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Where are they now? Dion Bentley

Thursday, May 22, 2003

By Rich Emert

The 100-meter dash and mile run are the featured events at any track and field competition, but in the late 1980s, the long jump took center stage at large high school meets in Western Pennsylvania thanks to Dion Bentley of Penn Hills.

His junior and senior years at Penn Hills, Bentley was, arguably, the nation's best scholastic long jumper. A 1989 graduate, he still holds the high school record in the event, going 26 feet, 9 1/2 inches in Sante Fe, Argentina.

As a junior, he set the PIAA Class AAA record of 25-5 1/4 at a Shippensburg University meet. An outstanding athlete, Bentley also holds Penn Hills' indoor track records for the 55-meter hurdles (7.6 seconds), 200-meter dash, long jump and high jump (6-8).

He went to the University of Florida, where he continued to excel in the long jump and holds the Gators' indoor (26-8 1/4) and outdoor (27-6 1/2) records. He is ranked No. 34 on the world's all-time list and No. 13 all time on the NCAA's list in the long jump. Bentley taught high school English for five years before becoming a firefighter in DeKalb County, Georgia. Bentley, 31, and his wife, Kim, live in Stone Mountain, Ga., with daughters Camille, 5, Erin, 3, and Morgan, 1.

Q: Still remember setting the record at the PIAA championships?

A: I do. I did it in my junior year and I wanted to better it my senior year, but we were jumping into a real stiff wind that day. What helped me, was there was Ron Dickerson [at State College] who was also a great long jumper. In fact, when I went 25-5, he went 25-4. I knew I couldn't let down in my training because there was this guy in the middle of the state who was working just as hard as I was. We were good for each other.

Q: Is there one thing that sticks in your mind about running high school track?

A: I liked going to the big meets, like the WPIAL championships at Baldwin. It was great to get there early and warm up with the guys, even though you might not compete for another three hours and have to warm up again. Those were just great times. I've still got all my high school medals.

Q: When you jumped at a meet it seemed as if all the other activity stopped. Were you aware of that?

A: I was, and that was such a great feeling. I liked when that happened at the state meet, and not just for me. That's one of the great things about a track meet, when you get moments like that where everyone is watching you.

Q: You weren't just a long jumper, right?

A: I ran on the 400-meter relay and did the hurdles and high jumped in high school. In college, I ran the 200 and 400 a couple times, but mostly I concentrated on the long jump.

Q: Did you ever take a shot at the Olympics?

A: I went to the U.S. trials in 1996 but I didn't make the team. I just happened to come along at a time when there were some of the greatest long jumpers in the world in the country. There was Carl Lewis, Mike Powell, Joe Greene and Robert Emmiyan all jumping at about the same time. I was eighth in the world at that time, but sixth in the U.S. I was going 27 feet and couldn't make the team. At the last Olympics, 27-6 won. If I'd be jumping now I'd be No. 1 and have shoe contracts and all kinds of endorsements.

Q: Is that your biggest disappointment, not making the Olympic team?

A: It is, but it's not something I dwell on. I just came along at the wrong time.

Q: Did you go on the European track circuit after college?

A: I did that for three years and traveled all over. I got an opportunity to see a big part of the world and got paid for doing it. It was just a great experience.

Q: What made you decide to give it up?

A: My body decided. Your legs can only take so much pounding. Carl Lewis was able to stay with [long jumping] a long time because he's 6-2 and 170 pounds. I'm 6-4 and 195, and the constant running, the constant pounding on the track you have to do to stay in shape catches up to you.

Q: Did you have to train a lot to stay one of the elite long jumpers?

A: I did. I'd get to the track at 3 p.m. for a workout and wouldn't be done until 6:30 p.m., and then at some point during the day I'd go lift weights, and I do that six days a week. By no means was it a case where I could just go out and compete and do well without any training.

Q: When did you first discover you were good at the long jump?

A: I did OK in it in ninth grade. Then my sophomore year, we were at an indoor meet at Pitt, and I was jumping in the dungeon at the field house and I went 21-5 in just a pair of tennis shoes. From that point on, I knew I had something going.

Q: You were such a good athlete in high school. Why didn't you play football?

A: Hindsight is always 20-20, and I probably should have played because I ended up with a football body. I used to have to fight to keep my weight to 195, so I could have easily been 210 or 215 and played wide receiver or defensive back. But I had colleges offering scholarships for track when I was a sophomore. Track was a way for me to get a free education and it worked out.

Q: Did you ever consider getting into coaching?

A: I have done some of that. I was helping some football players improve their 40 times with drills, and I've have done that for three or four years. Five of the guys I've helped have gotten Division I college scholarships, but I wasn't able to do it last summer because I was going to the firemen's academy. Hopefully, I'll be able to get back into that.

Q: Why did you decide to switch jobs?

A: Being a fireman makes you a member of a team and all of the camaraderie that goes along with it. That's something I missed and something you don't have as a teacher. I'm also in training to be a paramedic, and with my [college] degree there are a lot of opportunities for advancement.


Have an idea for a Where are they Now? E-mail it to emert196@attbi.com

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