Karpenko ready to take flight

State College's Veronika Karpenko competes in the triple jump during the District 6 Class AAA track and field championships at Mansion Park on Thursday, May 14, 2015.
State College's Veronika Karpenko competes in the triple jump during the District 6 Class AAA track and field championships at Mansion Park on Thursday, May 14, 2015. CDT photo

As she stood next to the track at Altoona’s Mansion Park a little less than two weeks ago, Veronika Karpenko was bundled in several layers but still shivered from the chill of the evening.

Most of her clothing was soaked from a drenching rain a little earlier as she was competing in the triple jump.

In conversation about her results that day, she made numerous references to the unfavorable conditions, and her frustrations with it, but also expressed a slight embarrassment for dwelling on them.

“Clearly this weather is not in my genetics,” Karpenko said. “Even though I’m Russian, this isn’t working for me.”

The State College senior will be happy to know the forecast, according to AccuWeather, has sunshine and a high of 67 degrees for Altoona for the District 6 Class AAA Track and Field Championships on Thursday.

For the state’s top triple jumper, and one of the top athletes in that event in the nation, she could use a break to hit a top mark.

Not that her work has suffered all that much.

In the rain and cold of Philadelphia in late April, she won the triple jump at the Penn Relays with a top leap of 39 feet, 5 1/4 inches. She beat athletes from a number of states as well as from Jamaica and the Bahamas — who are even less in favor of rain and temperatures in the 40s.

Still, she didn’t think she would win there.

“I was pretty pumped about that,” Karpenko said. “I didn’t realize that I would I would even make the finals. My goal was just to make the finals. I made finals, then I ended up winning. I was like, ‘What the heck?’ I was so caught off guard.”

The victory at Franklin Field is just one of the latest highlights in a career that has been getting more impressive by the day.

She was the state champion in the triple jump at the PIAA outdoor meet last May, then won the indoor title in late February. She’s cracked the 40-foot barrier in the event a handful of times, including in both of those state title wins. Her best outdoor mark of this spring of 39-9 came in early April, but she’s been itching to fly farther, if only Mother Nature would cooperate.

“I’m just excited to jump in warmer weather,” Karpenko said. “It’s either been rainy or windy or just cold for all the meets this year. But at least I’m not going to be as tense because I know where I’m going to school.”

After a lengthy search, she finally has a college choice, wrapped up with a signed National Letter of Intent last week after her verbal commitment to Louisville the week before.

She chose the Bluegrass State school over Clemson, Virginia and Indiana, among others, in part because of what it can offer her as a jumper. The assistant coach for jumps is Joe Walker Jr. He’s been coaching since 1970, mostly as a head coach, and has sent a slew of athletes to the Olympics. He’s seen a former protégé at nearly every Summer Games since 1976, including Brittney Reese, the long jump gold medalist in London in 2012.

State College jumping coach Artie Gilkes can see a lot more can be made with Karpenko’s abilities in the hands of someone like Walker.

“She hasn’t even scratched the surface of what she can do,” Gilkes said. “She’s obviously a very good athlete, but her best, natural ability is being able to withstand the training ... and she’s just now getting to the point where she’s elite in the nation.”

She also will benefit from new and different perspectives, which will help her grow as an athlete by using her brilliant mind. She plans to major in biochemistry and minor in genetics, and she uses her brain as much as her athleticism in competition.

“I really do think it’s under appreciated,” Gilkes said. “Just the little changes, she’s someone who has the ability to hear something, process it and then do it. It’s unique. She’s very analytical that way. The more info she gets, the more she processes, the more she can do it.”

That contributes to her ability as the season progresses. As a sophomore, she made huge leaps in distance late in her season, and finished third at the state meet. As a junior, her numbers held steady until, again, the final weeks when she uncorked some big jumps and landed a 40-1 1/4 mark at the PIAA meet last May.

This year, again, she has been hovering around the same marks most of the season. Surprisingly, that leap of 39-9 in April’s first week has held up as the best mark by any girl in the entire state all spring.

Now with warmth — hopefully — on the horizon they are expecting her to fly this week and next.

“She’s following, exactly, the template that seems to work for her,” Gilkes said. “It’s almost, sort of scary how consistent she’s been.”

Hitting a good mark in Altoona on Thursday is the next step, and they all hope it leads to more success in Shippensburg, with the rest of the state’s best jumpers, on Memorial Day weekend.

“I’m really excited to see the competition,” she said, “to get a good thing going with a few athletes.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @gordoncdt

District 6 Track & Field Championships

When: 3:30 p.m. Thursday (Class AAA)

Where: Mansion Park, Altoona

Note: For the first time, admission will be charged for the meet — $5 adults, $2 students with ID