Hemingway and Acuff Added to Kansas Relays Gold Zone

April 8, 2005

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas Relays Meet Director Tim Weaver announced Friday the appearance of Olympic Silver Medallists Matt Hemingway and Austra Skujyte and Olympic high jump finalists Amy Acuff and Jamie Nieto at the Kansas Relays GOLD ZONE. Hemingway was runner-up in the Olympic high jump; Skujyte took second in the heptathlon, while Acuff and Nieto both placed fourth in the Athens Games in their respective high jump competitions.

“The high jumps were two of the most entertaining events in Athens, so it is natural that we sought out the best American jumpers from the Olympic games for the GOLD ZONE,” Weaver said. “Plus, we’ll have one of the world’s greatest overall athletes, as an Olympic Silver Medal in the heptathlon proves. These invitational jumps will be fast, action packed competitions with only six athletes each. Our fans will be able to enjoy the invitational field events like never before.”

Hemingway claimed the Silver Medal in a spectacular Olympic high jump final. He was in first place throughout most of the competition, jumping without a miss through 7-8.00. The world’s top-ranked jumper, Stefan Holm of Sweden, had two misses at that height, as well as a failed attempt at an earlier height. But at 7-8.75in, it was Holm who prevailed, clearing on his first attempt while Hemingway missed three times. A fourth-place finisher at the 1996 Olympic Trials, Hemingway did not compete in 1998 and 1999, saying he was tired of the sport and it was no longer fun for him. He spent those two years as a whitewater raft guide in Colorado. Returning in 2000, he broke his personal best mark (PR) on three occasions. Hemingway’s best clearance of 7-9.75 earned him the 2000 U.S. Indoor title and was the best indoor jump in the world that year.

“Matt’s story is a great one. He walked away from the sport for two years, trained by playing basketball and running with his dog, then came back to be one of the premiere jumpers in the world,” Weaver said. “The guy can elevate every part of his body over a bar suspended 7 feet – 9.75 inches in the air. I could barely reach that high just to put the bar up on the standards! The GOLD ZONE will be about astonishing performances, and Matt is just the right athlete to deliver.”

Kansas State alumn Skujyte won the Silver Medal in the Heptathlon at the 2004 Athens Olympics behind Carolina Kluft of Sweden. Also in 2004, Skujyte claimed the Bronze Medal at the World Indoor Championships. In 2003 she placed 10th at the World Track & Field Championships in Paris. No stranger to the international stage, the Lithuanian placed 12th in the heptathlon at the 2000 Sydney Games and was sixth at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton. A two-time NCAA heptathlon champion (`01, `02), Skujyte is the current collegiate, Big 12 and Kansas State record-holder in the pentathlon.

“Austra was the female Athlete of the Meet at the Kansas Relays last year, and she continued her success right through Athens,” Weaver said. “This woman has no weak event. She is trying the decathlon this year and will give some male decathletes a run for their money. As the runner-up at the Olympics, she has made a name for herself the world over as one of the most gifted athletes in the sport.”

Acuff is a three-time Olympian, six-time U.S. champion, five-time NCAA champion, and was the 1997 World University Games champion. Acuff placed fourth in the women’s high jump at the 2004 Olympic Games in a dramatic, four-woman competition for the top three spots. She enjoyed a strong 2003 season in winning her fourth USA Outdoor title and posted the best clearance by an American since 1998 with a personal best of 6ft-7in. A model in her spare time, Acuff has enjoyed international exposure in TV commercials and has appeared in Playboy, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Maxim, Vogue and other magazines.

“Amy is a tremendous competitor who has been successful on the national and international stage,” said Weaver. “She was so close to the medal stand in Athens, she’ll certainly have both the confidence and motivation to `raise the bar’ even higher as she prepares for the 2005 season. She is a world-class athlete, a delightful person, and because of her athletic success and popularity as a model, one of the most famous athletes in track and field. She’s a great addition to the GOLD ZONE and will be one of the most popular athletes in Memorial Stadium.”

Nieto enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2003 with his win at the U.S. Outdoor Championships. He only got better in 2004, winning the Olympic Trials and taking fourth at the Olympic Games, setting a personal best in Athens of 7ft-8in. Ranked among the top 10 U.S. high jumpers since 1998, Nieto had never been ranked higher than 4th – or finished higher than 4th at the USA Outdoor Championships – before winning the 2003 national title, his first national crown on any level. In 2003, he equaled his then personal best of 7ft-6.5in on three occasions and posted six of the top eight clearances by an American that season. Nieto is now coached by Cliff Rovelto of Kansas State.

“Jamie is one the best people you could ever meet, athlete or otherwise. He brings a unique energy to a competition with his celebrations and gymnastics,” Weaver said. “He set a PR last year of 7ft-8in and is clearly looking to take his performances even higher – and performance is the right word for Jamie. He is gamer who loves the big-stage – a perfect example of how entertainment and competition are coming together in the GOLD ZONE.”

Also competing in the Women’s Invitational High Jump will be Kansas State alum and US Champion Gwen Wentland (6ft-5in) and Carri Long (6ft-2in), who was a USATF Club Champion and an Olympic Trials finalist. Athletes joining the Olympians for the Men’s Invitational High Jump include two-time NCAA medallist Kyle Lancaster (7ft-6in) of Kansas State and a pair of University of Nebraska NCAA All-Americans, Dusty Jonas and Aaron Plas, both of whom have both cleared 7ft-3.75in.

The 78th Kansas Relays will run from April 21 – 23; the GOLD ZONE is Saturday, April 23 from 2:00 – 5:00 pm. For more information on the Kansas Relays, a complete GOLD ZONE schedule, and ticket information, visit http://kuathletics.collegesports.com/sports/c-relay/