By KAT ANDRUS
Eight of BYU’s All-American female track and field athletes are training for the USA National Championships, which head coach Craig Poole calls the national track championships for elite athletes.
“The USAs are where athletes can qualify for the World Championships, the Olympics, and the World Games; any team representation of the U.S. comes out of this championship,” Poole said.
Among BYU’s top crop are seven athletes who competed at the NCAAs a week ago, and former BYU All-American and national champion Tiffany Lott. This competition will mark Lott’s fourth time at the USAs, competing in the heptathlon. Last year she finished third, just missing an invitation to the 1998 Goodwill Games. She said she expects a top-three finish this year and a berth in the World Championships.
“I’ll need to score well over 6,000 points to be top three,” she said.
Lott’s best finish was 6,211 points at the 1997 National Championships in Indiana. She said she also looks forward to having Cougar heptathlete Alicia Brimhall join her in the event this year.
“It’ll be nice to have a teammate up there with me and to compete with,” Lott said.
Brimhall most recently finished eighth in the heptathlon at nationals and said she is a little nervous about competing with the nation’s big guns, but excited too.
“It’s my first post-collegiate meet and think I’ll learn a lot competing with athletes who have so much experience,” Brimhall said.
Junior Elizabeth Jackson is one of the veterans of the USA championships, going for her third time in as many years. She finished second in the steeplechase both years and endurance coach Patrick Shane said he thinks this could be Jackson’s year.
“She has a great chance to win this year and to break the USA record,” Shane said.
Also running in the steeplechase are senior Kara Ormond and junior Tara Haynes, who will also compete in the 3,000-meter run. Another point-scorer for the Cougars this year at nationals, 800-meter-runner Treva Bryant will try her hand at USAs in that event.
BYU’s Marty Hernandez will compete in the 10,000 meters, the event in which she finished fifth at nationals this year. She said she is feeling better after a month-long battle with bronchitis and looks for a personal best at USAs.
“I feel great now and I am excited to run with the big girls,” Hernandez said.
Shane said the distance runners are looking good and the field will be quick.
“It’ll be cool, fast and low altitude; they’ll fly,” he said.
Although the altitude doesn’t affect sprinters as much, Julie Bennion said she is also looking to fly at USAs. Running the 400-meter hurdles for her initiation to post-collegiate athletics, Bennion said she wants to relax and stay focused to have a good race.
“I want to be in the top ten — that would be an accomplishment well worth a pat on the back, but I’m trying not to think about it,” she said.
Bennion postponed her wedding, originally scheduled for June 25, in order to compete at USAs.
“I’ll be getting married the Tuesday after we get back, so right now I just need to focus on this race,” she said.
The USA Championships will be June 24 and 25 at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ore, where Poole said the fans are knowledgeable, the crowds are good and the athletes are the best of the best.
“It’s one of the track capitals of the U.S.,” Poole said. “It’s a great place to go.”