Texas 4x400-meter relay team shows strength in numbers
Feb. 13, 2013
Elissa Schneiderman, Texas Media Relations
The Longhorn 4x400-meter relay squad owns two of the top three fastest indoor times in the country this season, including the number one spot. A team made up of juniors Danielle Dowie and Briana Nelson as well as senior Kendra Chambers and freshman Courtney Okolo ran a time of 3:30.95 at the Tyson Invitational last weekend.
"This group (of quarter-milers) is strong because it has sprinters and even some middle-distance runners,” interim head coach Rose Brimmer said. "I think everybody is driven right now. Everyone is driven to do well."
Last month, nearly the same squad--swapping only junior Christy Udoh for Dowie--posted this season's third-best national time of 3:31.69 at the Razorback Invitational. Both top performances were accomplished at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark., which will also be the site of the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships on March 8 and 9.
"We've consistently gotten better each meet and it feels really good," Nelson said. "We get off the track knowing that we have more to give so that when the time comes for nationals, we know that we still have a lot of room for improvement."
These two top times are also good enough for the Longhorn all-time record book, clocking in at fifth and seventh place. This is no small feat at Texas, where there is a strong legacy of accomplished quarter-milers. Olympians such as Sanya Richards-Ross, Sandie Richards, Moushaumi Robinson, Merlene Frazer and Melaine Walker all competed in 400-meter events wearing burnt orange.
For the women who make up this season's outstanding quarter-mile group, the opportunity to be a part of a strong and successful 400-meter tradition led them to Austin.
"That's the pull factor," Dowie said. "A bunch of 400-meter forces came up from this school--a lot of women that I look up to--and it's inspiring. It's just really exciting to know that we are the next generation."
Quarter-milers make up the core of the UT team. Brimmer builds her running roster around the 400 group because of their versatility. Often, quarter-milers are able to run the 100- or 200-meter sprints, or even middle-distance races like the 800-meter run. She describes as part of her philosophy building her team from a quarter-mile base rather than a sprint base.
As a result, Texas' current 400-meter group is remarkably deep, even by UT standards. There are five women who have competed in the top-finishing relay teams so far this season, with a potential sixth in freshman Melissa Gonzalez, who Brimmer said is progressing rapidly.
Naturally, this depth is advantageous in competition. Given the unpredictability of injuries, especially in championship season during when athletes push themselves to their limits, it's beneficial to have extra runners prepared to compete.
But perhaps an even greater advantage is in practice, where UT's talented competitors push each other to train at the highest level. Brimmer likened it to steel sharpening steel: the better a group of runners are, the better they are able to reinforce one another and drive team-wide improvement.
"I don't ever have to worry about not having someone to push me at practice," Nelson said. "We all push each other to get better. Practice every day is almost like a competition, so when it comes down to the relays in meets, it's already second nature."
This group, in particular, has chemistry and a strong bond.
"It is motivating to be around a group of girls like this because it makes you want to do better," Chambers said. "Not only do they inspire you to do better, but they also give you a purpose. You want to do better for them."
This season’s 400-meter squad is made up predominantly of veterans who have been training together for two or three years, but freshman Okolo is fitting in well and is competitive enough to push the group, Nelson said. The upperclassmen, in return, help Okolo adjust to collegiate track and field.
"I feel like my goal is just to be on the same level (as the upperclassmen) and progress to the same level as them," Okolo said.
With so much experience together and team chemistry, the quarter-milers possess an intimate understanding of one another's strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge further serves to improve the group overall.
Dowie explained that her team knows what each member is capable of. For example, she said that she is a comparatively fast runner, rather than a strong runner. She pushes the pace at the start of a workout and the stronger runners try to keep up. At the end of a workout, it's Dowie who works hard to stay with the others.
Nevertheless, to ultimately achieve their title-winning and record-breaking ambitions, each competitor will have to perform at her best.
"When we individually succeed, then we succeed as a team," Nelson said. "I want us to have fun this season, grow as women and athletes on the track, train harder and get faster. All of that combined is what produces a national title."