Veronika Karpenko was never sure, even as she soared farther and farther through the air.
She thought she had the lead, thought she was going to win, but she was going to assume nothing.
Last year’s experience taught her a lesson.
“Definitely never confident about my jump ever,” the State College junior said. “I always think I’m in last place or something.”
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She had reason to be confident Saturday afternoon at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium, blazing to a victory in the Class AAA girls’ triple jump at the PIAA Track and Field Championships.
With a top leap of 40 feet, 11/4 inches, Karpenko earned her first gold medal and was the only athlete from Centre County to capture the top step of the podium.
“I’ve always wanted to break 40 ever since last year,” Karpenko said. “It was my goal the whole time last year at the state meet, and I didn’t get it. Now I got it. It just feels so good, like a huge weight is lifted off my shoulders.”
She had the lead after her second attempt over 39-10, which broke her top mark by an inch, then delivered the winning leap on her fourth try, the first of the final round.
“It feels like I should have gotten this out of me before,” Karpenko said. “Now that I actually have it, it feels like real, like I actually have something to go forward to, to move on to the next level.”
The winning distance put her on the National Federation of High Schools Honor Roll, and beat runner-up Uche Nwogwugwu of North Penn, who topped out at 38-5.
A year ago, she had the lead for most of the competition after popping a 39-foot effort early. She was passed in the final round, but it wasn’t until it was time to go to the podium she realized she was not the winner.
Since she didn’t always hear the scores of others, or always see the board posted for fans in the bleachers, she was never sure she was in first.
“I tried not to imagine myself as first, even after I jumped my last jump,” Karpenko said. “I was like, ‘Ah, maybe I didn’t see another, like 41 or something like that.’ It felt so nice because I wanted this so badly and I practiced so hard. My coach gave me all the confidence I needed.”
She also admitted she did not have the best control of her emotions last season, wasting a lot of energy pacing and fretting, but did better at it this spring. It also helped she rocketed well past her expectations in the long jump on Friday with a third-place finish, just an inch behind the winner.
“It showed me that I didn’t have that nervousness anymore,” Karpenko said. “That I could handle everything and that I had what it took to be a state champion. I was just an inch under and this kind of set me up for (the triple jump).”