Something was wrong. There wasn’t a worse time for Jacob Fincham-Dukes’ abilities to escape him.
He was competing in the England Athletics Under-20 Championships in Bedford, England, on June 21, 2014, and every time he landed a jump, his legs came in behind him.
With a trip to the World Junior Championships on the line, Fincham-Dukes was puzzled with his performance. Between his fourth and fifth jumps, he expressed his frustration to his father, Andy Dukes.
“Dad, I don’t know why this is happening,” Fincham-Dukes said.
“Forget everything else,” Dukes told his son. “I don't know why you are jumping so badly, so all I want you to do is run as fast as you can at the board and take off.”
Fincham-Dukes listened to his father’s advice, and he completed one of the best jumps of his pre-collegiate career.
After the conversation, Fincham-Dukes sat down to collect himself.
“That message was perfect for me,” Fincham-Dukes said.
He followed up his short break with a jump that shattered his previous best of the day. Fincham-Dukes jumped 7.39 meters, and the jump after that he catapulted himself into first place with a mark of 7.61 meters.
Fincham-Dukes clinched a spot at the World Junior Championships where he would cross paths with his future.
Becoming a Cowboy and the woman who made it happen
He thought she was strange.
After a national championship, Fincham-Dukes ventured out to his car like every meet, but this departure was different. On the way to his car, Oklahoma State jumps coach Zivile Pukstiene stopped Fincham-Dukes.
Despite not jumping the best overall performance, Pukstiene was still inspired to talk to Fincham-Dukes. She showed him some pamphlets about the OSU jumping program and made her pitch to Fincham-Dukes
He said it was odd to see a short, blonde woman with a Lithuanian accent after a meet.
Although they had an odd, yet productive meeting in the parking lot, he already knew where he was going.
Fincham-Dukes thought he would be a Longhorn. Texas had the best program in the Big 12. The Longhorns had won 25 track and field titles, more than any other team, and were on their way to winning seven more by the end of 2016.
Kareem Streete-Thompson, a former Olympian, was Texas’ jumps coach. It seemed an easy decision to make.
Then Fincham-Dukes traveled to Eugene, Oregon, for the 2014 World Junior Championships when he saw Pukstiene again.
The pair talked for a while, but where Pukstiene won Fincham-Dukes over was in his inbox.
“She kept in really good contact with me, emailing me, asking how I was, asking how my training was going, so I felt a stronger personal connection with this coach,” Fincham-Dukes said. “I was like ‘Wow, my personal working relationship with her is going to be far better than this guy who seems to be messaging me when he needed something or asking me questions.’”
The pair was a perfect fit, partly because Fincham-Dukes said Pukstiene is like his coach back home, Matt Barton.
For Pukstiene, she enjoys his work ethic.
“He wants to be good,” Pukstiene said. “You cannot coach that. He’s a competitor, so he goes all the time (and tries) his best.
“What else can you ask for?”
Fincham-Dukes suffers early from injuries
Fincham-Dukes crashed down to the field.
During a soccer practice when he was 14, his team’s goalkeeper dove at Fincham-Dukes, and the now-Cowboy unknowingly injured his Achilles. He didn’t see a doctor about the pain, so he played through it.
Four days later in a game, Fincham-Dukes’ took another tumble to the turf. This time a defender slid into him from behind, and his Achilles injury flared up.
This time it was much worse.
Fincham-Dukes said he didn’t know what the exact injury was, but the pain kept him out of any sport for three months.
“It’s one of the things of sport that people don’t understand,” Fincham-Dukes said. “I’m watching the people who I practice with, and I’m stuck throwing medicine balls or doing push ups.
“It’s tough, but you kind of have to look at it as temporary. It just means I can work on some weaknesses so I can be better in the long run.”
What came to be in the long term for Fincham-Dukes was a jumping career. Before his injury, track and field was just a way to improve his speed for soccer, but his whole plan changed.
Dukes said it was because he and his son realized he couldn’t play soccer and recover from injuries in time to jump on the weekends.
Unfortunately for Fincham-Dukes, the injuries still came from track and field.
Fincham-Dukes struggles, leans on family
In his freshman season at OSU, Fincham-Dukes didn’t have luck on his side.
He planned on setting the school’s indoor and outdoor records in the long jump, but injuries plagued his debut season in Stillwater. He tweaked his left hamstring, rolled his ankles twice, felt pain in his left knee and shin, strained his right quad and suffered from tendinitis.
Fincham-Dukes struggled to jump as well as he had hoped, but his family was there to pick him up.
“My family’s been everything, especially my dad,” Fincham-Dukes said. “He’s been able to keep me motivated about things when I’ve been down about things. He always there to reassure me of my abilities.
“I guess he’s just that thing in the back of my head that’s telling me ‘you’re better than you think you are right now. You may not be doing as good as you want, you’re hurt right now, but you’re better than this.’”
Fincham-Dukes recovered and has shown the jumping world what he is capable in his second year at OSU.
The OSU record book looks a lot different now than it did at the beginning of 2017.
Fincham-Dukes has set both the indoor and outdoor records in the long jump.
Because of Fincham-Dukes, the indoor record now stands at 7.68 meters. He completed that jump on Feb. 10 at the New Mexico Don Kirby Elite Invitational.
Fincham-Dukes is confident in his abilities to set the indoor record again.
He said after his indoor season that he knows he will break the outdoor record.
He was right.
Fincham-Dukes smashed the school record and his own personal best with a jump of 8.02 meters on April 15 at the Horned Frog Invitational.
He said his success this outdoor season has come from his workouts in the fall and the rest he has taken. Fincham-Dukes said he has taken a few competitions off, and he has felt less tired.
Going into Saturday’s Big 12 Championships, Fincham-Dukes has a chance to be the first Cowboy to win a jumping title since 1962 when Charles Strong won the outdoor long jump in the Big 8. He has already experienced two postseason events this year, and he is using them as a stepping stone.
His last time jumping in a championship-level event was at the NCAA Indoor Championships when he finished one spot away from the final round.
Fincham Dukes said on paper the jump was good, but he’s not finished.
“I underperformed a bit,” Fincham-Dukes said. “I see it as a positive.
“I feel like I’m stepping into a new level of jumping.”