The United States Track and Field Olympic Trials began Thursday in Eugene, Ore., and the University of Kentucky has several athletes vying for what UK track and field coach Edrick Floreal calls “the chance of a lifetime” in representing their country in Rio.
Former star hurdler Kendra Harrison, or “Keni” as she likes to be called, comes in to the trials with the biggest expectations.
Harrison, one year removed from competing at UK, holds the American record — second all-time — in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 12.24 seconds.
Floreal compared Harrison’s range in competing in both the 100- and 400-meter hurdles to that of a football player being able to play on both sides on the ball. But just as that would wear down any football player, her training saw improved results when she focused on the 100 meters.
“Once we were able to remove the 400-meter (race), she was able to devote her time, her talent and her effort to one event, and that made it completely easier,” Floreal said.
Focusing on the 100 hurdles, Harrison’s favorite of the two events, was a less taxing workload on her smaller 5-foot-4 frame. That move caught many close to the sport by surprise, as the 400-meter event as was seen as an easier ticket to the Olympics. But Harrison was more than ready to take up the challenge.
“And everybody said she wouldn’t do it. So sometimes people gravitate to the things that people say you won’t be able to do just because you want to prove them wrong,” Floreal said of Harrison’s decision. “So I think it’s a combination of that and she’s just really gifted at execution at the high speed.”
While the 400-meter hurdles doesn’t necessarily suit Harrison, Floreal said it’s perfect for UK junior Kiah Seymour. Floreal said Seymour has a real chance to make the team with her size and strength. He also said that Seymour is prepared for the mental side of the race.
“Making the team is not so much the best person on that day, it’s the person that can handle the most stuff,” Floreal said. “She can handle all the distractions and the mind games.”
Another UK junior, Nick Anderson, will be competing in the men’s 110-meter hurdles. With pressure sinking in on the athletes at the trials, consistency can go a long way, and that is where Anderson hopes to capitalize.
“He might not be the world leader but every weekend you know exactly what you can expect from Nick,” Floreal said.
With that in mind, Floreal said Anderson is hoping to take advantage of this opportunity by gaining experience in this type of setting. An Olympics berth is more likely to come later for him.
For many athletes, it’s the first time they’ve reached this stage, and expectations and distraction can be a lot to handle. But that is where Floreal said he and his staff come in — to make sure their athletes are doing everything they can to have the best chance to succeed.
However, Floreal said also wants them to realize that failure at this stage is not always a bad thing.
“I think failure is great because it teaches you that you didn’t handle things properly and that you have to make some adjustments,” Floreal said. “If people truly pay attention when things don’t go well, they learn something about themselves. They learn how they handle the moment or how they mishandle the moment.”
U.S. Olympic Trials
Current and former UK athletes competing for a spot in the Rio Olympics include:
▪ Beckie Famurewa, discus
▪ Sha’Keela Saunders, long jump
▪ Kiah Seymour, 400 hurdles
▪ Nick Anderson, 110 hurdles
▪ Jacob Thompson, 5,000 meters
▪ Kendra Harrison, 100 hurdles
▪ Yattia Hackworth, long jump (ranked No. 2 in U.S.)
▪ Rashaud Scott, discus
▪ Andrew Evans, discus