EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Dwight Phillips found himself at a spot many athletes reach when they hit 30, after an injury hits and their legs don’t take them places they once did.

“I had to reevaluate and decide if maybe my time was gone,” he said.

Good thing he thought twice about that.

What had the makings of the beginning of the end when he missed the Olympics last year turned out to be only a hiccup.

America’s best long jumper for most of the past decade is back on top at age 31. He won his fourth national championship Saturday, three weeks after he jumped 28 feet, 8¼ inches at the Prefontaine Classic – the longest jump in the world since Mike Powell set the world record with his 29-4½ in 1991.

“He’s got all the tools every time he steps on the runway to set a world record,” said Loren Seagrave, the coach who has helped rehabilitate Phillips’ career.

As it turned out, his failure at last year’s Olympic trials – the failure that had him thinking about quitting the sport – became the reason he stuck around.

He came to Eugene for trials, eight weeks removed from an abdominal muscle tear that shut down his training completely. Despite that setback, he finished fourth – only 2 centimeters away from making the Olympic team.

“Sometimes that’s the hardest thing for an athlete who’s accomplished as much as I have to realize, when is it time to hang it up?” Phillips said. “But my family members said, ‘No way.’ They said you missed eight weeks of training, you showed up and you were two centimeters from making the Olympic team. That put it in perspective for me.”

Also helping Phillips was his decision to join with Seagrave, who got back into the coaching business after a long hiatus. He was recommended to Phillips by Paul Doyle, his one-time coach who turned to the agent business years ago.

Seagrave has long been known as a master technician. He said when he first met with Phillips last fall, he told him they would have to start training right away, learning new habits — not always the easiest sell for an athlete with an Olympic gold medal (2004) and two world championships (2003, 2005) on his resume.

“My philosophy is … if it’s not broken, break it,” Seagrave said. “Even if you’re really good. Because you have to reengineer the athlete. Without change, there’s no improvement and he needed a lot of change. He’s thinking about how to train now.”

Seagrave said getting Phillips to buy into his program was easier than he expected. Some subtle — and not so subtle — changes have Phillips believing he’s going to break 28 feet on every jump, even the ones that aren’t so great.

At nationals, even though he won with a jump of 28-1½, his first jump was more telling. He flew 27-9, but the replay showed he took off nearly a foot behind the board.

“Before, my technique was horrible and I used to win just on talent, heart and will,” Phillips said. “Now, I feel like I’ve got some technique. I know how to jump. That makes a lot of difference.”

Phillips’ decline and comeback haven’t been without some bumps – bumps that could have lasting effects if he doesn’t manage things well.

Most notably, he is without an endorsement contract, declining a couple of decent offers made in the last few months because they weren’t at the levels he received in the middle of the decade when he was at his peak.

His agent, Caroline Feith, did not immediately respond to an interview request from The Associated Press.

“For me, No. 1, I can’t accept just mediocrity in terms of pay,” Phillips said. “If I’m performing better than I ever have, running faster than I ever have, how does that equate to me getting paid less than I ever have?”

Seagrave says he tries “not to drill down too deep” into that issue, but feels Phillips is jumping so well that he’d be likely to receive all the bonuses in the contracts that have been offered and make a good living.

Seagrave also tries to fight Phillips when he says he wants to run the 100 meters, where he’s clocking times right around 10 seconds and thinks he can get under that mark soon.

“I keep telling him that 9 meters (which would break Powell’s world record of 8.95) is more impressive than 9.9 (seconds),” Seagrave said. “I just hope he’s making good choices here.”

The choice to keep his career going has definitely been a good one.

“Right now, as long as I’m healthy, I feel like it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to beat me,” Phillips said. “I’m very confident right now. I’m in great form right now. I’m not looking back.”


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