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Rio 2016 Olympic Calympian: Inika McPherson, Women's track and field, USA

Inika McPherson is not your typical Calympian.

2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials - Day 3
Given her unique style, Cal alum Inika McPherson really jumps out at you.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Inika McPherson

Sport: Women's Track and Field (High jump)

Country: U.S.A.

Twitter: @HighJumpQueen ; Instagram: @inika_7ft_hjq

Birthday: September 29th, 1986 (age 29)

Hometown: Port Arthur, Texas

Cal affiliation: California Golden Bears alum (African American Studies ‘09)

Years at Cal: 2006 - 2009

Olympic appearances: Rio 2016 is Inika’s 1st Olympic games

Cal Achievements:

One of the top track and field recruit to come to Cal, Inika McPherson was a three time All-Americans and still possesses one school record. Her 6-00 jump from the 2009 NCAA Championship is still a Cal school record for indoors. She still has a top 10 high jump in program history. She was also named Cal’s Female Athlete of the Year in 2009 and also won the Pac-10 title that year.

McPherson finished 7th in the 2007 Indoor NCAA championships and 6th at the Outdoor NCAA championships. She improved to 4th in the 2009 Indoors NCAA championships with the school record jump. She actually never achieved her own personal record from high school.

From her Cal Bears Bio (incomplete as it doesn’t have her 2009 achievements):

Junior (2008): Set a regional-qualifying mark in the high jump at the Big Meet, as she claimed top honors with her score of 5-10.00 (1.78m)...provisionally qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships in the high jump after posting a mark of 5-10.00 (1.78m) at the MPSF Championships.

Sophomore (2007): Collected All-America honors during both the indoor and outdoor seasons...earned All-America honors after placing sixth in the women's high jump at the NCAA Outdoor Championships...claimed fourth place at the USA championships with a leap of 6-00 (1.83 meters)...collected a Cal outdoor season-best 6-00.50 (1.84 meters) when she took second place in the high jump at the NCAA West Regional...that mark ranks her second on Cal's all-time list and stands as her collegiate-best mark...competed at the Pan Am Games, taking 11th (1.78 meters)...she recorded a 6-2 (1.88) before entering Cal...posted a regional-qualifying 5-10.75 (1.80 meters) to win the high jump at the Big Meet...also notched Cal's fifth-best long jump (17-0-.50, 5.19, Jim Click Shootout)...set the school record in the high jump with a 6-0 (1.83) at the NCAA championships, in which she took seventh place and earned All-America honors.

Freshman (2006): Won the high jump title with a mark of 1.76 meters (5-9.25) at the MPSF Indoor championships...set the Cal indoor record of 1.80 (5-10.75) in the high jump at the Tyson Invitational...her lifetime-best javelin throw of 36.27 (119-00) at the Bay Area Blast Off ranked her 10th on Cal's all-time list entering 2007.

Unfortunately, her Cal career came to an unceremonious end in 2009. Inika took a medical redshirt during the 2008 season. She had believed that she will be eligible in 2009-2010, but was told otherwise. More on this later.

International Achievements:

Inika McPherson has represented the United States in several International competitions. She competed in the 2004 World Junior Championships, the 2007 Pan American Games (in Rio), and World Championships in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

At the 2012 Olympic Trials, McPherson was told by her doctor to not compete due to a muscle tear in her right quad. She competed anyway but could not clear the bar.

More on Inika and her journey to Rio:

Inika McPherson is to high jump like Spud Webb is to slam dunk contest. Standing at merely 5’4”, McPherson out jumps much taller competitors in an event dominated by tall athletes.

Deadspin partner Fittish has a fascinating profile on her story. It is worth a read, but I will just try to summarize it here.

Growing up in the oil refineries town of Port Arthur, Texas, Inika McPherson comes from a very blue collar family. Despite her small stature, she picked up high jumping from looking up techniques from the internet.

She clear 6 foot in her freshman year and even made a 6’2” jump in her senior year.

ESPN list her in the Girls track All-Decade team:

HJ: Inika McPherson, Memorial (Port Arthur, Texas), Class of 2005As a senior, McPherson equaled the second-best jump of the decade outdoors at 6-02, clearing the height at her region meet. Indoors, she won at the National Scholastic with a U.S. No. 1 5-11.25.

McPherson also had good grade and earned herself a full scholarship to Cal. Now skip ahead to 2009, the admittedly one sided story from the Fittish article said that the Cal Track program basically kicked McPherson out, when she thought that she had more eligibility due to redshirting the Outdoor season in 2008. It certainly didn’t help that a couple of her coaches left the program then.

Distraught, McPherson turned to substance and tried to work and train at the same time while moving back to her native Texas. She became a taxi driver and was jumping over trash cans to keep up her training and Olympic aspirations. Despite all this, she still hit a World Championships qualifying standard and made the US Team.

Sadly, her increased income led to more partying and drug. McPherson got into fights and had to spend 30 days in jail. She then tested positive for benzoylecgonine, probably from her recreational cocaine use, at the 2014 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and had to accept a 21 month doping ban.

During her doping ban without any prize money, McPherson worked as a temp and kept up the training. With her suspension over only in April of this year, McPherson had to scramble to meet the US Olympic Trials standard. With the monetary help from an agent, she made the US Olympic Trials and placed 3rd with a jump of 1.93 meters.

In the most circuitous way through jail and drug suspensions, Inika has become a Calympian and gets to go to Rio.

She walked in the Parade of Nations and posted a bunch of pictures on her Instagram account from that.


A photo posted by With God Anything Is Possible (@inika_7ft_hjq) on

From a pure athletic point of view, Inika McPherson is a freak of nature. Her style also allow her to stand out at the meets. Of course, her life story also stands out from that of a typical Olympian. Here is hoping that Inika has turned the corner on her life with this Olympic experience. She has said all the right thing as of late and best of luck to Inika not just on clearly the high jump bars but also her past personal troubles.

Inika will jump on Thursday, August 18th.

Good luck to Inika in Rio and GO BEARS!