You may not have heard of former Michigan hurdler Jeff Porter before the U.S. Track and Field Trials in June.
You still may not know his name.
But you may know him as the man who dove across the finish line for third place to achieve his goal of qualifying for the 110-meter hurdles in the 2012 London Olympics.
“Once I got back to my feet and realized that I made the U.S. Olympic team, I took a few steps before the pain in my chest hit me hard,” Porter said. “It felt like all the breath just left my body and my chest burned.”
Porter, a resident of Canton, Mich., was a national champion in the 60-meter hurdles in 2006 as a Wolverine. Under legendary track coach Ron Warhurst, Porter also was a Big Ten outdoor champion in the 110-meter hurdles twice and once in the 60-meter hurdles at the Big Ten indoor meet.
Porter is also one of 18 Michigan athletes to qualify for the Olympics, and like his fellow Olympians, he owes much to the place that groomed him to be successful.
“Being a student-athlete at Michigan was the first, in a long series, of steps that shaped me into the athlete I am today,” Porter said. “Michigan thrives on putting their student-athletes in the best and most competitive environments and this was extremely beneficial for me. As a freshman, I was competing against the best athletes in the country and that continued until I graduated.”
His collegiate competition, like Aries Merritt of Tennessee and South Carolina’s Jason Richardson, never left him, though, as Merritt placed first at the trials and Richardson took second.
The difference between the three athletes, though, could be their schooling, which Porter sees as a leg up on his competition.
“Being at Michigan forced me to learn about my event and to really study the hurdles,” Porter said. “Just like everything, you have to understand your craft before you can excel at it and that’s what I did.”
Michigan also happens to be the place where Porter met his wife and current hurdler for the United Kingdom, Tiffany (Ofili) Porter. Tiffany, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and U.K., will compete in the 100-meter hurdles in London and watch from the sidelines as Jeff takes part in his first Olympics.
Jeff will also be a part of even greater scrutiny, running for something bigger than the University. Though media coverage is nothing new for Porter, the added attention of 311 million people will be foreign to him.
“Everyone expects USA athletes to win gold, but mentally I try to stay away from that kind of pressure and enjoy this experience,” he said.
The former national champion has also been forced to change his training routine in preparation of the Olympics.
“Usually, after the USA championships, I go back to Europe and continue to compete for the remainder of the summer,” Porter said of his training routine. “After the trials, I decided to only race twice (the July 13 London Diamond meet and July 20 Monaco Diamond League meet) and spent a good portion of time training and working on my hurdling technique.”
Porter will have until Tuesday, Aug. 7 to perfect his technique before he races in the preliminary rounds. Should he advance, Porter would race the following day.
The Michigan graduate will have about 11 seconds before he has to decide if he needs to finish on his stomach again.
“When it comes to the London Olympics and I’m in a tight race, I will dive across the line in order to win and get a medal,” Porter said. “That may end up being my signature move in the hurdles.”
Maybe you’ll remember his name after London then.