Dora Gyorffy '01: Soaring to New Heights
Freshman high jumper breaks Harvard indoor records for high jump and triple jump in first collegiate meet
By Chile Hidalgo '99
Special to the Gazette
Over the past year, Dora Gyorffy '01 has moved to a new country, become fluent in English, enrolled at Harvard College, and trained for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games.
And, as an exclamation point to her multiple accomplishments, Gyorffy proceeded to break the Harvard indoor records in the high jump and the triple jump during her first collegiate meet in December.
Shortly after that debut, Gyorffy surpassed by 5 centimeters her own record high jump of 1.88 meters (6 feet, 2 inches) in a meet this month. And she established a new best in the triple jump in December, with a jump of 12.52 meters (41 feet, 1 inch) -- 34 centimeters better than the old school record.
Not bad for someone who does the triple jump only in competition. "It's something I started to do for fun," the Hungarian native said.
"Dora's awesome," marveled Margaret Schotte '99, a member of the women's track team's long-distance corps who will captain the cross country team next season.
"It's not every year that someone who came in second at World Juniors decides to join our team, and then proceeds to set a personal best for indoor meets, qualify for the NCAAs, and break two school records, one in an event which is completely new for her -- as a freshman. And when that someone is 5 feet, 9 inches tall, jumping 6 feet and 4 inches (her personal best in the high jump) becomes even more incredible."
Track and field coach Frank Haggerty first saw Gyorffy's name in a listing of European junior track results. After Gyorffy finished high school in Budapest, Harvard began the pursuit.
Gyorffy visited Harvard in the fall of 1996, when she was staying with an uncle in Colorado. She applied and was accepted, and, despite the fact that foreign students ranked as high internationally as Gyorffy rarely enroll here, she elected to come.
Beyond the obvious reasons for recruiting her, Haggerty and his staff found her to be "an extremely bright and delightful person when she came to visit," he recalled.
For Gyorffy, Harvard represented a perfect fit. Despite her jumping talent, academics remained a top priority when she considered her future. For this reason, until she heard from Harvard, attending college in the United States was not something she had seriously considered.
"A lot of athletes from Hungary were going to the U.S. . . . but their academics were taking second place," she said. "I didn't want to risk losing academics for athletics."
In fact, until she was accepted at Harvard, Gyorffy had planned to enroll in law school after high school; in Hungary, students seeking higher education attend what in the U.S. is considered graduate school directly after graduation. Currently, Gyorffy is considering a concentration in government.
Of course, the difference between educational experiences reflects only one of the adjustments the Canaday Hall resident has had to make here. She feels less pressure at track meets, due in part to the fact, she thinks, that she attracts less attention than she did in Hungary.
"People don't really know who I am," she said.
Gyorffy has developed a liking for NFL football and for this reason enjoyed the most recent Superbowl.
"I was very happy that after so many lost Superbowls, finally Denver could win, and in such an exciting game," she said, demonstrating that she has also managed to pick up some history lessons during her stay.
However, if you would like to discuss Terrell Davis' rushing yardage for the game, make sure to have a conversion table handy. The change from the metric to the English system of measurement is something that Gyorffy is still getting used to.
"They say, you jumped 40 feet," she says, describing her efforts in the triple jump, "and I say, 'so that is . . . .' "
Gyorffy needs no tables to realize that her personal best in the high jump is only two or three inches off the most competitive marks in the world. With her sights set on those marks, she hopes to soar to new heights as the Summer Olympic Games approach.
Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College