Preparation, discipline, and a balanced lifestyle: These are the keys to success for Olympics-bound Triple Jumper Samyr Laine. A former All-American at Harvard University with a master’s degree from the University of Texas and a law degree from Georgetown University, Samyr recently passed the New York Bar Exam. Did we mention he did all this while competing internationally for Haiti, culminating last year in his qualification for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London? With only six months to go before the Games kick off, Samyr sat down with Greatist to give some insight on what it takes to thrive as world-class athlete with aspirations far beyond the Olympic stage.

Photo: Scott Heavey/Getty Images

When did you start competing in track and field?

I actually started competing when I was in seventh grade. Back then I was a little bit smaller— actually a lot smaller— and I was a distance runner. But not only did I have no interest in being a distance runner, I just wasn’t very good at it. So I was off the team in eighth grade. Then I played tennis for a little bit, but I came back to track after the 2000 Sidney Olympic Games. I guess it acted as motivation for me. That year, my coach suggested that I try out the long jump and triple jump.

[My senior year] I emailed the Harvard coach to see what the standards were to make the team. I was actually worried that I might not be good enough to travel with the team and go to meets, but the coach (Jackie Hoover at the time) reassured me that I’d be able to make the team and that they were excited to have me. I competed pretty much from the first meet onwards.

After finishing up at Harvard and the University of Texas, you moved on to Georgetown for law school. How did you manage to maintain such a rigorous training regimen in the midst of the law school grind?

[It was really about] just finding that typical [read: atypical] student-athlete balance. So if, for example, I had to take the subway home, I was on the subway working hard. If it was a Friday night, instead of going out, I was recovering from a workout and making sure I was actually ahead in my work.

What does a typical day’s workout consist of for you?

In a typical week, we lift about three times a week. I work on triple jump about two to three times a week, whether that’s plyometrics or bounding. And I’ll work on sprinting or running two to three times a week as well.

A typical running day starts with a lot of Olympic weights, whether that’s power cleans, hang cleans, power snatches, hang snatches, and of course, your big core lifts, like squats and dead lifts. And we do some smaller movements as well, just to work on the hamstrings and different motions, like lunges and step-ups one leg at a time. Then, after that we head out to the track for some hurdle mobility and hurdle walkovers to loosen up and strengthen the hips and hip flexors. Then we have some hurdles for drills: either doing lateral runs over them or skips. We call them sprint drills. After that, it’s two to three sets of sled pulls, over 30 meters. Then, it’s off to the track for the actual run work. If it’s in the fall or early winter, it’s usually longer stuff, but as the season progresses, it gets a lot shorter.

What are your most important event-specific exercise routines?

For me, cleans and snatches are really big. Not necessarily because the movements really correlate with triple jumping, but because the explosiveness and power that’s necessary to do a power clean or a hang clean really translates to jumps. Also, lunges and step-ups, because when we’re doing plyometrics and bounding exercises, we’re doing them one leg at a time, so those really help isolate one leg at a time. 

Do you ever find time for some fun, alternative workouts?

Nothing too crazy, but we do get in the pool occasionally to lighten the load on our legs. So we’ll do some drills in the pool and even some swimming to get some alternative cardio in. I used to play basketball but ankles are tough to protect when you’re doing that.

How do you prepare yourself mentally leading up to meets?

Obviously, you don’t have a team and you’re out on the runway by yourself, so it’s really about preparing yourself and visualizing what you’re going to do. That helps so that when you get in the moment, it’s not a surprise or a shock to you. Your body and mind are used to going through those motions, used to hitting the sand at a certain point, used to finishing one phase at a certain point. Also, it helps with timing. Timing is such a huge part of the triple jump, getting your timing down from your hop to your step to your jump and visualizing what it’s going to feel like.

Then you have to factor in visualizing victory, finishing ahead of everyone else. I guess it's like any sport, whether you’re shooting a game winning free throw or a penalty kick, you want to visualize achievement so that it actualizes itself. That’s a huge part of it so that when I’m coming down the runway, I can rely on my training in the moment.

Photo: Brazilian Athletics Federation

How, then, leading up to a jump, do you get your body to that point of maximum exertion and ultimate performance that your event, in particular, requires? 

Each triple jump is as much as you can get out of your body at the time. Visualizing helps with getting that effort out, especially on the sixth jump when you’re in second place and you’re tired and you need that 110 percent effort it takes to jump from second place to third place. 

What does your daily diet consist of?

The value of protein can’t be overstated, so that’s sort of the base of my diet. People typically say one gram per pound of bodyweight and that’s usually a pretty good guide, especially because your muscles need the protein to recover. Other than that, I try to get as many clean carbohydrates as I can, whether it’s kale or spinach. Black beans are also a real staple of my diet because they’re low in fat and high in carbohydrates. Aside from that, I try to minimize my fat intake. That’s not to say I don’t have my cheat day— because you end up going crazy if you don’t.

What does your pre-competition diet consist of?

Leading up to a meet, I try to keep everything light. So if I want my protein even lighter than chicken, I’d have fish. Instead of going with beef, I’d go with turkey. I don’t carbo-load the day before because for me, it’s not really necessary. I’m not running a distance race, so I keep the carbohydrate intake the same but just change up the protein.

Growing up in a Haitian-American household, has Haitian food become a part of your normal diet? 

I try to avoid it, just because you get a lot of rice and beans and pork dishes so the carbs and fat count add up pretty quickly. But my mom is really accommodating, so when I go home, she’ll grill salmon and vegetables. And instead of the typical rice, she’ll have quinoa or brown rice. 

What is your weakness when it comes to food?

That’s tough because I have more than one, [so] I try to minimize how dangerous those are. If it's potato chips, which I love, I’ll try to eat brown rice chips, which taste amazingly good but aren’t the same. Or if it’s pizza, there’s a pizza place near me called Z Pizza, where they use organic ingredients and there’s no fat, no MSG. So I’d say my weaknesses are chips and pizza, but I try to work around them if I catch myself eating them too often in a week.

That’s some serious discipline if you ask us.

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