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  Sunday, 12 August, 2001, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK
High jumps and high jinx
Amy Acuff
Amy Acuff in action of the sporting variety
By BBC Sport Online's Tom Fordyce in Edmonton

If all eyes are on American high jumper Amy Acuff on the final day of competition in the Commonwealth Stadium, you should understand why.

"I was intensely shy around people when I was a kid," she has said, but somewhere along the line things clearly changed.

At the Millrose Games in New York in early 2000, the 6ft 2in Texan ditched the traditional high jumper's garb in favour of a fur boob-tube twinned with black, fur-trimmed pants.

"It's no fun to show up wearing the same as the other competitors," she said at the time. "I want to be different."

Maurice Greene
Maurice who?

Short of funds for training and despairing of athletics' low profile in a country where "the majority of people couldn't tell you who Maurice Greene was if they saw his face," she then organised and posed for a calendar of American female track and field stars.

She was pictured clad in the Stars and Stripes flag, wearing red, white and blue body paint - and nothing else.

"One way or another, it doesn't matter how much attention is focused on me," says the girl who has had national exposure in a Fruit of the Loom advert with the tag-line, "I am in my underwear."

A model with Click Agency in Los Angeles, she has also posed naked for Rolling Stone magazine and been voted one of Esquire magazine's ten sexiest athletes.

But her sporting talent cannot be questioned.

Despite not having a coach while competing in high school, Acuff was named high school athlete of the year in 1993.


I feel like I'm ready to get a big jump in pretty soon
Amy Acuff

She taught herself using books and videos, which led to her being branded 'the mail order high jumper'.

At senior level the 26-year-old has finished eighth, sixth and ninth at the last three World Championships, and approached last summer's Olympics with a genuine spring in her step.

With cruel irony, she was injured in a car crash on Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles just three weeks before the American trials.

Suffering from whiplash, she made the team after a jump-off but then under-performed badly in Sydney, finishing 17th in qualifying and failing to make the final.

She discovered the hard way that, while critics are more than happy to see successful sport stars pull outrageous publicity stunts, it all goes wrong when you're perceived to be a show-off who can't back it up with results.

Partly as a result of that reaction, she's kept a considerably lower profile in the build-up to the World Championships.

Her best performance this season came at the Golden League meeting in Paris, where she just missed out on a clearance at 2m, and she goes into Sunday's final ranked sixth in the world.

Kasja Bergqvist
Bergqvist celebrates Olympic bronze

The Grand Prix meetings have been dominated by three girls - Sweden's Kasja Bergqvist, Ukrainian Inga Babakova and Bulgaria's Venelina Veneva.

But Acuff is confident she can get amongst the medals.

"I feel like I'm ready to get a big jump in here pretty soon," she said.

"It's huge advantage having the Worlds on my home continent.

"I don't think the European girls understand how hard it is to do 18 hours of flying and then have to compete in two days. It sets you back."

She qualified comfortably and is clearly looking forward to another moment in the spotlight.

"I know at take-off whether I'm going to clear," she says.

"If I run the approach correctly, it's very exciting. Hit it just right and it feels like someone is throwing you - maybe how those figure skaters feel when they're getting pushed into the air from under the butt."

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