Los Angeles — His rock-hard legs are his life in the highly competitive world of track and field. That, plus his positive attitude are the keys for 26-year-old Larry Myricks, a 6 ft. 1 in. world class long jumper whose ramrod body suggests he could shower in a rifle barrel. Twice he has qualified for the Olympic Games.
The record for the long jump is still held by Bob Beamon, now retired, who leaped an incredible 29 ft., 2 1/2 in. in the favorable, high altitude conditions of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. But Myricks, whose best jump so far is 27-11 1/2, thinks he can break it. Others shooting at Beamon's record include Carl Lewis and East Germany's Lutz Dombrowski, the defending Olympic champion.
Both Myricks and Lewis, the 1982 Sullivan Award winner and the first American ever to exceed 28 feet at sea level, will be competing at this year's UCLA/Pepsi Invitational track meet at Drake Stadium on Sunday, May 16.
To start at the beginning with Myricks, you have to go all the way back to when he was a junior high school basketball player in Jackson, Miss. There was a basketball game going on in the school's gym when the track coach just happened to come by, noticed Larry's rebounding ability, and saw in those effortless leaps the makings of a champion long jumper. Practice and the instinctive feel all great athletes develop for their sport did the rest.
For those unfamiliar with the long jump, it requires speed, balance, concentration, and tremendous body control. Most long jumpers start their run between 130 and 150 feet from a takeoff board.
Myricks' personal preference from first step to board is 145 feet. He competes in lightweight but sturdy sprint shoes equipped with spikes one-eighth of an inch long, precluding the possibility of them getting caught on anything.
The 8-inch wide wooden takeoff strip is flush with today's popular synthethic tracks and has a clay surface in front so that if the competitor foot-faults by coming too far forward, his mistake can be read easily by officials. Jumpers are generally given six chances to show what they can do.
''The idea is to run as fast as you can toward the takeoff board without letting yourself get out of control,'' Myricks explained. ''If you are at all slow in your aproach, then you're going to get too much arc and sacrifice distance. But if you can learn to come off the board like a huge coiled spring, then you'll probably get maximum performance or something close to it.
''Actually you take a little body dip just before you jump like an offensive rebounder trying to put the ball back up toward the basket, only not as exaggerated. The distance you get is often in direct relation to how successful you were in lowering your body's center of gravity.''
Myricks's style is to run 2 1/2 strides while still in the air - a maneuver known in long jumping as a hitch kick - allowing his forward momentum to take over until he runs out of flight time.
''Basically long jumping is another part of sprinting,'' Larry said. ''The faster you come down the runway, the farther you go. It's like throwing a rock, the harder you throw the greater distance it travels.''
''After you've jumped for a number of years, you get to know yourself so well that you can tell when you're not doing things just right,'' he added. ''But it's nice to have a coach around who understands you and can help with corrections. I had a great long jump coach when I was at Mississippi College in Joe Walker, who is now at Ole Miss.''
An indication of the depth of Myricks's dedication is that he has twice overcome broken ankles (both left and right) to resume a career that could easily have been tossed aside. After the first break, Larry wasn't able to train again for six months; the second time, it was a year and a half.
Myricks, who has a college degree in business management, is in an executive training program with First Interstate Bank in Montclair, Calif. Prior to that, he was on Florida Gov. Robert Graham's physical fitness staff.
Larry maintains a rigid five day a week training program, practicing between 1 1/2 and 2 hours every day. In 1979 that work paid off as he became the first long jumper in 20 years to win both the NCAA title and the AAU crown in the same year. And judging from what other long jumpers have done, he figures his peak years are still ahead of him.
Myricks made the 1976 US Olympic team and qualified for the finals at Montreal, but sustained one of those broken ankles warming up and had to withdraw from the competition. He earned an Olympic berth again in 1980, but the United States did not compete in Moscow. Now it's time to start thinking about the long grind leading to a bid for another try in 1984, but with the Games being held pratically in his backyard in Los Angeles, and with people like Lewis around to push him, motivation is no problem.