Walter Davis competed in a league of his own
Editor’s Note: LSU track and field All-American Walter Davis is a member of the 2019 LSU Athletics Hall of Fame induction class and will be formally enshrined on Friday, October 11, at the Louisiana State Museum in downtown Baton Rouge. The other inductees are Ashlee Ducote (softball), Meredith Duncan (women’s golf), Kevin Jackson (wrestling), Susan Jackson (gymnastics), Bradie James (football) and Jason Williams (baseball).
A Louisiana kid with big dreams. A freakishly talented athlete. One of the best to ever do it. A two-time Olympian. Walter Davis just had the ‘it’ factor.
Before he became a world class triple jumper on the world stage, Davis actually had aspirations of playing hoops on the collegiate and professional level. An all-state baller for Beau Chene High School, Davis grew up wanting to don the Purple and Gold in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“Growing up I idolized Shaq, Chris Jackson and that whole crew,” Davis noted. “I always wanted to play basketball. But to get the chance to represent LSU as an athlete was all I could have ever asked for. It meant a lot to me.”
Davis came to LSU having already established himself as a world-class jumper as he made the U.S. Olympic squad for the 2000 Sydney Games. He qualified for both the long and triple jumps at the 2000 Olympics, but chose to compete solely in the triple. He went out and scooped up an 11th place finish amongst the world’s best as only a 21-year old.
The following year he rolled into LSU as a junior after competing collegiately at Barton Community College for two seasons. The first fall of training in Baton Rouge actually served as a bit of a surprise to the native of Leonville, La.
“My first year in Baton Rouge was actually kind of interesting,” Davis remembered. “It was a new coaching philosophy. I had never done the stuff that they were instructing me to do, but looking back on it I’m so glad I just went with it.
“The guys I trained with those two years were like brothers. Every day we got after it. Pair that with Coach (Boo) Schexnayder and my jumps went off. Coach Boo gets all the credit. He knew exactly what was best for me and my teammates. He worked us, but we got results.”
Schexnayder, a world-renowned coach in the jumps, remembers fondly the kind of talent that Davis had. Not only the talent, though, but also his will to win and take responsibility for his performances. He just wanted to win every single time he went out.
“He was one of the most gifted athletes that I have been around,” Schexnayder remembered. “He was talented, confident, and a great competitor. Not only did that make him great, but it wore off on those around him. He was a tremendous leader.”
Davis made an impact immediately during the 2001 indoor season as he led LSU to a team national title, a 34-33 triumph over TCU. Of those 34 points scored by LSU, Davis accounted for 18 of them with a national title in the triple jump and a second-place showing in the long jump.
It was a year later that Davis would lead LSU to its fourth-ever NCAA outdoor team title in no other place than Baton Rouge at Bernie Moore Track Stadium. It was a two-team race for the national title featuring the Fighting Tigers and the defending national champs, the Tennessee Volunteers.
“The thing I remember the most about that final NCAA meet is the 4×1 prelims. Tennessee ran before us and they ran a time faster than us,” Davis said. “They made a big deal of it and they let us know about it. That’s when I told myself, ‘we can’t let these guys come in here and beat us on our own track.’”
Davis made sure to do everything in his control to not allow that to happen. He casually swept the long and triple jump titles while also serving as the lead leg of the 4×100 meter relay that claimed a national title ahead of the Vols. Sixty-four team points later, 22.5 coming from Davis, and LSU was the national champs.
“Everybody on that squad that qualified for the NCAA meet that year gave it their all,” Davis said. “We did what we had to do. Whether it was scoring a ton of points or just scraping a few out here and there, all of our guys were up to the task.”
Six individual national titles. Two team NCAA titles. Nine All-America honors. Seven individual SEC titles. Davis undoubtedly cemented himself as the most decorated LSU track and field athlete of all time. He never once lost a collegiate competition in the triple jump, going a perfect 17-0 during his two years at LSU.
Throw in the SEC Male Athlete of the Year in 2002, and Davis is one of the all-time LSU greats in all sports; the only two other LSU males to win that award are Shaquille O’Neal (1992/basketball) and Xavier Carter (2006/track and field).
“I knew 2002 was my final year of collegiate eligibility,” Davis noted. “I knew I would never be able to go back and do it over again, so I tried my hardest to leave a lasting impression with my teammates, coaches, and even the fans at every meet I competed at.”
And that he did. Davis still owns the LSU school records in both the indoor and outdoor triple jumps, and he ranks among the top 10 collegians ever in the triple jump. Davis went on to capture world triple jump titles in 2006 and 2007.
“I’m a major part of history,” Davis said. “I’m most proud that my kids will be able to see what I accomplished back in the day. To be at the top of the world in a certain ability is very rare, and it just so happened that I was able to accomplish that during my career.”
Only seven other Americans in triple jump history have jumped farther than Davis. A two-time Olympian, Davis has one last thought about his time at LSU that made him feel so welcomed.
“Everybody here at LSU wanted to see me succeed.”
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