Gators at Olympics: At long last, Dendy prepares to live out Olympic dreams in Tokyo

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun
Marquis Dendy competes during the qualifying round for men's long jump at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Friday, June 25, 2021, in Eugene, Ore.

There is a famous line in the legendary 1989 film, “Field of Dreams.” 

In one scene, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, asks Moonlight Graham, played by Burt Lancaster, what it felt like for Graham to play just one inning of an MLB game for his entire career. 

Graham responds, “It was like being this close to your dreams and then having them brush past you, like a stranger in a crowd.” 

After the 2016 Summer Olympics, perhaps no one encapsulated that line more than Marquis Dendy. 

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The former Gators sprinter qualified for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, but an Achilles injury forced him to withdraw. 

If Dendy’s story ended there, it would have been a tragedy. 

But luckily for track fans everywhere, it did not, and Dendy earned another chance to experience his dream in the long jump from Tokyo. 

Dendy obtained a spot on Team USA after finishing second in the long jump at U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon. 

The track star said he entered knowing exactly what to expect, except in one regard: The heat. 

The trials were conducted during a massive Pacific Northwest heat wave, which caused a four-hour delay in the start time of the long jump. According to Dendy, the track felt like 130 degrees. 

Dendy admitted he benefited from the heat more than others due to his time at UF from 2012 to 2015, when he won the Bowerman Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate track athlete. 

“I believe most of the SEC athletes out there were more prepared,” he said. “We knew exactly how to hydrate and what you had to do to get the most out of your body in that weather.” 

Despite the temperature, Dendy overcame the odds and provided one of the best performances of his career and landed at 8.38 meters, just off his 2016 trials mark of 8.42 meters. 

He said he feels more technically sound than 2016, which makes up for the downfall in his athleticism. 

“I enjoy that I am getting close to my same numbers,” he said. “But I know I need to get stronger and get faster so I can outperform my best and put up even crazier numbers.” 

Numbers like that resulted in experts to peg Dendy the favorite in the long jump in Rio before the injury. He won the 2015 U.S. Track and Field Championships and the 2016 World Indoor Championships in the category. 

The All-American dealt with minor injuries throughout college and before the 2016 games, but didn’t fully realize the extent until he arrived at training camp. 

“I was still doing rehab because I thought it was just a calf injury I had suffered from a jump,” he said. “But one of the team doctors told me, ‘Your Achilles is torn, you need to go home.”’ 

Dendy received the news just two days before the team was set to fly to Brazil. 

“I was obviously absolutely devastated,” he said. “But I knew I’d make another team, I just had to stay focused and keep my spirits and head high.” 

Dendy said it would’ve been clear he suffered an injury if he played in Rio and is content he had surgery. 

“I’ve had many injuries throughout the years, so now that those areas have cleaned up and been fixed, I feel great,” he said.  

Dendy’s comeback began a year later when he returned to the World Championships in London. A year after, he finished third at the Indoor World Championships. 

He appeared to return to form when the Summer Games were postponed in 2020. 

Dendy feared that, this time, a pandemic snatched his aspirations. 

“I am still worried even now,” he said. “But the one thing that keeps me going is how much money they spent on it. There is no way they are going to cancel it.” 

Dendy said the yearlong break helped him rehab and iron out his times. 

With the festivities finally arriving, Dendy said he is focused and confident in his abilities. 

Olympic appearances run in Dendy’s family, as his aunt, Terri Dendy, ran in the 1988 Summer Games.  

“Many people get the opportunity to compete for a world team, but few get to make an Olympic team,” he said. “I just know that I am carrying on my family’s Olympic legacy.” 

Men’s high jump qualifying launches July 31, and the final opens Aug. 2 from the Japan National Stadium.