Justin Forde badly wants to break the Connecticut high jump record.
He also wants to nail one of the best triple jumps in state history.
And, then, there’s the long jump, where it is no long leap of faith to say the Brien McMahon junior is lukewarm about doing.
Oh, we almost forgot. There is Monday’s dreary weather forecast, too, calling for rain and temperatures in the 50s, that could affect performance.
The CIAC State Open track meet has the air of an outdoor concert. To protect the athletes from the elements, rain or shine, there are colored tents everywhere. Young people mill about Willow Brook Park in New Britain.
The afternoon slowly moves toward night with the periodic interruption of the starter’s gun and great bursts of energy. Among all this will be one of Connecticut’s elite performers doing his best to navigate the web of starting times and jump procedures.
“Justin is all-around, an incredible athlete,” McMahon coach Pat Bradley said. “His raw talent, his muscle, his sports IQ, outstanding. When he was a freshman, we saw it as soon as he came out. As he saw how good he was, he put the work in.”
Forde, 6-foot-1, became one of only a handful of high jumpers in Connecticut high school history to clear 7 feet on May 5 at the Middletown Invitational. That’s a quarter inch off the state record. Amid some great track theatre, he also lost to Chet Ellis of Staples at the FCIAC meet, both clearing 6-10, but Ellis winning when Forde missed twice at 6-8.
Working with jump coach Rudy Matute, Forde has far outdistanced anybody in the state in the triple jump. He worked his way up to 46-81/4 last year at the New Balance Outdoors National. This year he already has produced a 48-81/2 at the FCIAC meet.
His goal for the state open?
“Breaking 49 feet,” Forde said.
If not Monday, then in the New England meet or the nationals.
“Last year, his second phase of the triple jump was really short,” Bradley said. “It’s so technical. He has come a long way.”
“My second phase got way better,” Forde said. “I hit the weight room a lot over the summer and the beginning of the school year. The strength helped me.”
On Saturday Bradley said he expected Forde to do all three events at the State Open. On Sunday, Forde talked about possibly withdrawing from the long jump. Career’s Dyshon Vaughn, the New Balance Indoors National champion, looms. Forde is ranked fourth in the state.
“I’m going to talk to the coaches about the long jump,” Forde said. “If I want to get that high jump record, if I want to jump the way I should, I don’t think I should do it. Especially with Dyshon, I don’t know if I want to waste my energy.
“Long jump is not really my focus. I do it really for my coaches.”
Either way, he’ll drop the long jump for the New England and national meets.
“You think about distance events taking a lot out of you, but from the time he starts at long jump and finishes at high jump, it’s a long, trying day,” Bradley said. “He wasn’t going do the long jump at the (Class) LL. He got there, started warming up and goes, ‘I’m going to do it.’”
If he does all three events, Forde is looking at starting around 1:30 p.m. and finishing as the final relays are going off in an epic high jump duel against Ellis around 7 p.m.
“He’s literally running back and forth during the day,” Bradley said. “It takes a lot of focus. You add up all the warmups, approaches, jumps it’s a tremendous amount of exertion for a young athlete. He is able to do it.”
His performance at the FCIAC on May 21 was serious business: 6-10 in the high jump, 22-81/2 in the long jump and 48-81/2 in the triple jump, breaking a 47-year-old meet record.
“The high jump at the FCIAC highlighted the excitement of track and field,” Bradley said. “Two kids, everyone is cheering for them at heights most people are baffled that any kid could clear. Justin doesn’t shy away from competition. He wants to be in the center of it.
“He banged his knee a little in weight room before the LL meet (May 30) and I think it got in his head a little. It was a hot day. He was tired. He only took one jump in the long jump, two in the triple, the first was a foul.”
He won the LL long jump at 22-21/2 and the triple jump at 48-33/4. He took second in the high jump at 6-4 behind Ellis’ 6-6.
“Justin usually clears 6-6 without a problem,” Bradley said. “Both he and Chet looked tired.”
With a good practice Saturday and a day off Sunday, there is considerable optimism.
“It’s like let’s go down to the wire with Chet,” Bradley said. “Clear 6-10 and see what happens. Justin has tried 7-01/2 a few times. That’s his goal, but the most pressing goal is to win the state open.”
“(Ellis) is definitely my No. 1 opponent,” Forde said. “I’m pretty sure if I just focused on high jump it would be a different story. I wouldn’t be tired, none of that. But I congratulate him. Last year, he was doing 6-2. He has come a long way.”
Forde decided to stick with basketball instead of indoor track this past winter. He will continue to play football. A wide receiver last season, he plans to play quarterback in the fall. With plaques and photos in his room, these are the sports he loved as a kid.
“He likes the idea of tight setting, a lot of people in the crowd,” Bradley said. “When I say he’s driven, his versatility, his competitiveness, this is all part of it.
“With colleges looking at him, if he had more experience, would he be jumping 7-1 now? I don’t know. We’ve gone back and forth with him. Those are decisions for him and his family, but obviously Coach Rudy and I would love for him to do indoor. He loves basketball so much.”
So next year?
“Next year’s, I think I’ll do indoor,” Forde said. “A lot of people have an extra (track) season on me. I want to focus on that.”
Forde, in the meantime, has found an inspiration in the competitiveness and versatility of Will Claye. The silver medalist in the triple jump at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and long jump bronze medalist in 2012, Claye released his first album last year, bridging several genres from hip hop to reggae to strains of jazz.
“He does music and he’s a track star,” Forde said “I love music. I love producing music. I want to do that. He showed me I could do both.”
For now, he will weigh the risk-reward of three events vs. state records.
“I just hope the weather is OK,” he said.