Patrick Reusse: Dilling raises the bar on expectations after winning a national title

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 26, 2007 - 10:56 PM

Once the MSU Mankato high jumper began training full time, the sky IS nearly the limit.

Jim Dilling was a wide receiver at Fond du Lac High School in Wisconsin. He wanted to compete at a scholarship level, meaning Division II.

"There aren't any D-II state schools in Wisconsin, so I went across the border," Dilling said. "I looked at Moorhead and Mankato."

These are the two universities that use "Minnesota State" in the title. Dilling decided on the one in Mankato, where Mark Schuck is the track and field coach.

"I'm also in charge of orientation for the College of Allied Health," Schuck said. "I always ask the freshmen if anyone competed in track and field in high school. And Jim said yes, that he had high jumped."

When Schuck found out Dilling had cleared 6-6 in Fond du Lac, he lobbied him to give a shot to both football and high jumping for the Mavericks.

"I was leaning toward trying both," Dilling said. "Then, on the second day of fall football, I broke my collarbone. The doctors said when it healed the bone would be stronger than ever. I came back late in the season and it broke again in my first practice."

The second broken collarbone caused Dilling to forget football and turn into a full-time high jumper. His best jump as a freshman was 6-8. He qualified for the 2004 Division II meet and no-heighted at 6-5.

The notion that, three years later, Dilling could be the U.S. champion in the high jump was preposterous.

"I had never been a high jumper year-round," he said. "In high school, the season was about a month-and-a-half. More than anything, I think it was the ability to train and practice constantly that has made the difference for me."

Schuck said Dilling showed latent talent from his first workout with the Minnesota State track team.

"He's 6-5 ½ and he's very strong," Schuck said. "He can deadlift 500 pounds. As an athlete, everything he touches turns to gold."

Dilling cleared 7 feet in the first meet of his sophomore season. He went 7-3 before the year was over. He went 7-6 as a junior. This year, he went 7-6 ½ indoors in Madison, Wis., and then the same height to beat an elite field at the Drake Relays in Des Moines.

Last week, the U.S. Track and Field Championships were held in Indianapolis. Dilling, the 22-year-old from D-II, was facing 2006 U.S. champion Tora Harris, two-time U.S. champion Jamie Nieto, and Scott Sellers and Jesse Williams, the past two NCAA Division I champions.

Intimidated? "I've jumped against these guys a lot lately," Dilling said. "I beat quite a few of them at Drake."

There was rain on Sunday in Indianapolis, including during the first half of the high jump event.

"The runway was wet," Dilling said. "You had to slow down on the approach. That probably knocked a little off what it was going to take to win."

Five jumpers cleared 7-4 ¼. The bar moved an inch and Dilling cleared 7-5 ¼. No one else made it. He was a national champion -- and Mankato's first in track and field since Ted Nelson, the great middle-distance runner from the mid-'60s and briefly the world record holder at 880 yards.

"A lot of agents started talking to me after I won on Sunday," Dilling said. "I could go to Europe for meets starting next week. I don't want to make a quick decision on an agent or a company to represent me.

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