Day 15: Georgia Tech's Lowe Outduels Georgia's Spencer in the High Jump - NBC Bay Area
Rivals in Rio

Rivals in Rio

The Rio Olympics Seen Through the Lens of College Sports

Day 15: Georgia Tech's Lowe Outduels Georgia's Spencer in the High Jump

The American and the St. Lucian have uncannily similar backgrounds

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    Levern Spencer, left, and Chaunté Lowe.

    Each athlete’s journey in pursuit of Olympic glory is unique, but the paths taken by American high jumper Chaunté Lowe and her Saint Lucian counterpart, Levern Spencer, have taken an uncanny number of the same twists and turns.

    Lowe, 32, is a 2006 graduate of Georgia Tech, where she was a six-time All-American.

    Spencer, 32, is a 2007 alumna of the University of Georgia, where she was a four-time All-American.

    Both women qualified for Saturday’s Olympic final with a leap of 1.94 meters, the height that all 17 women needed to advance.

    In the end, Lowe finished fourth, with a jump of 1.97. Spencer was sixth, at 1.93.

    Spain's Ruth Beita won gold, Bulgaria's Mirela Demireva got silver and Croatia's Blanka Vlasic earned bronze.

    Lowe holds the American women’s outdoor high jump record with a height of 2.05 meters, which she set at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, in June 2010.

    Spencer holds the Saint Lucian women’s outdoor high jump record with a height of 1.98 meters, which she set in Athens, Georgia, in May of 2010.

    In 2015, Lowe was inducted in the Drake Relays Hall of Fame in Des Moines.

    In April, Spencer’s leap of 1.95 meters won the Drake Relays, a first for her, much to her delight.

    “Today in terms of performance it was great because it’s a season’s best, and it’s the number one jump in the world so far, so I’m pleased with that … I’m really excited,” Spencer told St. Lucia News Online. “I’ve competed at Drake like several years, and I’m always like second or third, so finally I’m first this time, so I’m really excited for that.”

    At the time, Spencer’s jump of 1.95 meters at the Drake Relays equaled the best height in the world this year, putting her in a tie with a number of women, including Lowe.

    Lowe now owns the highest jump of the year with a leap of 2.01 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, in July.

    Rio was Spencer’s third Olympics and Lowe’s fourth.

    Lowe did not make the finals in Athens in 2004, but came in sixth in both the 2008 and 2012 Games. The latter performance came as a significant disappointment, as Lowe had arrived in London as one of the favorites.

    “I was crushed,” she said in a Refinery29 video. “I wanted to take off my shoes and throw them in the crowd and retire from track forever. Because I didn’t do that … I’ve had so many amazing blessings that would have not happened had I quit.”

    Spencer did not qualify for the finals in either the 2008 Beijing Games or the 2012 London Games. But she is the 13-time Sportswoman of the Year in Saint Lucia.

    When Spencer lifted off on Saturday night, she had the hopes of an entire nation providing wind beneath her wings.

    "If I do get a medal in Rio, my whole country would go crazy. We'll probably have a holiday or something," she told NBC 11 Alive in Atlanta.

    Lowe, too, had high hopes for her dream heading into the final.

    “I’m smarter; I’m wiser,” Lowe told the University of Oregon’s Track Bureau blog. “The race is not given to the swift, but the one who endures to the end. I’m going all the way to the end, God willing.”

    Rivals in Rio includes only schools that participate in the Nissan College 100 program.