Jessica Ramsey competes at U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track and Field on June 24, 2021 in Eugene, Ore.
EUGENE, Oregon – Jessica Ramsey didn’t blink when Raven “The Hulk” Saunders broke the meet record to pull ahead of her in the shot put final at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field Thursday night.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!” Ramsey said, remembering their old back-and-forth when they were training partners for a couple of years. “’OK, Raven, you want to compete? Let’s go.’ We push each other.”
Ramsey produced a prodigious fourth-round throw of 20.12 meters (66 feet, ¼ inch), which was not only a personal best, but also made her the fourth-best American performer of all time. It equalled the sixth longest throw by an American and is the No. 2 throw in the world this year behind two-time Olympic medalist Lijiao Gong of China (20.31).
When she heard the measurement, Ramsey said she thought, ‘Wow! That’s amazing to believe in yourself and actually do what you say you’re going to do.”
And “The Hulk” wasn’t even mad. “Honestly, if I could have lost to anybody, I’m happy it was Jessica, man,” said Saunders, who made her second straight Olympic team with a personal best of 19.96 meters (65-6). “I’m happy for her, happy for myself. We were pumping each other up. It was great to make that magic again.”
After Ramsey one-upped her, Saunders is now No. 5 on the all-time American list and No. 3 on the 2021 world list.
That makes them both medal contenders for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“My goal in Tokyo is to do the same thing,” Ramsey said, “come out with a gold medal and show all the girls, ‘Never give up, never give up, never give up. You’re gonna have those downfalls, but let it make you stronger.’”
Defending Gold Medalist On The Sidelines
While Michelle Carter, the defending Olympic champion and American record holder, was on the premises at historic Hayward Field, she was unable to defend her title and compete for a chance to go to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Carter, 35, had surgery to remove a tumor on her right ankle, which thankfully turned out to be benign.
She saw Ramsey become the first American woman to throw over 20 meters since she did it in 2016. Only four Team USA athletes have achieved the feat.
“We talk all the time outside of track,” Ramsey said of Carter. “She helps me with my makeup. I ain’t got nothing on today but some lashes. She’s a good friend outside of track. To be able to be up there with her is a blessing because she started it.”
Adelaide Aquilla placed third with a throw 18.95 meters (62-2 ¼), beating veterans Maggie Ewen and Chase Ealey. Aquilla became the NCAA champion for Ohio State in the same stadium a week ago.
Felisha Johnson, who was the third member of Team USA in 2016, fouled all three of her throws in the preliminaries
Ramsey, 29 who is coached by four-time Olympian Connie Price-Smith, was the bronze medalist at the 2019 Pan American Games. She felt that people counted her out before the Olympic Trials because of her inconsistency.
“I was prepared for this,” Ramsey said. “I knew it was somewhere in there, I just had to do it.
“I always tell myself I’m No. 1 in anything that I do and I’m a 20-meter thrower.”
When she competed for Western Kentucky University, Ramsey was the first woman to represent the school at the NCAA Championships in three separate individual events: discus, shot put an hammer throw.
She said she was motivated by the men’s shot put competition at the Olympic Trials, which included a world record for champion Ryan Crouser.
“The men always get that spotlight,” Ramsey said. “We got to bring a little bit of that hype to the women. We need to be loud and encourage other women.”
She and Saunders brought the show to the shot put ring. They had been one-upping each other all day. In the qualifying round earlier Thursday, Saunders had the best throw, followed by Ramsey.
Behind The Mask
Saunders, with her hair dyed lime green, wore a “Joker” mask for that preliminary round. “A lot of people, they go out and laugh and talk to people; that’s just not my MO,” Saunders said. “That was my way of putting a smile on my face without putting a smile on my face.”
When they returned to the field a few hours later for the final, Saunders had replaced her Joker face mask with a Hulk face mask with holes in the mouth area.
“For me, it’s that killer mentality,” said Saunders, who was fifth at the 2016 Olympics. “It reminded me why I’m here and to constantly keep pushing. At one point, I had to remind myself, ‘Hey you gotta stop playing around. This is not you. You gotta turn it up. This your time.’”
While Ramsey, a native of Boynton Beach, Florida, opened the competition with a personal best of 19.45 meters (63-9 ¾), Saunders couldn’t hit 60 feet on her first two throws.
She stalked the infield wearing a black hoodie. Then she threw off the hoodie and stomped into the ring. She clapped her hands to get the crowd behind her, then uncorked her monster 19.96-meter throw.
“It’s absolutely fantastic - I thew my birth year, 1996,” said Saunders, 25, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, who competed for Ole Miss.
It was her first PR since 2017, the year before she went into a dark period and was on the brink of ending her life. Saunders is now an advocate for mental health awareness.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Saunders, who has a tattoo of USA and the Olympic rings on her left biceps. “It pumps me up because I know that wasn’t everything I had. I know that there’s still more in the tank.”
And for about 8 minutes she had the meet record and the second-longest throw in the world.
After the competition, she couldn’t stop dancing around the infield and on the victory lap.
Compared to 2016, when Saunders also placed second at the Trials, she said, “I just felt more relaxed. I kind of felt like a veteran going out there. I wasn’t ready to settle for anything less than making that team.”
Dropping The Hammer
World champion hammer thrower DeAnna Price has a blueprint for the qualifying round of Olympics, worlds and other major events like the Olympic Trials.
“It is one and done,” said Price. “Get it done, get out of the sun, save your energy.”
Setting an Olympic Trials record was a bonus.
Price threw 77.10 meters (252 feet, 11 inches), which was 11 feet further than Alyssa Wilson of UCLA, who qualified second and met the Olympic standard.
With the temperature for Saturday’s final projected to be 100 degrees, Price said it was important to stay out of the sun and make sure she gets enough electrolytes so she doesn’t cramp during competition.
She noted that with her fair complexion, “I burn like a cookie left in the oven for a little too long.”
Going into the meet, four women had the Olympic standard and now there are six heading into the final, which features 12 throwers.
“Team USA is becoming a powerhouse of throwers and I’m just so excited to be part of it,” Price said.
Gabby Thomas set a personal best of 21.98 seconds, moving into 10th place on the all-time USA list, to lead 200-meter qualifiers into the semifinals. Jenna Prandini, a 2016 Olympian, also ran a personal best of 22.14, while Allyson Felix, who has already made her fifth Olympic team following her 400-meter performance, qualified 10th in 22.56. Quanera Hayes, who edged Felix in the 400, also qualified at 22.58.
Hobbs Kessler, who broke Alan Webb’s high school 1,500 record and Jim Ryun’s under-20 American record earlier this year, turned pro on Wednesday and won his heat on Thursday.
Athing Mu, fresh off her NCAA title in the 400 meters for Texas A&M, also turned pro and promptly won her heat in the 800 meters.
“This is just the beginning,” Mu tweeted in announcing her move.