DES MOINES, Iowa – After finishing fourth at the NCAA championships, Teahna Daniels was far from a favorite in the women’s 100-meter final Friday night at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships, against a far broader field.
But the 22-year-old Texas graduate came from behind – literally – to take the gold in a field that included two Olympic relay gold medalists, the defending U.S. champion and the reigning NCAA champion who broke a 30-year-old record when she placed three spots higher than Daniels last month.
“It means so, so, so much,” Daniels said of her win at her first U.S. outdoor nationals, which is part the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
While Daniels won in 11.20 seconds, English Gardner, the 2013 and 2016 U.S. champion, was second in 11.25 for her third world team. Morolake Akinoson finished in 11.28 to make her second world team and earn her career-best finish at U.S. championships.
Daniels had been working her way toward the top spot, placing third in Thursday’s heats and second in Friday’s semifinals.
In the final, Daniels had the second-slowest reaction time and appeared to not be a threat for much of the race – until she broke through.
“It’s crazy because in high school I was always a great starter, but something’s clicking right now and I’m just finishing really strong,” she said.
Daniels credits “hard work, never putting doubts in myself, always believing in myself” with the victory, which qualified her for her first world championships – which she intends to win – this September in Doha, Qatar.
Several factors in Daniels’ life have led to her first national title, starting with Edrick Floréal being named as head coach at The University of Texas in June 2018. She said her win would have still been possible without having Floréal in her life, but it would have been “much harder.”
He led Daniels through a weight loss journey that began last December. She has shed 19 pounds so far and is not yet at her goal weight.
“I am a power runner, but when you have that extra fat it’s just not going to work,” Daniels explained.
There were no fad diets involved, nor did her workout regimen change. She cut out some of her favorite foods – most of which were fried or sugar-filled – and added in more fruits and vegetables.
“It’s been a long, long journey, but it was really just dedication. I had to really dedicate myself and now I’m in the best shape of my life.”
Over time, Floréal also helped alter Daniels’ attitude and perspective.
“What he took away from me was negativity and doubting myself,” she reflected. “I feel like he’s really helped me take that out of my being.”
The fourth-place finish at NCAAs in early June also helped motivate her.
“I transitioned back to my freshman year when I got complacent after the 60,” said Daniels, who had won the indoor 60-meter NCAA title as a freshman at Texas, but wasn’t able to maintain the success, placing 10th each of the next two seasons.
“I really got complacent and I wasn’t eating right and I wasn’t focused. After that race, my focus went up a notch.”
The final driving force for Daniels was her invitation to the 100-meter at the Prefontaine Classic in late June, once she had turned pro.
The field also included Tori Bowie, the 2017 100-meter world champion, and Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a two-time Olympic champion at the distance.
“I was just excited to get a lane and be able to compete at that high level,” Daniels said. “When I got third, I was like, alright I can do this for real. I’m supposed to be here.”
Now joining a list of U.S. champions that includes names like Wilma Rudolph, Wyomia Tyus, Gail Devers and Allyson Felix, Daniels has proven she belongs in any race – something her mother had long instilled in her.
“My mom raised me as a queen, so that’s how I see it,” she said.
Daniels raced with a necklace that says ‘Queen’ on the back and the date her father, Wallace, passed – Jan. 26, 2018 – on the front. It was a gift from her best friend.
“That day really changed my life, it pushed me to be the person I am today.”
While her father wasn’t there to witness his daughter become national champion, Daniels’ mother Linda was, and she was overcome with tears of joy.
“She started crying, so I started crying, and she knows I hate crying,” Daniels laughed.