When you first meet Juliana Yendork of Walnut High, she seems no different than any other 18-year-old senior. She likes video games and "The Arsenio Hall Show." She also likes to read and wants to go to college.
However, Yendork also enjoys competing in track and field, and that is when she separates herself from most of the others her age.
It is a problem she has had since first participating in the sport nearly five years ago. From the time she attempted her first triple jump, Yendork has been ahead of her peers, and tonight, she will compete in three events in the 24th annual Arcadia Invitational track and field meet, which begins at 4 p.m.
Yendork, who is entered in the 100 meters as well as the long jump and triple jump, will be a poised veteran against her high school competition, but less than three years ago it was a different story.
Then, Yendork was a nervous, wide-eyed 16-year-old who found herself competing in the 1988 Olympic Games at Seoul for her native country, Ghana, which she had left when she was 6. Winning a medal against the best long jumpers in the world was not a high priority for her; she mainly wanted to fulfill a family dream that had been denied 12 years earlier.
In 1976, Yendork's father, Charles, was a triple jumper for Ghana in the Montreal Games. However, he saw his dream crushed when the African nations staged a boycott two days before the opening ceremonies.
It was a dream that Yendork passed on to his daughter, whose top track goal only four months before the '88 Olympics was to win a high school freshman league title in Waco, Tex.
"I really had just begun competing in the sport when I was asked to compete in the African Games in Algiers that summer," Juliana Yendork said. "I didn't have any expectations when I went there."
Despite being one of the youngest athletes, she made the most of her opportunity by winning the long jump with a then-personal best of 18 feet 8 1/2 inches. It was after this victory that Ghana made her a member of its Olympic team.
It was a tough situation for Yendork to be representing a country she only knew about from memories as a child and stories she had heard from her father.
"It was kind of uncomfortable for her because she did not know much about the country," Charles Yendork said. "She was so young when she went over there. But she was able to handle situation."
Juliana did not jump well in the Olympics. She failed to qualify for the finals in the long jump, finishing 16th in the preliminaries.
"When I went to Seoul, I was excited more or less just to be there," she said. "My mind was not into the competition because I was so young. I wasn't thinking about my future then."
Yendork's future has been bright ever since, as she has become the nation's leading high school long jumper and triple jumper. In the last three years, she has steadily moved up the yearly jumping lists with a streak of impressive performances in which she:
--Won the 1991 TAC Senior National Indoor triple jump championship.
--Won the 1991 National Scholastic Indoor title in the triple jump.
--Broke the national high school indoor record in the triple jump three times during during the 1991 season.
--Was chosen the high school indoor athlete of the year in 1990 and 1991 by Track and Field News.
--Finished fourth in the long jump at the World Junior Outdoor Championships in 1990.
--Became the two-time defending State outdoor long jump and triple jump champion.
This season, expectations are high for Yendork, who has lost only one triple jump final in her high school career. She so dominates her high school competition that the real question in the triple jump is not if she will break the record but when . She already holds the national indoor record at 43-11 1/2, more than a foot better than the outdoor record of 42-10 1/2 set by Wendy Brown of Woodside, Calif., in 1984.
Yendork also has jumped 21-3 1/4 in the long jump to rank third on the all-time high school list behind the national record of 22-3 set by Olympian Kathy MacMillian of Hoke County in Raeford, N.C., in 1976.
Going after lofty goals is nothing new to Yendork, whose new Olympic dream is to win a gold medal for the United States.
"I want to break both high school records before the season is over," she said. "If I can stay healthy, I think that I have a good chance."
Yendork has had her share of injuries. At 5 feet 9, 135 pounds, she is powerfully built but has a history of hamstring problems. Last year, she was slowed early in the outdoor season by a hamstring injury, and this spring, a similar problem has flared up.
Monitoring her track career is her father, who plays a multidimensional role in his daughter's life.
"My father is everything for me and he has done so much," Juliana said. "I admire him. . . . I wouldn't be in the place I am now if it was not for him."
Charles Yendork, who came to this country in 1973 on a track scholarship at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., has raised Juliana by himself since the breakup of his marriage more than 10 years ago. He has been dedicated in helping her career and has switched jobs and cities to do so.
After living in Houston for several years, Yendork took a job as men's and women's track coach at Paul Quinn College in Waco in 1985. Despite success there, he resigned after the Seoul Olympics to move to California because he thought that Juliana had outgrown her competition and needed a better place to train.
"It was a high-risk move for me to leave a full-time job to come here," he said. "But the situation was much better for her here."
Yendork became assistant track coach at Walnut High and now coaches jumpers at Mt. San Antonio College.
Juliana has visited USC, UCLA, Nevada Las Vegas and Houston and has one campus visit remaining. However, she said she plans to stay in California.
"Most likely I will be staying around here," she said. "Basically, because my dad's here. I don't see myself leaving to be trained by someone else because we have been so successful."