After winning the state long jump title all four years at Eielson High School and earning a college scholarship to Colorado State University, Janay DeLoach of Fairbanks was totally committed to track and field.
Yet she wasn’t in love with the sport.
“Most of it was a means to an end,” DeLoach told me.
That all changed in 2005 when a brush with greatness rubbed off on the rest of her life.
She was a college sophomore competing in Berkley, California, against a strong field that included former Olympian long jumper Grace Upshaw.
“I just so happened to be beating her, it wasn’t very much, but it was the first time I jumped 21 feet,” DeLoach said. “In that moment I realized, ‘I’m beating an Olympian.’ In that moment I kind of realized, ‘There’s potential. I have something that maybe some people don’t have.’
“That was kind of my moment when I truly did fall in love with the sport. From that day forward I put in so much more effort than I ever did before. I wanted to get better and progress and that’s where my Olympic aspirations were born in the idea that, ‘Hey I might have what it takes to be good.’”
DeLoach has gone on to become the greatest track and field athlete in Alaska history and one of the most successful long jumpers on the planet with four U.S. championships, a Worlds silver medal and an Olympic bronze medal from the 2012 Games.
The 30-year-old remains a medal contender on the world’s biggest stage and will compete at the Olympic Trials this summer in the long jump and hurdles.
She’s also headed to the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2016.
“I’m absolutely honored and a little surprised. There are a lot of people that have come out of Alaska that deserve that spot,” she said. “The people of Alaska have always supported me and I’ve always appreciated that.”
Growing up, DeLoach actually dreamed of being an Olympic gymnast.
“I wanted to be the next Dominique Dawes,” she said. “It didn’t even occur to me that track and field would be something that would eventually take me to the Olympics. I was in Alaska.”
A broken left ankle in 2013 forced her to abandon her traditional takeoff and switch to using her right leg. She still qualified for the World Championships and became first woman to jump 6.95 meters off either leg.
In 2014, DeLoach qualified for Worlds in the 60-meter hurdles after a second-place finish at the US Championships. She also won races at the Millrose Games and Boston Grand Prix that year.
In 2015, she won the long jump at the 57th annual Mt. SAC Relays and competed at the World Championships in China.
“Once I fell in love with track and field I wanted to get better and progress and that’s where my Olympic aspirations were born in the idea that, ‘Hey, I might have what it takes to be good.’”
DeLoach still holds the Alaska high school state record of 19 feet, 5 inches, set in 2003.
MEET & GREET: The Alaska Sports Hall of Fame will host a 10-year celebration on the night of July 28 at the Alaska Airlines Center. DeLoach will be among the Alaska sports legends on hand, joining others in attendance like Tommy Moe, Kikkan Randall, Scott Gomez, Lance Mackey , Don Clary, Dallas Seavey, Allie Ostrander, Mark Schlereth, Reggie Joule and Vern Tejas and many others. Get more information on the 10-Year Celebration events..