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Yvette Lewis leaps to the pros
Lewis leaps to the pros
Ex-Menchville and Denbigh star decides to leave HU.
BY DAVID SQUIRES | firstname.lastname@example.org
June 15, 2007
Yvette Lewis made a leap of fate on Saturday, and she won a national championship.
On Thursday, she made a leap of faith, which she hopes one day to turn into a world championship or an Olympic gold medal.
Lewis, 22, said Thursday night that she is leaving the Hampton University track and field team to turn professional.
Lewis, a Newport News native who starred at Denbigh and Menchville high schools, graduated in May. She had a year of eligibility remaining for HU because she did not compete as a freshman.
Before reaching 45 feet, ˝ inch in her final triple jump to win on Saturday in Sacramento, Calif., Lewis had contemplated that it might be her last jump as a collegian. But she wasn't quite sure at that time, signaling that she might wait until after a couple of meets this summer to decide.
She seems sure now -- just one week before competing in the USA Outdoor Nationals in Indianapolis, with a shot at the World Games on the line.
"I'm not coming back," she said Thursday night. "I kind of just wanted to go out my way and just see how it is. I really didn't want to come back to school after already graduating."
Lewis said she had not yet picked an agent, nor does she have any sponsorships or endorsement deals. She said she would continue to train in Hampton for now, but under coach Dwayne Miller of Norfolk, one of her former summer track coaches.
Lewis wants to focus mainly on the triple jump, instead of a college regimen of long jump, high jump, hurdles, sprints and relays.
Still the decision was hard, she said.
"It was hard leaving the team, leaving the coaches," she said.
In turning professional now, Lewis punches holes in a plan laid out by HU women's track coach Maurice Pierce, who felt that Lewis should continue to develop as a triple jumper and hurdler, so that she could command a higher endorsement contract.
Already, if the Olympics were held next week -- instead of next year -- Lewis likely would be wearing a United States Olympics warm-up suit. She has the third-best distance in the triple jump in the nation this year.
She likely would be joined by HU teammate Francena McCorory, a former Bethel star, whose times in the 400 meters are among the best in the nation, despite a season cut short because of injury.
Bit if Lewis returned to HU for another season, this time paired with a healthy McCorory, the Pirates would have a lineup that could challenge at regionals a year from now and might make noise at nationals. The Pirates' women finished 19th in the team standings last week, despite missing several athletes, including McCorory, because of injuries. (A much more injury-riddled team finished only 19th at regionals.)
Lewis and Pierce also agree that her triple-jump distances – though first-rate in the U.S. – shrink to about 30th overall this year in the world.
The Cuban and European women are consistently popping jumps of 47 and 48 feet, and the longer distances are attracting the more lucrative sponsorship deals.
Pierce felt that remaining in college would give Lewis a better opportunity to become world-class in both the triple jump and the 100 hurdles, where she needs to shave a half-second off her time (13.06).
Being high-profile in two events, particularly with one being the glamour event of hurdles, commands more sponsorship and appearance money for pros, says Pierce, who has trained professional athletes, including Olympians such as hurdler James Carter, for more than 10 years.
"The sad truth is that sponsors aren't paying a whole lot of money for triple jumpers," Pierce said. "American women haven't done too well in that event."
In fact, the best triple-jump distance by any American woman this year – 46 feet, 5 1/4 inches by Erica McLain of Stanford – ranks only 25th-best in the world.
Pierce feels that Lewis can jump world-class, but it's not going to happen overnight.
"Right now, my whole attitude is, I thank Yvette for all she has done in representing Hampton University," Pierce said. "If her decision is to leave, then I will support it and wish her well."
Miller, whom Lewis worked with before her junior and senior years in high school, coaches with the Norfolk-based Real Deal Track Club, which works primarily with youth-level athletes, including dozens from the Peninsula.
Miller would not say whether the timing is right for Lewis to turn professional and said he did not advise her one way or the other.
"It was a decision she made," Miller said. "I've just said, I'm always there if she needs a coach. But if she makes it or not, it's something she has to live with."
Lewis' mother, Lorna Latibeaudiere, a former track athlete herself, said, "We knew a long time that Yvette has wanted to turn professional, but Coach Pierce didn't want to let go."
Latibeaudiere was working the phones on Thursday night talking to agents. She said that Lewis' decision had nothing to do with a decision by Yvette's sister, Carolyn, a former Heritage star, to leave HU after last semester. Carolyn is looking to transfer.
"I think they were looking to make another Yvette Lewis," Latibeaudiere said, "but they are two different situations. There will never be another Yvette Lewis."
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