Overland Park jumper Kelly McKee faces decisive summer: Olympic training or no?

Kelly McKee
Overland Park Kelly McKee competing in the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships. Photo credit University of Virginia Media Relations

Overland Park jumper Kelly McKee has a busy post-graduate summer ahead of her, what with two big meets and the prospects of pursuing her goal to compete in the Olympics.

McKee, a lifelong Overland Park resident and 2015 St. James Academy grad who just finished her degree at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, will compete in the triple jump at two track and field events this summer. In a few weeks, she will compete at the World University Games in Naples, Italy. Later, she will compete at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

“I’m definitely really nervous because I think I’m putting a lot of pressure on it,” she said. “I don’t know if it’ll be my last couple meets, but depending on how they go, it’ll determine what my move is for next year, if I’ll continue triple jumping or not. I’m definitely really excited for the opportunities, and I’m excited to go to Italy because that’ll be my first time going abroad.”

Although she was originally on the roster for the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru this summer, USA Track & Field ended up selecting a different athlete to represent the U.S.

Instead, at the World University Games, McKee will represent university students from the U.S. alongside another UVA athlete, pole vaulter Bridget Guy.

McKee said she’s also looking forward to the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships.

“I’ll be competing with a bunch of pro athletes, which is really cool,” she said.

If she does well, then McKee would have the opportunity to compete at the IAAF World Championships, which would make her a strong candidate for a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team.

A seven-year track record

Kelly McKee
Kelly McKee placed fifth at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships. Photo credit University of Virginia Media Relations

Both competitions are a first for her, but the 22-year-old athlete already has seven years of jumping experience under her belt. She started her sophomore year at St. James Academy and eventually became the Kansas high school state champion in both the long jump and triple jump in 2015. Then she competed one season at the University of Kansas in Lawrence before transferring to Virginia.

McKee has a track record for top marks in her event, including as the 2018 All-American in the triple jump.

She broke her own school record this year in the triple jump at 13.70m, which she accomplished at the Virginia Challenge on April 20. Then she earned 1st team All-American at the 2019 NCAA Championships when she placed fifth.

Following a first-place finish in the triple jump at the Virginia Grand Prix in 2017, McKee had a successful 2018 in both indoor and outdoor events, consistently ranking high in her events.

She credits her two coaches for her success: Her strength coach Joseph Potts at TopSpeed Strength & Conditioning in Lenexa, who “transformed” her from a high school level to college level athleticism, and her Virginia coach, Mario Wilson, who has helped with her technique and form in jumping.

Olympics or career — or both?

Kelly McKee
Kelly McKee competed at the Virginia Challenge at Virginia’s home facility, Lannigan Field, on April 20. Photo credit University of Virginia Media Relations

But now, her thoughts turn to career. After completing a dual degree in computer science and cognitive science at the University of Virginia, she has other career aspirations in mind, having just accepted a job as a technology analyst for Accenture.

This could be a decisive summer for her — training, working or both?

“People keep telling me that I should continue track because next year is the Olympic year, and I’m pretty close; if you consider ‘wind legal’ jumps, I’m ranked fourth in the U.S. this outdoor season,” she said. Basically, if the wind isn’t interfering with or assisting her event, a jump is considered legal for her to count toward Olympic qualifications.

A thought lingering in the back of her mind: She doesn’t think the U.S. is very good at her event yet. At least two other women are likely able to qualify for the Olympics; she might start working to qualify to be the third.

“It’s putting me at this really good opportunity to actually go to the Olympics; anyone who does sports, it’s their dream to go there,” she said. “I’m not quite good enough in my opinion yet to just drop everything and be like OK I’m training, but I’m right there, so it’s really hard to make the decision between track and career. I’m leaning toward trying to do both at this point, trying to work and train.”