By Doug Williams | July 17, 2015, 9:38 p.m. (ET)
Alysia Montano (L) competes in the women's 800-meter final at the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on Aug. 11, 2012 in London.

Shamier Little has been on the fast track for a while now.

The Texas A&M All-America hurdler, who just completed her sophomore year, has won two straight NCAA championships in the 400-meter hurdles and has the best time in the world this year (53.74). She also has two gold medals from last year’s IAAF World Junior Championships in the 400 hurdles and 4x400, plus a 400 hurdles title from the 2014 USATF Junior Outdoor Championships.

Now, she’s about to step onto a much bigger stage.

Little is part of the U.S. track and field team selected for the Pan Am Games in Toronto that began July 10. Track and field events start July 18.

The Pan Ams will be the senior-level international debut for Little, and she says she’s excited by the opportunity. It’s part of a big summer for her that will include being on the U.S. team for the IAAF World Championships in August in Beijing.

“I’m hoping I can get some good runs in so that I can be prepared for Beijing,” said Little, who expects to run the 400-meter hurdles and 4x400. She’s coming into the Pan Ams after winning the 400 hurdles outdoor title at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon, last month with a time of 53.83.

“It’s exciting,” the 20-year-old said, “because I’m getting better and better and getting to meet more people and I’m being pushed.”

Little is one of 86 men and women on the U.S. team for the Pan Ams. At the last Pan Ams, in Mexico in 2011, the U.S. track and field team won 17 medals (four gold, eight silver and five bronze).

This team, too, has the potential to be excellent, said Rose Monday, coach of the women’s team, speaking about both the U.S. men (coached by John Moon) and women.

“We have several Olympians,” Monday said. “Several of the athletes that made the world championship team are also competing at the Pan American Games. I would say it’s a really good mix of seasoned, elite athletes and some younger, new emerging elite that have just kind of come onto the team.”

Monday, the former coach of the men’s and women’s teams at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said it gives her goose bumps just to go look at the roster. 

She coached several of the men on past junior national teams, including long jumper Marquise Goodwin, a 2012 Olympian and two-time NCAA champion who now plays wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills.

“It’s like old home week,” Monday said. “It’s so cool. These kids were like 16, 17 (back then).”

Among other U.S. athletes to watch, said Monday, are:

  • Hurdler Kori Carter, who will run with Little in the 400 hurdles. “We should go 1-2 in that event, easily,” Monday said.
  • Three-time Olympian Alysia Montano in the 800-meter. She finished fourth at the London Games and will be on the U.S. roster for the world championships in August. “She said to me, ‘I want to go. I love the Pan American Games,’” Monday said.
  • Jenn Suhr and Demi Payne in the pole vault. Suhr won gold in London and silver at the Beijing Games in 2008. Payne just won the NCAA championship for Stephen F. Austin with a mark of 15-5, the third best mark in NCAA history.
  • Two-time Olympian Wallace Spearmon in the 200-meter and 4x100.

Monday said the competition at the Pan Ams features strong teams in Canada, Jamaica, Brazil and Cuba. Jamaica is expected to bring its best athletes.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a walk in the park where we go in there and take all the medals,” she said. “I don’t think that at all. I think we’re going to have to fight for everything we get.”

But, she adds: “We’re not bringing our B Team.”

Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.