Sylva looks to go faster, higher, longer

Cougars junior Keola Sylva has the section's second best mark in the triple jump this season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Keola Sylva had a breakout 2018 season, finishing with the second best mark in the triple jump among all Central Coast Section athletes. When the Christopher High junior established his personal-record (PR) of 46 feet at the Arcadia Invitational in early April of last year, he was not only in contention to make the podium in the CCS Championships, but perhaps to win it as well. 

It wasn’t meant to be. Sylva never hit 45 feet again the rest of the way and finished in eighth place in the finals. It was a disappointing end to a season that started with so much potential, and Sylva and his jumps coach Carmen Patanie knew they would approach the 2019 season a little differently than last year. 

“The idea (for 2019) was to peak toward the end of the season rather than the midway point,” Sylva said. “I’ve been focusing on getting stronger and trying to trust the process that will allow me to jump a bigger length and height toward the end of the season rather than the beginning and middle.”

The process seems to be working. After going a full year without hitting a PR, Sylva nailed a personal-best at Arcadia once again, going 46-2 ¼ on April 7 to take second place overall. A week later in another big meet, the CCS Top 8 Classic, Sylva went 44-11 ¾ for another second-place finish. That mark proved to be longer than any post Arcadia finish he had last season. 

“At the Top 8 I was behind the board a little bit, so technically I jumped 45,” he said. “That was relieving since I never hit 45 after Arcadia last year.”

Sylva’s new PR at Arcadia was a long time coming, boosting his confidence and giving him peace of mind that he’s on the right track to finishing strong this season. The Arcadia Invitational is the most prestigious high school track and field meet in California, with top athletes competing in a lively atmosphere. 

“Arcadia is crazy exciting,” Sylva said. “There is so much potential on that track, tradition at that school, and everywhere you look you see medals and records being broken. The fact that I was even able to participate was mind blowing.”

Sylva nailed his PR on his third jump after scratching on his first, which actually helped him to relax the rest of the way. On his second attempt, Sylva felt great going down the runway until his right foot brushed one of his calves, knocking him off his rhythm and leading to a mark of 45 feet. On Sylva’s third jump, he nailed all three phases and produced a 46 2 ¼ mark that ranks No. 2 in the CCS this season. 

“(On the PR) I felt like I was flying,” he said. “I turned around and saw I had went over 46, and I was like, ‘What just happened?’ I was losing my mind. It was unbelievable. I was filled with joy.”

Afterward, Sylva knew he could repeat 46 again in a different meet this season, preferably in the CCS Championships. His speed on the runway has been solid, his bounding excellent and he’s lifting his knees up during the proper phase. Once Sylva jumps off the board, he looks straight ahead before extending his body and landing in the pit. Sylva credits Patanie for helping him develop into one of the premier triple jumpers in the section. 

“He’s definitely been a huge help,” Sylva said. “He’s always pushing me harder and critiquing me. The main thing I want to improve on is getting faster. If I can get faster, it would be golden. I have long legs, so it kind of takes me a while to get up to speed. I have to drive my knees higher and start running faster. I’ve also been working on trying to bring my knees up a little more because my knee position gets a little low sometimes.”

At the beginning of the school year, Sylva, upon the recommendation of his coaches, started strength training for the first time ever. In the off-season, he combined that with a heavy dose of sprints and plyometrics (explosive strength training) in hopes to forge his body into a well oiled and long lasting machine. 

“It’s helped me a lot with my conditioning and hopefully preventing some injuries I’ve had in the past,” he said. 

Like any fine-tuned athlete, Sylva takes care of his body, as his recovery process involves foam rolling, ice baths and icing. Sylva’s goals—to place in the top three at the CCS Championships and advance to state with a PR—are definitely within reach, especially now that he has a new plan to finish strong at the most important events at the end of the season. He also has a fresh mindset and approach. 

“I made it a point to have more fun this year, because if I’m not having fun, I’m putting a lot of strain on myself,” he said. 

Sylva said he is shooting to go for a mark in the high 46 range, possibly even a 47 if things break right. Any mark in the high 45 range will most likely earn him a berth to the state championships, and anything in the high 46 range would likely be good enough to win CCS.