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July 12, 2016

EUGENE, ORE. – A strong contingent of Gamecock track and field stars from past and present wrapped up competition at the Team USA Olympic Trials this weekend. In total, 10 members of the program (seven alumni, three current) were at the American trials, and two other current members were competing overseas.

“This trial had people doing things that were extraordinary from ages 16 to 41, you saw the harmony of the world and our team is a multicultural, beautiful team that shows the true America,” said head coach Curtis Frye, who will be working with the Team USA athletes at the summer games in Rio as the men’s sprint and hurdles coach.

Natasha Hastings will don the red, white and blue again, as she qualified for next month’s games in the 400m dash and as part of the 4x400m relay. A three-time national champion while at South Carolina, Hastings will now make her third-straight appearance at the Olympic games. She won gold with the 4x400m relay team in Beijing in 2008, and was also in the relay pool for the 2012 games in London but did not race. Now, in 2016, she will not only run as a relay member, but gets her first chance to run as an individual quarter-miler after taking a full second off her best qualifying time to nab the bronze medal at trials.

The program also had finalists in the 110m hurdles and 400m hurdles on the men’s side, with 2012 Olympic silver medalist Jason Richardson and current world leader Johnny Dutch, respectively. Both closed out the meet with their best times of the competition, but missed landing in the top three, which would have qualified them for Rio.

“Nothing in the American trials are a given,” Frye said. “Allyson Felix, the defending gold medalist in the 200 meters, didn’t make the Olympics it for that event. I saw the greatest race ever by a collegiate athlete with Devon Allen running 13.03 in the 110m hurdles. There were so many memorable moments from the week.”

Hastings joins three international qualifiers for South Carolina: Aliyah Abrams (Guyana), Kierre Beckles (Barbados), and Jeannelle Scheper (St. Lucia). Abrams will represent her parent’s native country of Guyana in the 400m and 4x400m relay. Just a freshman, Abrams has already enjoyed one of the best seasons by a Gamecock in recent years — earning bronze at the outdoor national meet and silver at SECs for the 4×4.

“For Aliyah and for our program, it speaks volumes for the sport of track and field at South Carolina,” Frye said. “We’re getting our kids on the biggest stage in the world — I’m thrilled to death to be at the Olympic games with my student-athletes representing my institution and sharing my brand with the world.”

Beckles built off her momentum started at the IAAF World Championships last summer, where she set her country’s national record in the 100m hurdles, and qualified for her first-ever Olympic games for Barbados. Her best time this season is 12.93 seconds, set in Barbados on Jun. 26 to reach the qualifying standard.

Scheper was already a confirmed member of the St. Lucian Olympic team, but went into the country’s national meet looking for some momentum before Rio. She found just that, as the 2015 NCAA outdoor high jump champion passed 1.91 meters on her home soil to record her best mark of the year to date. She now sits 30th in the world for the event.

Back at the trials, the Gamecocks had three members of the current roster competing at trials for the first time. For the men, Dondre Echols ran in the 110m hurdles, and Tyler Brockington (400m hurdles) and Natasha Dicks (triple jump) went for the women. Dicks started the week with her opening round of competition on July 4. The junior finished 21st overall after three preliminary jumps, with a top distance of 13.09 meters (42-11 ½) Echols ran 13.97 into a headwind to place 26th in the preliminary round of the high hurdles. Brockington also came 26th in her first-round race, running the intermediate hurdles in 59.23.

Though the trio did not achieve their goals of making the team, Coach Frye was hopeful that the trials would be a learning experience for them.

“They aren’t a lot different than the others who have come before them,” he said. “They got the same feelings that the Miki Barbers and the Jason Richardsons got in their first time at trials. It’s a daunting experience, and right now they feel defeated and down, but that’s the way life is. The thing they have to know is if you want to endure, you have to stick to it and find away to be a survivor.

Allen Johnson came out of his first trial at 13.62 (in the 110m hurdles), not advancing, and then he took a summer as a pizza-delivery man,” Frye continued. “Three years later and he’s an Olympic champion. It’s what you do with this experience, you can get knocked down and not get back up, but only a small percentage of people make this meet (the Olympics), and it’s the most participated sport worldwide. I would be disappointed if they were just thrilled to death about just participating. They are the champions that I expected them to be. I’m not glad that they didn’t advance, but I am glad that they’re disappointed about it, because it shows they care.”

Two other current Gamecocks were chasing their Olympic dreams overseas last week. Jussi Kanervo ran the 400m hurdles at the European Championships for his home country of Finland, and Josh Awotunde threw the shot put for his parent’s native country of Nigeria. Both came short of making the Olympic standard, but still close their 2016 seasons on high notes as first-team All-Americans.

There were also four alumni competing at the Team USA trials throughout the week that came just shy of finals. Shalonda Solomon, a three-time national champion at Carolina from 2005-07, made the semifinal round in both the 100m and 200m races. Tiffany Ross-Williams, a four-year letterwinner and participant in the 2008 Olympic games, made it to the semifinal of the 400m hurdles. Last, but not least, were the Barber twins, Miki and Lisa, who ran in the 100m dash prelims.

As his 20th season as the head coach at South Carolina, Frye has seen his fair share of Gamecocks achieve their Olympic dreams. Since the 2000 Olympics in Greece, South Carolina track and field has brought home 13 medals from the summer games. It’s a point of pride for Frye, and one of his favorite legacies for the program.

“I remember when I first came to South Carolina, the only Olympian there was Dawn Ellerbe for Team USA, Brad Snyder for Canada and Lisa Misipeka for American Samoa. Now there have been so many that have come through, that there’s an expectation here at South Carolina that if there’s a kid that comes through here with a gift, they’re able to make the trials and make their Olympic teams. I’m excited to return to the glory days with our new facilities, and the kids we have today can be the stars of tomorrow. We want to bring South Carolina to the world’s stage.”


The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero begin Aug. 5, but the track and field portion of the event begins Friday, Aug. 12 and runs until the close of the games on Aug. 21. The first Gamecocks in action will be Natasha Hastings and Aliyah Abrams, who run in the qualifiers for the 400m on Aug. 13. Beckles’ competition in the 100m hurdles begins Aug. 16, and Scheper’s qualifiers for the high jump will start Aug. 18.

110m Hurdles (Prelims)
2. Jason Richardson 13.41 (-1.2)
26. Dondre Echols 13.97 (-1.8)
110m Hurdles (Semifinal)
5. Jason Richardson 13.51 (-1.8)
110m Hurdles (Top 3 to Olympics)
5. Jason Richardson 13.28 (1.0)
400m Hurdles (Prelims)
3. Johnny Dutch 49.56
400m Hurdles (Semifinal)
3. Johnny Dutch 49.20
400m Hurdles (Top 3 to Olympics)
5. Johnny Dutch 48.92
100m (Prelims)
13. Shalonda Solomon 11.16 Q
24. Lisa Barber 11.32
33. Miki Barber 12.51
100m (Semifinal)
11. Shalonda Solomon 11.05
200m (Prelims)
20. Shalonda Solomon 23.23 (-2.0) q
200m (Semifinal)
15. Shalonda Solomon 23.06 (-1.8)
400m (Prelims)
4. Natasha Hastings 51.21 Q
400m (Semifinal)
6. Natasha Hastings 51.17 Q
400m (Top 3 to Olympics)
3. Natasha Hastings 50.17 Q
400m Hurdles (Prelims)
9. Tiffany Williams 56.06 Q
26. Tyler Brockington 59.23
400m Hurdles (Semifinal)
12. Tiffany Williams 56.76
Triple Jump (Qualifiers)
21. Natasha Dicks 13.09m | 42-11 ½ (1.0)
400m Hurdles (Prelims)
22. Jussi Kanervo 52.35
Shot Put (Olympic Standard: 20.50 Meters)
2. Josh Awotunde 19.00m