SEATTLE – It was late in the afternoon in West Seattle Stadium and members of the SeaTown Express, an elite Seattle track club, milled loosely in the corner of the field -- a pure distillate of coiled energy, ropy fast-twitch muscle and two-percent body fat.
All except one girl. Five-feet tall and gangly with dimples, braids and chopsticks for legs and arms, the girl danced among the larger, older athletes, looking every bit a colt among thoroughbreds. She looked, at a glance, like someone’s 10-year-old kid sister.
Then lined up and accelerated toward the long jump pit, her thin frame slicing the air. She planted her foot and catapulted up and out.
Fourteen feet later, it was clear she was here as no one’s kid sister. Everyone watching learned what her teammates already knew: People will be hearing more about the University Place girl who won’t turn 11 until next June.
Even those who’ve produced physical feats themselves are in awe of little Tierra.
“There’s nothing on the track she can’t do,” says Eric Metcalf, SeaTown Express’ coach who was a three-time Pro-Bowler in the NFL and NCAA sprinting champion himself. “She’s a special kind of athlete.”
How special? In January, Crockrell ran against girls twice her age at the University of Washington Indoor Preview in Seattle, including Pac-10 Women’s Track and Field Newcomer of the Year English Gardner. The two ran in the same heat. Tierra finished 1.54 seconds behind Gardner.
She was 9 at the time.
In her first decade on the planet, Crockrell owns the world long jump record for 8-year-olds, as well as the standing long jump record for 9-year-olds. She’s an AAU national champion in both indoor and outdoor events.
At the West Coast Junior Olympic Games in Reno earlier this month, she won gold in all four events she entered: long jump, 100-meter sprint, 200-meter sprint and the multi-event. She broke the meet record in three of them.
And on Wednesday at the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics in Wichita, KS, Tierra placed first in the bantam division of the girls triathlon.
It wasn't even close.
If Tierra’s careful (and a little bit lucky), Coach Metcalf knows, someday she could run her and jump her way right onto the Olympics.
“At this age,” Metcalf added, “you see someone excel in distances, or sprints, or maybe jumps, or throws, but you never see someone who can do all of them. That’s what’s so impressive about what Tierra has done.”
For her part, Crockrell says she just likes to keep moving. “I just want to be in sports,” she answers when asked about her career aspirations. But then it becomes clear she wants more than that.
“I want to beat Carl Lewis’ record.”
Lofty stuff. Lewis, one of America’s greatest ever track athletes, owns nine Olympic gold medals.
But even at 10, Crockrell knows she’s already accomplished things people without blazing speed leaping ability don’t understand.
“My friends, to other people if they don’t know me, they’ll be like, ‘Oh my gosh. That’s my best friend. She’s the world record holder.’” Tierra says excitedly.
Speed runs in her family. Her father, Pierre, competed in the long jump and triple jump at the University of Washington from 1985 to 1987. Her mother, Tricia, was a sprinter. Her brother, Pierre Jr., is also a budding track star who competes with SeaTown Express.
Their daughter’s first foray onto the track came when she was 4 years old, says her father.
“She was really a fast 4-year-old,” Pierre Crockrell says. “It just went from there.”
From then on it’s been driving and flying the Drum Intermediate student from meet to meet throughout the West. In a life built around running fast and jumping high, Dad says he and his daughter have to set aside time to take things slow.
The family watches movies together, and Tierra loves sleepovers at her friend’s house. Her favorite color is lime green, she loves eating orange chicken and gyozas, and her favorite drink is Coke, even through she’s not allowed to touch the stuff because of her training.
If she beats her personal bests in a few more events, her dad promised to buy her an iPod.
For now, Tierra and her coaches plan to continue challenging the girl in events she has conquered and those she hasn't touched, like the shot put.
So anyone who hasn’t yet heard of Tierra Crockrell’s exploits on the track or field will get many more opportunities to. And if they’re as lucky as she is fast, she might even show them her brand new iPod.