SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Former University of Texas NCAA champion Sanya Richards (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) became the first current or former Longhorn track athlete to qualify for the Athens Olympics at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials with a runner-up finish in the 400 meters in a personal-best 49.89 on Saturday, July 17, at the Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex. Former Longhorns Nichole Denby (Moreno Valley, Calif.) and Raasin McIntosh (Houston, Texas) each advanced to the semifinals in the 100-meter hurdles with solid qualifying marks, while Texas ex Chris Hercules (Palatine, Ill.) placed ninth in the finals in the triple jump on day seven at the Trials.
In the women's 400m, Richards broke the 50-second barrier for the first time in her career and becomes just the 11th athlete in U.S. history to do so. Monique Hennagan, competing unattached, won gold with a career-best time of 49.56 to become the 10th athlete in U.S. history to break 50 seconds in the quarter. Dee Dee Trotter of Tennessee, the reigning NCAA champion, claimed third in a personal-best 50.28 to earn the final Olympic berth. Texas exes Moushaumi Robinson (Columbus, Ohio) and Suziann Reid (Greenbelt, Md.) finished sixth (51.54) and seventh (51.61), respectively.
"I always get out really hard and my goal today was to get out as hard as I could, break the first two staggers and then relax on the back-stretch," Richards said about her strategy. "I think I did that well. I wanted to move at the 150-meter mark, but Monique was gone and I could see her in front of me and I kind of moved a little early trying to make sure she didn't get too far in front of me. I think I ran the race well and I am excited with the time. I wouldn't have changed anything."
"I finished in the top six, I'm young and I still have 2008 and 2012," Robinson said after the race. "I love running for the U.S. and contributing."
Before Trials began, Richards' personal-best in the 400m was 50.49, which she posted in the prelims at the NCAA Midwest Regional on May 28 in College Station, Texas. Twice, in less than a week at Trials, she lowered her own American Junior record and personal-best. Richards' first record-setting time came in the quarterfinals (July 12) with a mark of 50.22. In addition, Richards' Athens berth marks the fifth Olympic Games UT will have a representative in the women's 400m. Sandie Richards (1989-91) competed in the quarter at the 1988, '92, '96 and 2000 Games, with Merlene Frazer (1994-95) also in action in '96.
Denby and McIntosh were lined up next to each other in the first of four quarterfinal heats in the 100-meter hurdles. Denby, who claimed the NCAA title in Austin (June12) with a school-record 12.62 effort, finished second in the flight in 12.86, while McIntosh took third in 12.96. Joanna Hayes finished first in 12.67, which was the top qualifying time on the day. The top three finishers in each heat moved on to Sunday's semifinals.
"It was good," Denby said about her quarterfinal performance. "Basically, I tried my best to get through the first round. I was able to get out really well and hold it. I didn't press it, because I knew I just needed to get top three and I have two more rounds left tomorrow. I wanted to get out really strong, and I was out really well over the first six hurdles, and then I just shut it down. I have a hard day tomorrow, so I have to conserve some of that energy."
"I was a little rusty," McIntosh said following her race. "I have been trying to get my turnover together in practice. Tomorrow, I'll be ready. I was just glad to get through that race."
Aleah Williams (Montclair, N.J.), who completed her UT career in 2003, failed to make it to the finals in the 200 meters. Williams finished sixth in the third of three semifinal heats with a time of 23.80.
In the 110-meter hurdles, former Longhorn Jermaine Cooper (Giddings, Texas) advanced to the quarterfinals with a time of 13.91 in the third of four opening heats early in the afternoon. Following his performance in qualifying, Cooper placed sixth in his quarterfinal heat in 13.78, but missed advancing to the semifinals by two qualifying spots.
Texas ex Hercules measured 54-4.50 (16.57m) on his second of three jumps in the finals in the triple, but that mark failed to place him among the top eight who earned an additional three jumps in the finals. Melvin Lister shattered the stadium record to earn gold at 58-4 (17.78m).
Rising sophomore Andra Manson (Brenham, Texas) aims to become the second current or former UT athlete at the U.S. Trials to punch his ticket for Athens when he competes in the finals in the high jump at 5:10 p.m. (CST) on Sunday, the final day of competition at the Trials. The semifinals in the women's100m hurdles is set for 5:15 p.m. (CST), followed by the finals at 7:25 p.m. (CST). NBC will carry live coverage from 6 - 8 p.m. (CST) on Sunday.
On her chances in the next two rounds: I feel I have a very strong chance to make this team. If I can go out there and execute like I'm supposed to and run a flawless race, I will definitely be there.
On getting herself up for a prelim race: Actually, the prelim rounds are more nerve wrecking than the final because you have to first make it to the finals for a chance to even make the team. You can't win from the semifinals, so its nerve wrecking getting through the rounds to the final. Once you get (to the finals) though, you are more relaxed and you can just let it all out. But, you have to get there first and anything can happen.
On if competing in the 400m hurdles earlier in the week will have any effect: No, because I felt like I ran a good race out of lane one in the 400m hurdles. If I had it all over again, I probably would try to have done better because I was so close to making the team. But, anything can happen. It was a really fast race. I think even one of the fastest in U.S. history. So, you never know. I still may be in Athens.
On the transition from running the 400m hurdles now to 100m hurdles: I have to get my turnover together. It's different in the 400m hurdles, so I just have to get my turnover right in the 100m hurdles and I'll be fine.