BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- Every year there are track and field athletes that seemingly come out of nowhere and become big stars. Jacob Leigh of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School certainly falls into that category as the senior has rapidly become of the state's best sprinters and high jumpers this spring.
Last Thursday, Leigh, who was born in England, put his full arsenal on display when he turned in a stunning triple at the Union County Conference Championships at Gov. Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights.
Leigh won the 100-meter dash in a PR and NJ#8 10.84, the 400 in a NJ#2 and PR of 48.58, and the cleared 6-0 to win the high jump (he has cleared a NJ#6 6-4 this season). No one else in the state has cleared 6-4 and run under 49.
Leigh came back on Friday to place second in the 200 in a PR and NJ#16 of 22.10 to help Scotch Plains win the Watchung Division team title by one point over Westfield.
Tell me about your background. I know you've moved around quite a bit.
How did you wind up living in Scotch Plains?
A: My mum's job required her to transfer so she chose the U.S. and later married my Step Dad who is American. We ended up in Scotch Plains because my mum had heard good things about the school district and was close enough to her work.
How and when did you first get involved in track and field?
A: My only experience of running track before starting in the U.S. as a freshman was a meet at my school in Singapore. The meet included all the big International schools. The only thing I remember doing at the meet was the long jump. I didn't really know what I was doing, but still managed to break the meet record while falling back and losing a foot off my jump. I think I jumped just under 4 meters.
What do you enjoy most about living in the U.S?
A: My favorite part about living here is probably the food. There a lot of options and you're never left empty.
What are the biggest differences between living in England, Singapore and the U.S.? What was the biggest adjustment for you?
A: The difference between England and the U.S. is smaller than you think. The main difference for me is not having my whole family here. Singapore, on the other hand, feels like a different world. The things you can do there are endless, making you feel like you're in a bubble. The biggest adjustment from moving to here was getting used to a normal life.
You have run great times in the 100 (10.84), 200 (22.10), 400 (48.58), and have a best of 6-4 in the high jump this season. Those performances are all personal bests for you, so what's been the biggest key for your times coming down so much, especially in the 400, and for your improvement in the high jump?
A: The biggest difference from this year and last year is how seriously I have been taking track. I trained throughout the summer and fall seasons on my speed and stamina so that I would be ahead of everyone going into the indoor season. I started doing a lot of research on how to improve my start as it was one of my biggest weaknesses. My 400m time dropped, too, because I have been putting in a lot work at practice and got more familiar with the race. The high jump improvement came once my coaches told me it was either I start jumping better or I'll be running the 4x400 during championship season. Out of nowhere, I got a 4 inch PR.
You didn't start running the open 400 until this winter, and now you are ranked No. 2 in the state this season. What made you decide to run the 400, and how surprised are you by your success in that race?
A: I started running the 400m because last year I had a few good splits on the 4x400 and my coaches figured I could score us a lot of points. I wasn't expecting to run 48.58 on my first outdoor 400m. I thought it would take a couple races to get used to running it. Hopefully I'll be able to improve further as the season goes along.
When was your big breakthrough meet or race-when you knew you started to see that you had the potential to be really good at track?
A: I think it was something I had always kind of known. Growing up there were never many kids who were faster than me so I assumed if I ran track I would most likely be good.
What do you enjoy the most about track and field, and what is your favorite event and why?
A: My favorite thing about track is being able to see my progression and competing. My favorite event is the 100m, but I enjoy every event I do.
Do you play any other sports? Did you give up any sports in order to compete in track and field instead?
A: I used to play football (soccer), but gave it up after breaking my toe as a sophomore since I saw I had a lot more potential in track. I also used to play field hockey in England and Singapore, but stopped once I moved here.
How tough was it to miss your whole sophomore track and field season?
A: I broke my left big toe playing football one week from our first meet. It was pretty rough missing the season because I knew I had let my coaches and team down.
What kind of personal goals do you have for the rest of the season in terms of the times you want to run and how high you'd like to jump?
A: I would like to run 10.7 in the 100m, 21.55 in the 200m, 48.0 in the 400m and 6'6 in hj.
What are your plans for the future? Have you decided on a college and a major, and are you planning to compete in track and field in college?
A: I'm going to be competing at NJIT next year and majoring in Industrial Design.