Minor setback for a major comeback: Arkansas coach Geopfert backs Hibbert to return stronger from injury

By August 22, 2023
Jamaica's standout triple jumper Jaydon Hibbert. (inset) coach Travis Geopfert. Jamaica's standout triple jumper Jaydon Hibbert. (inset) coach Travis Geopfert.

Though disheartened by the manner in which Jaydon Hibbert’s debut showing at the World Athletic Championships ended, coach Travis Geopfert believes the minor setback is merely setting up his young charge for a major comeback next season.

Geopfert, like many Jamaicans and track and field enthusiasts at large, had high expectations about the gold medal prospects of the exciting triple jumper, who entered the Championships in Budapest, Hungary, with a world leading mark of 17.87m. Those expectations would have peaked when Hibbert topped the qualifiers in Saturday's first round with 17.70m.

However, Hibbert’s first appearance on the global stage ended in disappointment, as he suffered a right hamstring injury on his first attempt in Monday’s final and wasn't able to continue competing.

Geopfert, who works with Hibbert at the University of Arkansas, confirmed the injury as a Grade one hamstring strain. He pointed out that they have already started treatment and, by extension, processing the way forward, as he maintains a bright outlook for the 18-year-old.

“There is obviously a bright future ahead, I think one thing right now is that we have to make sure we do the right thing (going forward). We got the image last night, there is a small amount of swelling, but it is not a major injury which is a good thing. He is going to get treatment today; we have great medical support that is here, so we will do the things necessary to make sure that the healing process starts correctly,” Geopfert told journalists during a virtual press conference.

He continued: “The other thing that we are going to try to do is troubleshoot. There was no indication that there was going to be an issue yesterday (Monday), he was moving well, warm up was great, no cramping, no issue at all. So, what we need to do is go back and assess to get information, we need to do a sweat test to see how he sweats and what electrolytes and nutrients are being lost in his sweat so we can get some answers.

“We need to do some labs in terms of blood work and see if there are any deficiencies that we are missing…we often do labs, but we need to do it post exercise to see if there are any calcium deficiencies. From there we will then build for next year with a better plan in place to ensure that he continues to train and stays healthy and then we look for more exciting things through the NCAA season and into the Olympics.

Reflecting on the buildup to the final, Geopfert believes Hibbert’s warm-up alone, was a good indicator that he was very much on course to land what would have been a sensational gold medal, but for the heart-wrenching injury.

“His warmup was phenomenal…it (the gold medal) was very much on, I was excited as I thought the first attempt was going to be a monster jump, so this (injury) was out of the blue, this was not something that we never anticipated in any way at all,” Geopfert explained.

“When he came back, he said that the hamstring grabbed and so we were hoping for the best and that it was a cramp, so we went through what we needed to try to get it to release but there is only so much medical attention that is allowed at the moment in the stadium so there was very little that could really be done.

“He was trying to get ready to take the second jump, I was keeping an eye on whether he would have jumped out of order, but in a final you can’t jump out of order everything stays in order and then it became obvious that he couldn’t take the second jump,” he added.

While waiting for the jump cycle to come back around, Geopfert said he advised Hibbert to test the hamstring before going on the runway, but after being told that there is still a slight pain, the decision was taken to forgo the third jump as well.

“I tell athletes all the time that we can’t make emotional decisions, we have to deal with the information we have and make educated decisions. I understand being in the moment, but I also grasp a bigger picture for this young man, and I feel a sense of responsibility for him to always keep the bigger picture in mind,” the coach noted.

“So, I believe fully that it was the right call for him to skip that third jump, it wasn’t easy, but it was the right decision for him long term.  It wasn’t until after that the emotions hit me personally and it was tough, but the kid is tough, and he is handling it extremely well. I am proud of him for a lot of reasons, not just for the results but about his growth and how he handled the moment and how he communicated so effectively in that difficult moment,” Geopfert reasoned.

On that note, Geopfert recollected the remarkable season Hibbert enjoyed leading up to the championships and declared it an extreme positive to build on after recovery.

During his debut season for Arkansas, Hibbert yielded numerous records. He won the NCAA indoor triple jump with a first attempt jump of 17.54m, a feat that earned him the World Athletics moment of the month award for March.

Additionally, he was named the SEC Indoor Freshman Field Athlete of the Year in the same month.

His mark surpassed the indoor Under-20 record of 17.20m set by Melvin Raffin of France in 2017, as well as the outdoor Under-20 standard of 17.50m set by Germany's Volker Mai in 1985.

Heading into the SEC Outdoors, the World Under-20 champion was unbeaten in three indoor competitions and two outdoor competitions. In Baton Rouge, he surpassed his opening leap of 17.02m with an impressive jump of 17.87m, setting a new world Under-20 record.

“It has been an unbelievable year for Jaydon, as a freshman, the transition to university in a new setting, he just did an unbelievably good job and then you look at the results that he had through the year and the records that he set, the World Under-20 records, indoor and outdoor, the NCAA records he set…just an unbelievable year across the board,” Geopfert beamed.

“Just watching him grow in terms of his maturity and how he handles things in both good times and bad, it’s been amazing, and I think it’s just been a great year overall. I am just extremely proud of him and the way he navigated it all extremely well and I am excited for the future because of that,” the Razorbacks coach ended.

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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