"When I heard that call at 25 even, I was just screaming. I could not believe it"
By Logan Stanley -- MileSplit Correspondent
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Just one year ago, Mount Sinai High School senior Kenneth Wei was trying out the long jump for the first time.
Now? He's the top long jumper in the United States.
Wei's mark of 25-feet at the Section 11 Boys Small School Championships on Feb. 3 is the current US No. 1 in the indoor long jump, and it isn't really close, either, with the No. 2 effort (Southeast Raleigh senior Eric Haddock) six-and-a-half inches behind.
The jump is the third longest in New York state history. And it wasn't a chance occurrence either, as Wei jumped 24-6 at the NY State Qualifier a week later on Feb. 11--which is also farther than Haddock's.
To draw from basketball lexicon, Wei is on fire.
Wei's 25-foot jump was enough of an indicator that the high school senior decided to enter into the 2019 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Staten Island, New York, this weekend at Ocean Breeze, where he'll compete against some of the nation's best--as a teenager. Will Wei strike gold again?
That's still to be determined, but after the USA Indoor Championships he won't call it quits just yet. He told MileSplit USA he will compete at New Balance Nationals Indoor in early March.
Right now, he's what some may refer to as in "heat check" mode. In basketball, this is when a sharp-shooter, who's in a groove and seemingly can't miss, tests to see how far they can stretch the limit of their personal in-the-moment success.
Wei had his heat check moment on Feb. 3.
"The only thing I had on my mind was that I previously had the US No. 1 mark with 24 [feet]," Wei said. "Which is pretty good, but I don't think it's that impressive. It was then taken by Eric Haddock in North Carolina with a 24-5 jump. So I'm thinking, 'Can I go after it?'
"I just ran as hard as I could, drove my knee up and closed my eyes a little bit. And when I landed, it was a pretty far jump ... When I heard that call at 25 even, I was just screaming. I could not believe it."
Wei is in the US top 25 all-time with his jump of 25-feet, No. 18 to be exact. He's dead-even on the line of athletes who have netted a 25-footer.
"I don't see limits to what I can do so far yet, " Wei said. "For me, it's a really long road. I still see this as the beginning of the season. I don't think we're done."
And he thinks he can go further, too.
"I think mid 25s, going up to maybe 26 [feet] even wouldn't be out of the range on a really good day."
He's currently No. 12 on the MileSplit50 for the Boys 2019 indoor season, and has showed a diverse skill set. He also does the triple jump (47-8.5) and 55mH (7.47), ranking in the US Top 20 for both events.
The progression of Wei has been sudden. As a freshman, Wei fractured his left growth plate in his knee. That knocked him out for most of the year. His sophomore year was spent mostly on recovery and getting back into shape.
Last year was Wei's first competing in the long jump. Before that, he was only doing hurdles. Wei's coach, Eric Giorlando, sat him down during the middle of his junior year and asked him if he wanted to continue the sport at the next level. Wei said he did.
But in order to market himself to college coaches, the two decided it was best for Wei to try new events.
"Jumping was one of those things--I think the cutstep and the hurdles and the jumps are very similar - that I picked up pretty easily," Wei said.
Wei was a bit ahead of the curve compared to an average person switching to the long jump considering he already had hip mobility and leg strength built up from doing the hurdles. Leg strength has been a focus of Wei's during training.
Giorlando has been giving Wei weekly leg workouts - leg presses, squats, plyometrics - which Wei has credited as a factor to his improvement. The change from casual training to a more strict approach was the turning point in Wei's high school career.
And that future college career?
Wei has decided to take a unfamiliar path, at least from an athletic standpoint. He's been accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Yes, MIT.
That's NCAA Division III athletics, though Wei maintains it will be just as competitive.
He will do both the long jump and the hurdles, and MIT was one of the first schools to show recruiting interest in Wei. Because of that personal commitment, Wei said he remains loyal to the school, even after programs like Penn State and Northern Arizona came sniffing around after that 25-footer.
He's undecided on a major, but biochemistry and bioengineering are two subjects that interest him.
While Wei is certainly focused on maintaining a good academic record, professional athletics are still on his mind. And he's justified in that thinking.
"I don't see limits to what I can do so far yet, " Wei said. "For me, it's a really long road. I still see this as the beginning of the season. I don't think we're done."- - -You can contact MileSplit Correspondent Logan Stanley at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LSscribe