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May 30, 2008

South Carolina is competing at the NCAA East Region Championship Fri., May 30 and Sat., May 31. The following is a question and answer with long jumper Brittney James and 400m hurdler Jussi Heikkila. Both have qualified for the championships.

Get to know Jussi Heikkila

Your time for the 400-meter hurdles at the SEC Championships was 49.52. You still have several races left to hit the 49.50 mark needed to be an Olympic Games B standard. What was your reaction when you crossed the finish line?

JH: I was happy. That was the first time under 50, so I had to enjoy it. I have been trying to get under 50 for so many years. It motivates me. I finally got a good improvement.

What steps have you taken to improve your time?

JH: I have been practicing hard. The main thing is that I have been able to practice. I haven’t had any injuries.

You set a Finland national record in the men’s 400-meter dash. How did that feel?

JH: It felt good to set the record. I didn’t expect to run that fast indoors. Then, everything just started going well. The whole season has been good.

What are your goals for Regionals?

JH: I want to go out there and compete. I wouldn’t mind getting the Olympic standard, but I’m not thinking about the time or the place. I hope to go out there and run my race and compete. That’s the main thing right now. If everything goes well, it’s going to be a good time.

Do you think training with two top 400-meter hurdlers and competing against SEC Champion, Justin Gaymon, will help you in Regionals?

JH: It helps getting good competition in practice and also in meets. I know that they’re going to run fast. If I am able to compete with them and stay with them, I will be able to run fast. After that hurdle, everything is over.

Your cousin, Valtteri Filppula, plays hockey for the Detroit Red Wings and scored a goal in the Stanley Cup the other night. Did you play hockey growing up? JH: I played hockey growing up. I started playing when I was six. It has been a while since I have been able to play hockey with my cousin. We never see him in the Winter, because he is always traveling.

You have great hair. Who cuts it?

JH: I do!

Get to know Brittney James

You barely missed the NCAA Championship last year. Do you have something to prove?

BJ: I don’t think I have anything to prove, but I am definitely more prepared this year. I know what I have to do to make it to Nationals this year. Last year I came in at the bottom. This year, I am in the top five at Regionals and I think I have a better chance.

What are your goals for Regionals?

BJ: My goal for Regionals is jump 21 feet, top four and to get ready for Nationals. My commitment level has definitely changed compared to last year.

You have been dealing with a knee injury this season. What do you do to get through that?

BJ: My knee injury really isn’t a problem right now. I just pray and leave it up to God. Any event in track and field you have injuries, but a jumper definitely has more stress than other events on the track.

You graduated from Dreher High School. Do you get a chance to go back much?

BJ: Any chance I get, I’m going back to Dreher. I get to see everyone there and see my coaches a lot. I try to get out and see the track team as much as I can.

You have set the third best record in the long jump at USC. Do you think you have it in you to break that record?

BJ: Definitely. Maybe not this year, but definitely next year!