Paula Girven (Left)
Seven years before Virginia even contested indoor track for women is how old the oldest indoor state record is. That record is Paul Girven's (Gar Field) 1975 6'-1.25" clearance in the high jump. She remains to this day the only VA girl to ever eclipse six feet indoors and until last year was the only one outdoors as well.
Since that time 31 ladies have jumped 5-8, 12 have jumped 5-9, and six have jumped 5-10. Yet she is still the lone athlete to ever clear that biggest of barriers indoors.
The legend of Paula Girven though goes much further than just one record. She was also a hurdler, long jumper, and anchor on the 4x4. She led her Gar Field team to multiple state titles including some where she single-handedly scored 40 points.
Despite not having an indoor season, she graduated in 1976 and indoors did not allow girls until 1982, she still amassed 9 state titles outdoors. That is a state record that no girl has ever beat, though Francena McCorory did come close with eight indoors. Two matched it outdoors.
It was 45 years ago that she set this record in 1975 as a junior but 1976 was a bigger year for her.
The year was 1976 and that, like this year was supposed to be, meant it was an Olympic year. Even though she will still in high school she had big goals on her mind and one of them was making it to the Montreal Olympics.
To prepare for the Olympics she dropped the long jump competition and narrowed her focus on the long jump and peaking at the right time. She even travelled to Moscow and Canada to garner some international competition and had to petition the VHSL to allow her to compete in national caliber meets that conflicted with her district track date.
By the time the trials came around she was hitting her marks every meet and clearing six feet regularly. She was the national record holder for high jump and just one month after her high school graduation she made the Olympic team.
She was Prince William County's first Olympian and also the only VA athlete to ever make an Olympic team prior to college by our findings. Ultimately she made the finals and finished 18th overall at the Olympics.
Between her first Olympics and the 1980 Games Girven would go on to compete for the University of Maryland and set multiple school records for the Terrapins including a 6-2 best in the high jump. After her collegiate career she trained and competed with the Houston Track Club.
Now with Olympic experience under her belt and a new PR, Paula was ready for the 1980 Games. Unfortunately though politics got in the way and the United States boycotted the games barring any American athlete from competing.
Girven would have had a serious shot at winning a medal in Moscow. She made the team at the trials in Eugene by finishing second in a tie-breaker with her 6-1.25 clearance. She also placed highly in three of the pre-Olympic international meets finishing 6th in West-Stuttgart, 3rd in Philadelphia, and 4th in London.
Simply put, Girven was primed for the biggest meet and performance of her life.
Though you can definitely spin things one way or another when it comes to jumps and peaking at the right time. Girven's stats put up a good argument that she always performed best when it mattered the most.
She made the Olympics as a high schooler in 1976 and made the finals. She performed well on an international stage against big name stars and also didn't let last second changes get in the way. One big example of that was the Olympic trials in 1980 where the committee raised the starting height for the women at the last minute to make sure that competition didn't get in the way of the men's decathlon.
Paula Girven, like many athletes back in those times, had to make due with what she was given or allowed to do. Being a high jumper though prepared her for those ups and downs throughout her career including the heartbreak that she was not allowed to compete in her prime at 22 years old.
Being a high jumper means focusing on what you, yourself, can control. Her success and attitude as an elite athlete and high jumper is a strong message for athletes today. Control what you can control and set goals so high that people will be writing about them 45 years later.