Ryan Whittle. “He listens to everything. The younger jumpers look up to him. They knew they had to do everything correctly, because the best athlete is doing that and they have to follow. He’s a great leader.

“Just to see how happy James was [at the state meet] after all the hard work he put in was great. He deserves all he got.”

Though Thorne qualified for the state meet as a junior in the high jump (his season best was 6-2), his numbers in the other jumps his first two years weren’t close to what he posted this season.

As a junior, he improved in the triple jump to 37-8 from his sophomore best of 34-4. In the long jump he improved from 17-4 to 18-10.

Thorne had no idea what to expect out of himself in the long and triple jumps this year, but he had plenty of motivation for the high jump following his inability to clear the opening height of 6-0 at last year’s state meet.

And during basketball season, if there was an opportunity for Thorne to stretch his legs, he took it.

“I was just stronger than last year,” Thorne said. “Basketball really helped. I did a lot of extra jumping when I didn’t really have to. There would be full-court layup drills, and I would be the only one around just dunking it.”

Because of the work former James Wood coach Jim Rodgers put in with him, Whittle didn’t have to do much with Thorne in the high jump. Thorne was only defeated twice all season.

But Whittle, a former long and triple jumper at Sherando, saw immediately that the lean 6-4 Thorne should be more than just a great vertical jumper.

“Right away, I was like, ‘James, you’re going to be a triple jumper. You’re built like a triple jumper. You have the spring. We’re going to make you into a triple jumper,’ ” Whittle said.

Thorne had never spent much time on the triple jump before this year, and it showed in his form.

Whittle said Thorne’s body was positioned much too high during the first phase of his jump, which was taking away from the strength he needed for the final two phases. Once he got lower in the first phase and started extending out farther in the second, Thorne could focus on attacking the board in the third.

By the middle of May, Thorne was peaking. He hit 43-10 at Millbrook’s Last Chance Invitational to improve his best by 15 inches.

He then hit 43-3 to win at the Northwestern District meet (where he also won the high jump with his personal best 6-5), hit 43-11 to take second at the Region II meet (where he again won the high jump), and then ended his season with a flourish at the Group AA meet with a personal best 44-1 to place fourth.

Thorne, who was only seeded 12th in the triple jump, won’t soon forget that performance.

“I didn’t expect triple jump to be one of my best jumping events, so at the end of the season I was extremely happy to place fourth,” Thorne said.

Whittle said Thorne’s season in the triple jump was a testament to his willingness to listen.

“The most phenomenal thing about James was when I would tell him how to fix something he was doing wrong, that was the last time you’d see that error the rest of the year,” Whittle said. “The error was finished the very next jump, and it would never come up again, which was amazing. That’s why he improved over six feet in the triple jump.”

Though improvements in the high jump are measured in much smaller increments, Thorne’s dominance showed he was much better in that event as well. His only two losses came in a tri meet involving Hedgesville (W.Va.) and at the state meet, where he placed seventh with a mark of 6-2.

Whittle just told Thorne to trust his form, and it got to the point where Thorne expected to win.

“At first it was surprising, but then after a while I got used to it. I would just look at [Whittle] and be like, ‘What do I do now?” said Thorne, holding his arms above his head and mimicking the questioning gesture he would make when there was no one left to compete against in the high jump. “[Consistently winning] helped with confidence, and it put pressure on me, too. I knew the same people were going to be at each meet, and I had to continually beat them.”

Thorne said high jump is his favorite event because “it doesn’t wear me down as much,” prompting James Wood head coach Matt Stegmaier to laugh.

That statement may be true, but Thorne simply isn’t one to take the easy road.

When he’s on a break from jumping, he’s cheering on his teammates and giving them pointers, and he was also a member of James Wood’s district champion 4x400-meter relay team that may have have qualified for the state meet if not for an injury to John Simms.

“When he first came out, he said he wasn’t a big fan of running, but you wouldn’t have know that from watching him run that 4x400,” Stegmaier said. “He’d suck it up on hot days when he wasn’t feeling good, and he’d perform whether it hurt him or not.”

Thorne hopes to compete in track and study graphic design at Seton Hill College of the Division II West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in the fall. His coaches feel that the relatively inexperienced Thorne can star at the collegiate level because he’ll be able to focus solely on jumping.

One thing Thorne’s coaches know for sure is that he’s made James Wood’s program better.

“It gives the other kids confidence that they can do it too,” Stegmaier said. “James has been a big part of our two district [team] championships. [His success] is great for the program and for him.

“Hard work does pay off. It’s nice to see kids who bust their butt and do exactly what you ask them to do, and it all works out in the end.”

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