Deon Mayfield, 20, should have known that no good can come to an athlete who spreads his efforts over three events as demanding and specialized as the high, long and triple jumps. The muscles and techniques developed for one to a degree work against those of the other two.
But because Mayfield, a 6'1½" junior triple jumper at Arizona State, wasn't wholly aware of this, he had no way of knowing how difficult it was to compete as well in the high and, when he could arrange it, the long jump. Besides, he was excelling in all three.
In a dual meet last March with Tennessee, Mayfield long-jumped 25'2½" (good for a second) and won the high jump (7'0") and triple jump (54'2¼"). One week later, against Houston, Mayfield cleared 7'2¼" to finish second in the high jump and leaped 24'10" and 54'10½" to win the long and triple jumps, respectively.
A number of names come up in the search for Mayfield's predecessors as multiple jumpers. Ron Livers, a 5'9" San Jose State jumper, once cleared a bar 20 inches above his head on the same day that he tripled 54 feet. Willie Banks, now a UCLA law student, has often combined the triple and the long jump. But so far no track nut has uncovered anyone who has come close to Mayfield's marks in all three events.
How did he do it? The most important fact, says his jump coach of last year, Ralph Lindeman, now an assistant at the University of Arizona, "is that the guy has got springs in his legs. And he was willing to train and train and train, even when I told him not to."
Mayfield's greatest difficulty is keeping his takeoff techniques in order. In the long jump one arm is forward and one back, with the knees driving for vertical thrust. In the triple, the thrust is all horizontal and both arms move forward, as they do in his Fosbury flop high-jump launch. But in the high jump, his thrust is all upward.
As if that weren't confusing enough, two of the events are often held simultaneously, so Mayfield often must change shoes and run between pits as many as six times. "One of the things Deon has going for him," says Lindeman, "is his ability to relax in competition. He's mellow enough to change gears from one event to another without getting too confused."
Mayfield is, by his own description, "a pretty laid-back guy." His mother, Margorie Black, puts it differently: "I thought he would sleep his life away—and he would if you let him."
Mayfield grew up in Pasadena, Calif., and when he was in the ninth grade his parents divorced. His mother remarried and moved to Wichita, but she let him stay behind in California with her sister and brother-in-law, Deloris and Calvin Gums, because he was so happy at Pasadena's John Muir High. "It was a very big thing for her to do," says Deloris, "and we never minded having Deon for half a minute."
"He's a whiz with anything mechanical," says Calvin, a medical assistant in a program for alcoholics and drug addicts. "He'll fix anything, from a blender to a truck." Mayfield intends to follow his uncle into medicine, probably as an X-ray technician.
Mayfield was a gymnast—the double back flip was his specialty—and a third baseman when he moved in with the Gums. Because his cousins ran track at Muir, Mayfield took it up as well, competing in five events, including the relay and hurdles. His coach at Muir, Walter Opp, who died in August, recalled Mayfield's sleepy side: "He wasn't really caught up in it all; it was more like he was doing it because somebody put him there and told him to do it."
The turning point in Mayfield's career came in his senior year, at the league championship meet at Arcadia High. He was favored in the triple jump, but one of his teammates, Ricky Holiday, who's now at UC-Irvine, let Mayfield know early in the week that he intended to beat him. After having jumped a respectable 50'9" and having used only three of his four tries, Mayfield changed into his street clothes and headed for the stands, where he watched as Holiday leaped 51'11". "I had decided that if he could beat my mark then he could win it," says Mayfield, "but then he started in. 'I'm Number One. I'm the best. Now I'm going to be on Channel 7 [Mayfield had been interviewed on local TV] and you're going to be on Channel 0.' "
Mayfield changed back into his uniform, returned to the field and set a National High School Federation record of 52'10½". "That was the one time," said Opp, "that he truly became competitive."
After placing fourth in the triple jump at the NCAAs in May, Mayfield was selected as an All-America in that event. He plans to keep competing in all three jumps and hopes to be invited to some indoor meets this winter, such as the Sunkist and the L.A. Times. But the common wisdom is that he will have to narrow his sights—probably to the triple jump—to become a contender for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. On the other hand, says Bob Hersh, records chairman for The Athletics Congress, "With an athlete who's already shown so much versatility, it's difficult to establish limits on what he can and can't do. Just because no one's ever done it doesn't mean that it can't be done."
Says Mayfield, "I had never thought there was any big deal about my doing the three events until they announced it at those meets in March. I'd always done all three whenever I could because I liked them, but I like the idea of doing something that nobody has ever done before. It's like a kid's dream to be famous for track and the three events. But they still seem like one event to me."