Hurdler takes one of 4 golds on 12 medal day for U.S.
For Friday’s Team USA top performers at the Pan American Junior Championships in Medellin, simply winning and getting a personal best wasn’t quite enough. True competitors find ways to win at everything, you know. Still, when women’s 100 meter hurdle champion Alexis Perry was overheard near the mixed zone about 20-30 minutes after her race making a comment about another personal best she was setting, well, you just had to ask to confirm.
Did you really just say, “I set a new PB for likes on Instagram.”
“Yeah” said the N.C. State frosh (Jordan HS grad, Durham, NC) with a slightly embarrassed grin. “My friends always like to know how I do on the track. They really like it when I post my track meet photos.”
No exact count on the “likes,” but there was no question about Perry’s time – a 13.56(-0.7w) that turned back a tough field that included US#2 prep and Castro Valley (CA) senior Sasha Wallace – and her penchant for PBs. Her gold medal performance was one of four on the day for Team USA. The others came from Texas frosh Courtney Okolo (Smith HS grad, Carrollton, TX) with a 52.19 women’s 400, Dos Pueblos (Goleta, CA) junior Stamatia Scarvelis with a 50-8.25 women’s shot put, and Alabama frosh Hayden Reed (Little Cypress-Mauriceville grad, Orange, TX) with a 205-4 men’s discus.
Eight other Americans won silver or bronze medals on the first of three days of competition at the wonderful sports complex in this large Columbian city, bringing the first day total to 11.
Clutch “second half”
Wallace looked like she was in control after about eight hurdles, but she hit the ninth one hard and Perry called on her trademark strength. “I’ve always found myself to be what I call a ‘second-half racer,’” she said. “If I get the first half of my race stronger, I’ll be even better.”
Perry didn’t know at first she had won, so there was no immediate reaction from her. “It was so extremely close, so I was waiting for them to announce it ... I was holding everything in until I knew for sure.” Even then, it took her celebration a little while to kick in for the modest hurdler. The margin was just .01 over Canadian Nicole Setherington (13.57).
Perry has had a big freshman year at N.C. State. She was “just” a 14.07/13.85w hurdler at C.E. Jordan. Her claim to fame nationally as a prep was taking second in the high jump (5-8.5) at the 2012 New Balance Nationals Outdoor (NBNO).
Wallace, who brought in a 13.43 PR, was 4th in 13.72.
Okolo, throwers shine
For some of Friday’s other American champs, it wasn’t about PRs, but just getting the job done and earning those medals at the end of an unusually long season.
Okolo and Detroit (Mich.) Country Day senior Kendall Baisden had run eye-popping 400-meter PRs two months ago at the USATF Juniors in Des Moines of 51.04 and 52.03. Baisden admitted she really wanted to top that mark, but Okolo didn’t really have such designs.
“This race was ... pretty far away (time-wise) from Juniors,” she said. “I just wanted to come out here and run a good race. I wasn’t really that concerned with the time.”
“I was hoping for a 51,” said Baisden, who was .40 behind Okolo in 52.59. “But we had our semi the same day, so our second race was all about just finishing strong.”
Scarvelis and her new friend – Oklahoma State frosh Chase Ealey (Los Alamos, NM grad), who got the bronze with 48-10.75 – had sort of a similar perspective as they spoke together after the shot. “The goal was to get 1-2 either way, do it for the team,” said Scarvelis. “It’s been hard trying to keep up the peak for this meet because it’s so late. So coming into this, it was all about our placing (1-2). Throwing far would have just been icing on the cake.”
In the men’s discus, Reed said he started out “kind of shaky” and actually broke one of his discs on the pole of the cage. “It was a good one, too,” he said. “But then I just started getting better and better as I went on.”
The last throw, where he got his big winner, “was just finishing. I’d been worried in my head about staying in and fouling, but I just got in my head that I’m not going to foul and just finish the throw.” The bronze went to American Reggie Jagers, a Kent State frosh who prepped at Solon (Ohio) and hit 194-6.
Jefferson’s monster jump
Certainly one of the very best Team USA performances of the day was NOT a gold medal winner – though Andre Jefferson was awfully close. Big favorite Higor Alves of Brazil flew out to 26-0(+1.2w) on his first attempt. But Jefferson, the Tyler TX senior who’d won NBNO and New Balance Indoor this year, was undaunted. After fouling on his first try, he hit 25-4.75(+1.2w), just missing the US#1 mark, then on his 3rd attempt exploded to a massive 26.0w(+3.1w). The wind kept Jefferson from becoming the #11 jumper in prep history, but he was more concerned about winning.
Alves responded in his 4th attempt with 26-1w(+2.9w) and Jefferson, despite two others around 25 on his last two attempts, could not quite catch him.
As it turned out, the Texan didn’t realize he’d hit the 26-footer until after the competition as he didn’t try and convert the metric 7.92. “I was very surprised,” he said. “But (Alves) brought out the complete best in me. He jumped 7.92 first ... and he brought out my 26-even. Thank God I jumped it, finally!”
It’s been hard for nearly all of these athletes to stretch their spring and early summer track seasons into late summer. But Jefferson has clearly made the most of the extra training time. “I’ve been working on a lot of speed. A lot of power, too, bounding ... 60s, 100s, just trying to stay as fast as possible,” he said. “I kept praying and staying healthy, and I thank God I got as far as I did.”
Tough night in sprints overall
It wasn’t a great night for Team USA in the sprints: There was the 1-2 in the 400 by Okolo and Baisden. But in the two 100 finals and the men’s 400 combined, the Americans netted just one medal.
That medal came from Texas A&M frosh Jennifer Madu, who was 2nd in the 100 to Arialis J. Gandulla Martínez with an 11.37w(+2.8) to the Cuban’s 11.31.
“The last 20 meters, my body just wasn’t dropping like it was when I was running at nationals, or regionals, or SECs,” she said. “It was just unfortunate that my start was so good and I didn’t get to finish. The training got to me a little bit.”
Morolake Akinosun trailed Madu in the 100, taking 4th. In the men’s 100, Tevin Hester paced qualifying, but was just 8th in the final. Trayvon Brommell didn’t qualify as well as Hester in the morning, but managed a bronze in the final (10.44). And in the men’s 400, Marcus Chambers was 4th (46.75) and Juan Paul Green 7th (47.08).
In the only morning final, Rudy Winkler took Team USA’s first medal, getting silver in the hammer with 235-6.