Halim seeking another international medal
Published: July 25, 2012
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the eighth of a 10-part series on U.S. Virgin Islands athletes at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. The USVI Olympic Committee is sending seven athletes to compete in three sports. Two athletes born in the USVI will compete for Team USA.
Muhammad Halim, 25, a St. Croix native, lives and trains in Washington, D.C. He qualified for the Olympics when he leaped 16.87 meters in the triple jump during a track meet in December at his alma mater, Cornell University. The jump set a USVI record and a personal best for Halim, who was the 2008 NCAA National Champion in the triple jump. Halim won a silver medal in the long jump at the 2010 CAC Games but finished a disappointing ninth out of 10 triple jump competitors at the 2011 Pan American Games. This will be his first Olympic appearance.
You and both of your brothers excel in the triple jump. What sparked the family interest in that particular event?
You know, I'm not really sure. My older brother, Kamau, did a lot of events like the 400 meters, 800 meters and some hurdles, but he really excelled in the triple jump, and I sort of followed suit. I pigeon-holed myself early on and just did the jumping events. It was sort of the same thing for my younger brother, Hasheem, who really took to the long jump and triple jump.
I competed against Kamau when I was a sophomore in college at the Empire State Games, and I went up against Hasheem a few times, mainly at the CAC Championships. But we still haven't had that final jump off. Maybe in a few years.
Your family moved from St. Croix after Hurricane Hugo, and then you attended more than one high school. Did moving around so much effect your development in track and field?
In high school, I spent 3½ years at one school in upstate New York and then moved to Georgia and did not compete my senior year. There were obvious effects with college recruitment, but it all worked out.
I like to joke around with my college coach, Nathan Taylor, about how he was lucky to find me. In reality, it was a slow progression. Nathan is a great coach and we're still working together. Cornell is where I wanted to go from the beginning, so I was very fortunate.
Talk about coach Taylor and how he helped you get to Cornell.
He's great. For me, I really think our personalities jibe well. He has so much knowledge and passion for the sport and it rubs off on the athletes.
I wasn't the most highly recruited guy coming out of high school. Still, Nathan called me every week when I was a senior just to check in with me. That transition was difficult, and he was always there to talk with me. I had applied to Cornell before I moved to Georgia but I didn't find out if I got in until later on.
What was it like to win the NCAA National Championship in the triple jump in 2008?
That was a goal. But it was way beyond my aspirations heading into college. I entered the 2007 NCAA Outdoor Track Championships as the highest seed, so I knew I could compete at that level. Unfortunately, I got injured during the regionals. I had a great indoor season my senior year, and when it came time for outdoor, I was ready to go for it.
The initial feeling of winning a national title was actually a huge relief. It told me that all the hard work and dedication was enough. In the years I've been out of college, I been able to take even more joy from it. It was a pretty significant accomplishment and I will never forget it.
Coach Taylor will also be coaching you in London. Describe the relationship you have with him now.
It's great having him because he is definitely somebody I know I can trust. The triple jump is a self-directed sport but he will always serve as a guide for me. His expertise is right on point, and I always get great feedback from him.
I send him videos of my workouts and he sends me 12-week blocks of workouts. I have competed a few times this year around Cornell so he's seen me compete in person a few times. It's different, but it works for us. I know the event pretty well, but it's always good to have someone there to reach out to.
Was the silver medal at the 2010 CAC Games a surprise for you, considering it was in the long jump?
It was a pleasant surprise. The long jump was always sort of off the radar for me because I had always put so much focus into the triple jump. But after I got out of college, I got much better in the long jump because a lot of the technical stuff started to make sense to me.
At the CACs, I was just feeling great. At one point, I was leading the event and that rarely happens for me at that level. To date, it's my only international medal.
What did you learn from your performance at the Pan American Games?
I still don't know what happened down there in Mexico. I still can't put my finger on it. Everything I thought would happen in Mexico happened when I qualified for the Olympics the very next month.
That kind of scares me. But I know my training and technique was right for the Pan Ams. Mentally, something just didn't go right.
Unlike the other USVI track and field athletes at these Olympics, the sport does not consume your life. You are a full-time financial analyst during the day, so how do you balance your career and the triple jump?
I am very interested in both. I love competing, the triple jump and the atmosphere at an international track meet. But for me, there has always been a common ground and I always had a big focus in school. I never wanted to coast through classes and just pay attention on track.
I love the triple jump. But it's been very helpful to have something else to occupy my mind.
What are your ultimate goals for these Olympics?
I think it's a reasonable aspiration to make the triple jump finals and compete on Aug 9. For me, that would stick out as a fulfilling performance. Because once I get in the finals, anything can happen.
- Contact sports writer Aaron Gray at 714-9102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are the Summer Olympic Games?
The Summer Olympic Games are an international multi-sport event, which occur every four years and are organized by the International Olympic Committee.
The U.S. Virgin Islands Olympic Committee is recognized as a separate "sports country" by the IOC. USVI athletes have competed in each Summer Olympic Games since 1968, except for the 1980 Games, which were held in Russia and were boycotted by the United States.
The first modern Summer Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece in 1896. The 30th edition of the Summer Olympic Games will be held July 27 through Aug. 12 in London. More than 10,500 athletes from 205 nations worldwide will compete in 26 sports.