Many know Amy Acuff for being the pre-eminent American high jumper of the last two decades. But few know the Texas jumper for her skills as an app developer. She tells SPIKES about her many talents.

Aged five, Amy Acuff went to watch her brother compete at a youth track event in her hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. The day was rounded off with a race for the younger kids in the stands.

“I think it was a 400m race. I don’t remember what place I got but they gave me a little pink ribbon,” she says.

Acuff caught the bug, and the next year she was back at the youth track meet to compete. She started out in the sprints and long jump before finding her calling in the high jump. By the time she was 14 she had jumped 1.83m. A 1.93m set at a meet in Innsbruck, Austria, aged 18 still stands as the American high school record.

Her prodigious performances continued when she went to study biology at the University of California. In 1994 she came third in the world juniors. In 1995 she won the NCAA Division I National Championships in a championship record 1.96m that still stands to this day. The same year she went to her first world champs, and the next competed in the Atlanta Olympics.

In 1997 she capped a glittering collegiate career by winning the World University Games in Sicily, Italy, with a 1.98m. But Acuff’s time at UCLA was not just defined by a personal sporting evolution: a digital revolution took place too.

The internet went from being computer scientists’ play thing to becoming a rich, visual landscape (albeit at dial up speeds). Acuff’s curiosity in computer development was piqued, but in the main it was new video technology that she first adopted.

“To see everything to go from VHS tape, giant cameras, to digital cameras that you could own yourself and reverse and watch on a little screen – that was really powerful.

“Suddenly you were able to identify positions and things you’d think you were doing in your head, look at the video and realise: oh it doesn’t really look like that. So I found that very useful as a tool.”

Amy Acuff ()

Acuff's interest in video analysis saw her release an instructional DVD

As this digital revolution was taking off, Acuff was hitting the sweet spot of her career. In 2001 she finished fourth at the world champs and second in the IAAF Grand Prix Final. At the 2004 Athens Olympics she finished fourth with a 1.99m, just 3cm out of silver medal position.

By the time the 2008 Olympics came round, Acuff was amongst the world’s elite group of female high jumpers. She was a six-time US outdoor champ and one of USA track and field's pin-up stars. But at the Olympics she suffered the crushing blow of failing to make the final.

“Beijing was just a great disappointment. I had put a lot of energy in to training, I think definitely over training, thinking more is better. I just felt really deflated after that.”

To lift herself “out of depression”, Acuff took courses in computer programming; the bug that had remained dormant in her from years earlier sprung suddenly back to life.

She made her first app (which located vaccines for kids: curiously anti-bug) in 2009 “just kinda to learn the language”. Athletics begun to take a back seat. Her plan was simply to see out the 2009 season and then focus on family life.

“I had a baby and I didn’t train really at all through the whole pregnancy, or even for a long time after it. I really thought I was done,” she says.

Amy Acuff ()

Acuff was going to call it a day in 2009, but the lure of competition proved too strong

Acuff moved back to Austin, Texas, with her husband Tye Harvey, a 5.93m pole vaulter. A desire to get back in to shape led her back to track and field.

“I don’t know what to do other than do the kind of workout I did before: sprint and lift weights. And it didn’t take very long until I pretty much was as fast as I was before and very strong actually. I think from lifting the baby. It’s like a constant med ball workout. Then I started jumping and it was just awful.”

The new mother persisted and at her first meet back she showed she still had the knack, jumping the Olympic A-standard 1.95m. Her interest in technology had not gone away either.

“I got really into videoing my jumps, breaking them down and comparing them to other great jumpers of the past and present – Heike Henkel, Kajsa Bergqvist, Blanka Vlašić, and even myself.

“I actually built my own video analysis tool and found it immensely useful. I released a few video analysis tools at that time. I started my own company and just released them under the name Winning Edge Apps.”

In 2012, even though she appeared at a minimal number of meets, Acuff was on the plane to the London Olympics. But yet again she couldn’t find her best form. She admits her tempo was off, but was disappointed because her performance was “not reflective of what I had been doing in practice”.

Amy Acuff ()

As well as continuing to build her app, Acuff is committed to her training and has not ruled out next year's Rio Olympics

She had another baby, a son, in 2013, staying in decent shape throughout the pregnancy. As well as seeing her family grow, Acuff has witnessed her app take off too. Her company has blossomed and she is now surrounded by tech-minded individuals (Austin is renowned as a centre of technology, championed in particular through the annual SXSW Festival).

Her new app, called iAnalyze, is designed for all athletes and coaches, whatever their event. Because Acuff wrote the code herself, it includes features she knows work for her: shape drawing tools, side by side video comparisons and the ability to calculate velocities. She believes technology has helped her prolong her career, and is also a key reason athletes in technical events like the high jump and pole vault are beginning to push the boundaries.

“It’s just amazing to think those records that have stood since the mid '80s are falling now, through people getting more efficient and finding better ways to execute better technique and timing. That’s really fun.

“And I hope to see more of that in the sport, too, in the way it’s presented as an entertainment package.”

In the meantime, with her training improving through her use of video analysis, Acuff is bidding to make it to her sixth Olympics in Rio and seeking to redeem her disappointing performances in the past.

“I think at that time [in London 2012] I wasn’t willing to say it, but I knew I had unfinished business in the sport and I would be back.”

Head to Amy's website to find out more about iAnalyze and her Rio Olympic bid