Cal Track and Field: Triple Jumper Poised for Liftoff to Big Things

Junior Tuomas Kaukolahti brings talent, drive and ambition from his homeland in Finland

Cal triple jumper Tuomas Kaukolahti’s targets for the remainder of this collegiate track and field season are straight-forward and within his reach.

“Top three at NCAAs — that’s the goal,” he said. “And of course to push the PR to the 16.70, 16.80 range.”

For those not well-versed in metrics, 16.80 meters translates to 55 feet, 1 1/2 inches.

That would break the Cal school record of 55-0, set by Ken Williams way back in 1985.

(Click here for a video of Kaukolahti talking about life in Helsinki.)

Obviously, eclipsing a 34-year-old record isn’t easy. Neither is pronouncing the name of the junior from Helsinki, Finland. Our best shot: Twuoh-mas Kow-kuh-lah-tee

“It is a very difficult name for anyone other than Estonian or Finnish,” he concedes.

This weekend should be somewhat easier than that for Kaukolahti, who takes the final step toward the NCAA Championships at the West preliminary qualifying meet in Sacramento. The meet begins today, although the men’s triple jump isn’t contested until Saturday.

Kaukolahti, the two-time Pac-12 champion, needs only a top-12 finish to advance to the NCAA nationals, June 6-8 at Austin, Texas. His season and personal best of 54-1 3/4 (16.50 meters) ranks fifth among all triple jumpers in the NCAA this spring and is the third-best wind-legal mark.

Kaukolauhti, 25, came to Berkeley as a sophomore a year ago, having previously studied chemical engineering at Aalto University in Helsinki. He contacted Cal, initially asking if the school would take him as a one-year, foreign-exchange student and athlete.

Instead, he was offered a scholarship, but only if he was willing to commit to staying through his eligibility while pursuing a degree. Kaukolahti accepted and is now majoring in nutritional science physiology and metabolism. He hopes to someday work with athletes or do research.

Cal jumps coach Nick Newman describes Kaukolahti as a serious student with interests and goals beyond athletics. But that’s not to suggest Kaukolahti doesn’t have long-term goals for his triple-jumping career.

Ask him what 17.14 meters represents, and Kaukolahti knows immediately it’s the Finnish national record. The 56-2 3/4 mark was set two years ago by Simo Lipsansen, who broke a 49-year-old national record.

Kaukolahti knows Lipsanen well, having competed against him numerous times. He beat Lipsanen, in fact, to win 2016 Finnish national championship.

“It’s a really small circle within the country, especially within jumps,” Kaukolahti said.

But 17.14 is more than just the Finnish record — it’s also the 2020 Tokyo Olympics standard.

Kaukolahti is two feet shy of that distance but it serves more as a motivation than a deterrent.

“I believe it’s out there that I could achieve that,” he said. “Everything needs to go as planned.”

So far, so good, according to Newman, who likes Kaukolahti’s progression this season and believes he will reach 16.80 at the NCAA meet. Kaukolahti also will compete at the World University Games at Italy in early July.

“He does have numbers outside of triple jump that are equal with a lot of athletes who jump over 17 meters,” Newman said. “His bounding tests, his weight room numbers, his top sprinting speed … it all tells you that 17.20 (56-5 1/4) is there.”

Newman says Kaukolahti has jumped 55 feet more than once, only to foul.

“I just need to make the jump,” Kaukolahti said.

Seventeen meters (55-9 1/4) is hard, Newman says, referring to it as a threshold for big-time triple jumpers. Only 21 athletes worldwide achieved that plateau in 2018. Newman believes it’s within reach for Kaukolahti, as is the Olympics.

Newman is all the more impressed because Kaukolahti is about more than just triple jumping.

“He’s such an interesting guy because he’s so academic as well, he’s so good in school. He’s got so many professional goals,” Newman said. “He’s very talented, very smart. He’s different than anybody I’ve coached.

“Most people who jump 17 meters are so single-minded, they don’t even care about anything else. He’s not that guy. And he’s still doing well.”