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Wilson aiming for history at NCAAs

by Bob Holt | June 6, 2023 at 3:01 a.m.
Arkansas sprinter Britton Wilson crosses the finish line in the team’s first-place performance in the 4x400-meter relay final, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, during the Razorbacks’ championship sweep at the Southeastern Conference 2023 Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville. Visit for today's photo gallery..(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

FAYETTEVILLE -- When Britton Wilson heard her mother's voice during a recent cell phone call, her initial reaction was concern.

"It was so crazy," said Wilson, the University of Arkansas junior sprinter and hurdler from Henrico, Va. "My mom called me and she was sobbing.

"I thought someone had died or something bad had happened. So I was freaking out. I said, 'Mom, what happened?' "

"She said, 'Look at what I sent you.' "

LeYuani Wilson had texted her daughter a screenshot of her being on the June cover of Track & Field News, which describes itself as "The Bible of the Sport" and has been produced on a monthly basis since 1948.

The sobbing Wilson heard from her mother were tears of joy, not anguish.

Wilson is the first female athlete to be on the cover while competing for the Razorbacks.

Deena (Drossin) Kastor, an All-American distance runner at Arkansas from 1993-96, twice was on the Track and Field News cover as a professional in 2002 and 2006.

"I was really excited," Wilson said of hearing the news from her mother. "I just couldn't stop smiling."

Wilson earned the cover spot by twice breaking her own collegiate record in the 400 meters at the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships four weeks ago in Baton Rouge.

Entering the SEC meet, Wilson's collegiate record was 49.51 seconds set earlier this season. She then ran 49.40 in the SEC prelims and 49.13 in winning the final.

Wilson also won the 400-meter hurdles SEC title in 53.76, running 90 minutes after her victory in the 400. Earlier this season she ran a collegiate-leading 53.23 in Gainesville, Fla. She ran a career-best 53.08 in taking the silver medal at last year's USA Championships.

Last year, Wilson became the first female to sweep the 400 and 400 hurdles at the SEC meet, and she's now done it twice.

Starting Thursday night in Austin, Texas, Wilson will attempt to become the first female to sweep the 400 and 400 hurdles titles at the NCAA Championships.

Wilson won the NCAA 400 hurdles title last year, but she and Arkansas assistant coach Chris Johnson made the decision not to have her also run the 400 because the semifinals and finals were scheduled only 30 minutes apart.

This year's schedule also doesn't offer much of a break between the races -- 30 minutes in the semifinals and 25 minutes in Saturday night's finals with the 400 followed by the 400 hurdles -- but Wilson and Johnson decided doubling made sense for her this year.

"It's something she wants to do, and also she's a year older, a year more mature," said Johnson, who will succeed the retiring Lance Harter as Arkansas' head coach for women's cross country and track and field after the NCAA Championships. "Her times are exponentially better than last year, which is kind of hard to fathom.

"She's dropped almost a second in the open 400 and she just hasn't had enough competition to have a breakout in the hurdles. But we think she can run faster in the hurdles as well.

"She's attempting to do something that's never been done at nationals, and I think she has the ability to get it done. We're going to put it out there and see what happens."

Wilson said doubling was a mutual decision she discussed with Johnson.

"We were in his office and he said, 'So what's the plan for nationals?' " Wilson said. "Then I was like, 'What are you thinking?' He asked how I felt about doing both, and I was like, 'If you want me to do it, I want to do it. But if you don't think it's a good idea, I'm not going to be upset.'

"He said, 'We just want to make sure you're healthy and you're physically OK to do it.' And I was like, 'Yeah, I want to do it.'

"He basically left it up to me. There wasn't any pressure either way. He said it was my decision and I decided, 'Well, let me challenge myself and see what I can do.'

"I want to see how far I can push myself."

Wilson said she's not concerned about the tight schedule at the NCAA Championships.

"I feel like the 30 minutes between races is just not that big of a thing to stress out about," she said. "I think I can get it done, and I think if I'm sitting there thinking, 'Oh, I only have 30 minutes,' then it will make the experience less fun."

Wilson said that during the break between races she'll get her leg muscles massaged by a trainer, eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and hydrate by drinking water and Gatorade.

"It's like practice where we run a rep, then have 90 seconds, then have another rep," Wilson said. "You don't have time to sit there and worry. You just go to the next race and get it done."

Johnson said ideally there would be more recovery time between races at the NCAA Championships for Wilson.

"But the schedule is the schedule," he said. "So whether we agree with the schedule, those parameters are already set.

"We've got what we've got, so we'll try to make use of the time that she has and see if we can get after it."

Wilson won the 400 and 400 hurdles at the NCAA West Prelims in Sacramento, Calif., two weeks ago with a 35-minute turnaround.

"Obviously the races at nationals are going to be a little bit more competitive, you're going to bring the whole country together," Johnson said. "It's not just the West, but the West is pretty prominent in terms of the level of competition.

"I think it's just going to come down to focus, and being able to recover in a short window. We train that way in practice, so I think it's possible. But it most definitely is going to be tough and challenging."

Wilson said she's confident she can win both races in Austin.

"I feel like it's realistic," she said. "I feel like I have a very high competitive drive.

"I like to rise to the occasion, so as the competition gets steeper, I respond to that."

That's why Wilson is on the cover of Track & Field News.

Print Headline: Wilson aiming for history at NCAAs


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