Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, May 17, 2001

Natasha Kai of Kahuku, pictured, and Kelly Figueira
of Sacred Hearts are expected to duel for top honors
in the state long jump Saturday

Making a jump
to the top

Figueira and Kai
square off in the state
long jump Saturday on Maui

By Kalani Simpson

Try to keep up with Natasha Kai. Here she is at the long jump. Then running in the 110-meter high hurdles. Back to the long jump and then the triple. Checking in at the high jump. Running the 4x100 relay. The triple jump again. Then the 300 hurdles. Back to the high jump. But at the triple jump, they're waiting.

"Miss Kai!"

She's not coming back. She's already moved on to the next event, her marks good enough to win the last one.

She's been even busier, at times. She plays basketball for Kahuku as well, and once she practically went from a 300-hurdles race to a basketball game, Bo Jackson-like, running right through the finish line and into another sport.

She never stops.

This weekend's state championship meet at War Memorial Stadium on Maui promises more of the same. Kai will be in as many events as she can, and she'll try to win them all, in the same whirlwind style.

But many of us will be watching one of her events with particular interest this Saturday. The long jump.

There the relentless Kai, state champ turned underdog, will go against Kelly Figueira, the girl with springs in her shoes and the wind in her hair.

Oh, and Figueira, a Sacred Hearts junior, has one more thing going for her.

She's already broken the state record.

Figueira is the girl who couldn't hit the board.

A tremendous leaper, Figueira is a tremendous mix of ability and aptitude, of power and finesse. She flies.

Her jumps were astounding. But they didn't count. Not all of them.

For the life of her, she couldn't hit the takeoff board. She jumped from behind the foul line. A little behind it. A lot behind it. A foot behind it. Once, two feet behind it.

She was losing massive tracts of real estate with each jump. She backed up. She went forward. Nothing worked. It was baffling. It was defeating. It was frustrating.

And yet, she won. Won by a lot. She won meets. She set records. She was that good. But she still couldn't hit that board.

And then one day, she did. And it counted. And it was farther than anyone had ever jumped.

And so now she's the favorite.

Kai is the one who got jilted by the board. That's what we remember.

It had been one of those special days in Hawaii girls track history. Again she was everywhere, doing everything. Winning six events. A hand in four meet records. Her all-around performance was spectacular.

But the most astounding number came from the long-jump pit. It was a thunderbolt. This was farther even than Figueira's historic leap a few weeks earlier. The strike had relegated the state champ to the sidelines with the public schools, while Figueira stole the spotlight in the ILH. But not now. Now Kai was the best that ever was. The new mark was Ruthian. The new mark was staggering.

It was false.

Yes, Figueira's jumps from the back of the board consistently lost a foot of distance. Kai's giant leap, was mistakenly measured from the back of the board --adding a foot of distance --and it counted. Until the error was discovered.

The state record was suddenly, dramatically, stunningly hers. And then it was suddenly, dramatically, stunningly snatched away. For a few hours, she ruled the world. And then it was gone. That's what we remember.

Her day of brilliance, the six wins, the long jump that was still a good one, good enough to set a meet record, good enough to put her back in the state long jump hunt, all of that faded.

So now she's the challenger.

Last year a quarter of an inch separated them when Kai won the championship at the state meet.

Figueira knows the name Natasha Kai. And Kai knows the name Kelly Figueira.

This Saturday is the first and only time they will compete against each other this season.

Heaton Wrenn is one of Oahu's most respected track officials. He is the man at the long jump pit with the tape measure, the baseball cap and the big voice. Few have seen more long jumps or long jumpers in the last several years. He should be the authority. He says the upcoming challenge should be a lot of fun.

"I really think you could have some historic jumps there on Maui," he said.

Maui is a haven for long jumpers. Most marks there are generally better than those at Punahou or Mililani on Oahu. The conditions are ideal.

And so are these two competitors.

On Kai: "There's no question in my mind that she's capable of 19 feet."

On Figueira: "I well expect in my mind Miss Figueira to go over 19 feet, and if she hits the board she could push 20."

If she hits the board.

If she doesn't, anything can happen.

But then again, Kai, with all of her events, will be running late into the night tomorrow and could be tired. Still ...

"I wouldn't bet against her," he said.

No, Heaton Wrenn is not a betting man.

Kai's best jump was 18 feet, 8 inches on a Saturday morning after playing OIA basketball for four nights in a row.

Figueira consistently records similar distances while jumping behind the foul line.

She can go much farther if she hits the board.

On the other hand, Kai, the dogged competitor, could break 19. Maybe. If everything goes right. If she doesn't wear herself out. (But then, Kahuku coaches say, this will be the first time that she's rested.)

You can't bet against Kai.

But Figueira is the better pure long jumper. She's jumped farther than anyone ever in the state. She's the favorite. Isn't she?

It could be a contest for the ages.

"The talent is on Figueira," Wrenn said. "But from watching Natasha Kai, that heart is unbelievable."

You never know. Too close to call. And that's why we'll watch.

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