Brandee Johnson prepares to race for the University of Florida.
An impressive 39 of Team USA’s 40 track and field medalists at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 had competed collegiately. Almost 45 percent of the 127-athlete team in Rio competed for the Pac-12, and an additional 20 percent competed for the SEC. At the time, 17 athletes who competed in Rio were current student-athletes or had just graduated the spring prior.
It’s likely, then, that many of the athletes competing at the NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships that began Wednesday have a chance at representing the U.S. at next year’s Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 -- or the Paralympic Games.
Many already have experience representing the red, white and blue.
Hunter Woodhall (University of Arkansas) is the first double amputee to earn a Division I college scholarship. The sophomore sprinter is a two-time medalist at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, and was a first-team All-American his freshman season.
Seven athletes competing this week represented Team USA at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Nanjing: Janie O’Connor (University of Kentucky), Brandee Johnson (University of Florida), Brittny Ellis (University of Miami), Rhesa Foster (University of Oregon), Chinne Okoronkwo (Texas Tech University), Myles Marshall (Harvard University) and Amere Lattin (University of Houston).
Nearly five years ago, Johnson won Youth Olympic bronze in the 200-meter, Foster won bronze in the long jump, Marshall won gold in the 800-meter and Okoronkwo won silver on the 8x100-meter mixed-country relay.
Other student-athletes have represented Team USA at the world championships or contested with the country’s best at the U.S. championships.
Wil London (Baylor University) helped the U.S. win silver in the 4x400-meter at the 2017 world championships by running the fastest leg in the final. He also competed in the individual 400-meter at the world championships at just 19 years old. London will compete in both this week.
Chris Nilsen (University of South Dakota) competed at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field at 18 years old before pole vaulting collegiately. As a freshman, he became South Dakota’s first Division I men’s national champion. In 2017, he won bronze at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships and a year later improved to silver.
Andrew Hudson (Texas Tech University) won bronze in the 200-meter at last year’s USATF Outdoor Championships. Earlier this season, he ran a world leading 20.41 seconds in the 200-meter as well as a world lead 60-meter at 6.554.
Grant Holloway (University of Florida), the 100-meter hurdles silver medalist at last year’s USATF Outdoor Championships, had a record-breaking season. The four-time NCAA champion set an American record in the 60-meter hurdles at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships in March, a record that stood for 32 years. Less than an hour later he won the 60-meter as well.
Grant Fisher (Stanford University) was just the seventh U.S. high schooler to break four minutes in the mile, and in 2017, he became the first underclassman to win the NCAA 5,000-meter championship in 28 years. He also competed in the 5,000-meter at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and was sixth at the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships.
Allie Ostrander (Boise State University) will look to win her third straight NCAA outdoor 3,000-meter steeplechase championship. The senior competed at 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials where she placed eighth as a 19-year-old.
These athletes and many more will be competing this weekend and putting the world on notice.
“It’s probably going to be a world lead,” said Texas senior sprinter Teahna Daniels when asked what it will take to win the women’s 100-meter. A world lead, the best time achieved worldwide in a given season, this week would represent the level of talent competing in collegiate track and field.
The University of Texas will host the next the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships through 2020 while Historic Hayward field at the University of Oregon is under renovation. The championships continue through Saturday, June 8.