Focusing On One Event Has Led Tyson Gunter Back To The World Championships
by Steve Drumwright
Tyson Gunter’s 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame is ideally suited for the high jump, an event he excelled at for years.
Though he’s also competed as a sprinter and long jumper, including at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, the McCammon, Idaho, native enjoyed his greatest success going over the horizontal bar. That includes winning a pair of World Para Athletics World Championships silver medals in the T13 event, in 2013 and 2017.
Now, Gunter is gearing up for the 2023 world championships, which will be held July 8-17 in Paris, site of the 2024 Paralympics. Only this time it is exclusively in the long jump. That’s because high jump is not on the program in Paris.
At the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, there were three men’s divisions of the high jump and 10 in the long jump, but the program for championship meets regularly changes to reflect participation and competitiveness in each event. For visually impaired athletes like Gunter, who is mostly blind after being born with albinism, that means no more high jump.
“High jump is really hard for being visually impaired and there’s very few of us that do it,” said Gunter, also noting that high jump takes more time than other events. “There’s a lot of challenges that come along with it, but I think it’s probably a harder event for a lot of visually impaired athletes. Because of that, there’s a little bit lower participation.”
Still, it isn’t like long jump is a new event for Gunter. Now 36, Gunter also competed in the long jump at the 2013, 2015 and 2017 world championships, finishing as high as fifth. He also raced distances ranging from 100 to 400 meters in the past, getting as far as the 400-meter T13 final in Rio.
The new focus also comes at a time of philosophical change in his life. Gunter has been reading “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown.
“It’s becoming a game-changer in my life, like doing things that are essential,” Gunter said. “The whole idea is you can do less things and do them a lot better. So because I’ve been able to focus more on the long jump, I’ve been able to make things happen better. My training is better, my speed is better, my form is better because I’m not distracted with other things.”
When he attended Idaho State University, Gunter competed in the high, long and triple jumps, as well as sprinting events. He said he loved the diversity of events, but he’s enjoyed narrowing his focus to the long jump.
His personal best in the long jump — 7.5 meters (24 feet 7 1/4 inches) — came in college. In Para competition, he said he recorded a jump of 6.76 meters (22 feet 2 1/4 inches) this year. So what are his expectations at worlds?
Gunter says he’s focusing on “process goals” over “outcome goals,” but if all goes as he hopes, he has a realistic chance at medaling.
“There’s a lot of younger athletes coming up and they’re improving, so we’ll see what happens,” he said. “But I think I’m in a good position to medal and to jump over 23 feet again.”
The second part of that equation is out of his control. Even if Gunter has the jump of his life at worlds, he knows three others could do the same thing and surpass him, leaving him off the podium.
“Now even though there’s athletes that are better than you, I still have a little bit of a competitive edge that I’m going to say, ‘You know what? You might be better on paper, but I’m still going out and I’m going to try to beat you,’” he said. “But I also have a realistic view of like, ‘Hey, I know where I’m at. I know where I can potentially place,’ and I’m going to go for that.”
While he has been focused on worlds and the Paralympics, Gunter also knows in the back of his mind that this could be his last Paralympic cycle. He stressed that no decisions have been made on that front. The training cycle is much different than what he was used to in college, where athletes geared up for each season. Paralympic athletes, meanwhile, use the four-year cycle to prepare for the next Paralympics, with the world championships being the main stepping stone in that process.
“Clearly the Paralympic Games is the jewel or the ultimate goal, right?” said Gunter, who is chronicling his journey to Paris on his YouTube channel. “I feel really great and I know there’s a lot of younger athletes that are emerging in the visually impaired class. So ultimately, it’s going to come down to, ‘Can I still be competitive?’ And it’ll tell me my chances of making the team next year or not, which is also very competitive.”
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to USParaTrackandfield.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.