Chittchang jumps in with both feet

Track: South Carroll senior Pun Chittchang isn't particularly tall and doesn't have long legs, but she is head and shoulders above the competition in the long jump and triple jump.

April 04, 1999|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Pun Chittchang says that being a competitive jumper is sometimes like being in a world unto yourself. Jumpers often train alone, working on the specific aspects of their craft, and sit away from the rest of the team during track meets, staying close to the runway.

It's an aspect of the sport the South Carroll senior has come to accept, though it still can lead to the occasional embarrassing moment.

"Sometimes I'll be standing beside the track to cheer on my team, and I won't even know who this kid is coming around the corner wearing my uniform," said Chittchang.

For the defending Carroll County and Class 3A state champion in the long jump and triple jump, there are seldom such recognition problems. As she embarks on her final high school season, those who want to find her name need look no farther than the top of the standings.

At 5-foot-5, Chittchang doesn't fit the mold of the prototypical long-legged, lanky jumper. According to Cavaliers jumping coach Donna Fleming, however, she makes the most out of what she's got.

"If you were to look at her body build, you wouldn't guess that she was a jumper," said Fleming. "She's not real tall, and long legs do help in triple and long. But she's able to compensate with her speed and power. She has powerful legs, and that helps to carry her through."

Chittchang, whose father was born in Thailand, spent her childhood competing with brother Pat, now a sophomore jumper at UMBC. It was this sibling rivalry, she said, that first got her competitive juices flowing.

"It was the craziest thing, because I always thought you were supposed to let your little sister win," she said. "But when we'd race down the street or ride our bikes, he'd always go all out and I'd try to catch up."

She first discovered the sport at a "play day," at which county middle-school students are introduced to the various aspects of track and field. Despite the fact that she had never played competitive sports, Chittchang showed great potential, and Fleming -- her middle-school gym teacher -- took notice.

"She asked me if I was going to do this in high school. I asked, `Is play day a sport?' She said, `No, it's called track, silly.' I felt so dumb," recalled the 17-year old. "I knew I liked to run and I liked gym, but I had never thought about doing track until then."

She came into her own during her sophomore year, improving her jumps by more than a foot each and capturing second in the state long jump.

"That's when I thought, `Hey, this is fun, and I'm actually getting good at it,'" she remembered.

Now, there are few better.

Her career bests are 29 feet, 5 1/2 inches in the triple jump and 19-2 in the long. An eventual goal is to reach the coveted marks of 40 and 20, respectively, which would put her among the college elite.

Fleming thinks both marks are attainable, perhaps not this season, but definitely in the future.

"Jumpers are hard to come by these days, and it's few and far between when you come across an athlete like Pun," said Fleming. "She could probably run the 100 or 200 and do very well in those also. As far as jumpers, I haven't seen anyone better."

Chittchang said practice and outside training take up much of her free time, but she wouldn't have it any other way. She admitted, however, that dedicating herself to both events can sometimes be confusing.

"For long jump you want to get up [in the air] and triple jump is more like, stay low to the ground and go out," said Chittchang. "Sometimes I'll have trouble in my triple jump because I'll be thinking of going up and vice versa."

Though she's made it her trademark to take off at the extreme edge of the runway, she also has perfected the art of keeping her feet behind the line, sprinting her well-choreographed 16 steps and rarely scratching.

Fleming said that jumping has helped keep her student focused and given her a goal to reach for.

Chittchang said there's no better feeling then nailing the perfect jump.

"If you're slow on your approach or the wind blows, or if you lean too far forward or back, then you're not going to have a good jump," she said. "But when you do everything right, you just know it."

And others are quickly getting to know her.

Pub Date: 4/04/99

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