SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Deajah Stevens refused to be overlooked.
Despite drawing the dreaded Lane 9 in the 200-meter final at the USATF Outdoor Championships, Stevens demanded attention.
With most eyes focusing on the middle lanes filled by the top qualifiers, the University of Oregon sophomore roared down the outside to win with a time of 22.30 seconds. She had already made Team USA in the 100-meter, finishing second Friday, and will probably also compete in the 4x100-meter at the IAAF World Championships in London in August.
Stevens started far ahead on the curve due to the stagger. While Kimberlyn Duncan and three-time Olympic medalist Tori Bowie dueled in Lanes 5 and 6, neither could catch Stevens on the straightaway.
“It’s hard to run from the outside because you can’t really see anybody,” Stevens said, “so when you feel people start pulling up on you, you’ve got to pull away again. And I just ran my race.”
The national championships were part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.
Stevens had a comfortable lead with about 30 meters to go.
“It’s my first national champion title besides my triple crown at Oregon (the Ducks won the cross country, indoor track and outdoor track titles the 2016-17 season),” Stevens said. “It’s my first individual title, so it’s awesome.”
Duncan, the 2013 national champion, was second in 22.59 seconds to make her second world team, one-hundredth of a second ahead of Bowie, the defending champion and 100-meter winner Friday night.
Lane 7 in the 200 was vacant. It was reserved for Allyson Felix, a six-time champion in the event going back to 2004. Felix ran the 100-meter and the first two rounds of the 200, but will focus only on the 400 at the IAAF World Championships in London. She has a bye in that event.
“I love running against Allyson,” Stevens said. “She’s my idol, still, even though she’s my competitor. She’s been my idol since I was 12 and started track. It was disappointing not to get to run with her, but I was able to run with her in some prelims and we’ll be together in London.”
Although Bowie, like Stevens, qualified in the 100 and 200, she said she will not run both in London.
Bowie, who claimed a full set of medals in Rio – gold in the 4x100, silver in the 100 and bronze in the 200, is the world leader in the 200, running 21.77 seconds at the Prefontaine Classic. Bowie took .22 off her personal best while calling it a “training” race.
Bowie’s time was 10.94 in the 100, which is tied for eighth-best performer in the world, with Stevens at 11.08.
“Right now, my coach just wanted me to have an option, whether I want to do the 100 or 200,” Bowie said. “I probably won’t decide until I have another two or three weeks of training.
“I for sure don’t want to do a double,” she added with a laugh.
Why not? “I already experienced that,” she said. “I did the double at Rio. I collected my two medals that I wanted to collect in both events and right now I’m satisfied.
“More than anything I wanted to try to get this 100 right and try to achieve a gold medal somewhere. I don’t have a gold medal yet individually, so that’s my main concern right now.”
Reportedly, double Olympic gold medalist Elaine Thompson of Jamaica will not race the 200 in London.
Stevens ran a personal best of 22.09 at the Pac-12 Championships in May.
This season has been up-and-down for her.
At the NCAA indoor championships, she appeared to set an NCAA and American record in the 200 but was disqualified for stepping on the line. Then at the NCAA Outdoors, Stevens was second in the 100-meter and tripped and fell in the 200 when she was nearing the finish.
Making the podium at Hornet Stadium was also redemption for Duncan, who won the national title four years earlier. Duncan was fourth at the 2012 Olympic trials, missing the Games by one spot. Then at the 2013 worlds, she was the only U.S. runner who did not advance to the final.
“It was a learning experience,” Duncan said. “I had run a long collegiate season and eventually your body starts shutting down a little bit and then of course, you are trying to tackle nerves on top of that.
“This is another chance for me to get it together.”
The last couple of years have been difficult for Duncan, who sprained her ankle, leading other injuries.
“I kept training and training and praying and praying,” she said, “and everything fell into place at the right time.”