Shakima Wimbley was running at Hayward Field for the third time in her career, so it is no surprise that the University of Miami sprinter felt comfortable kicking around the Bowerman Curve into the homestretch.
“After you’ve been here a few times, you kind of learn the track and get used to the atmosphere,” Wimbley said. “Once you’ve figured out what it is like, you can really just focus on yourself and where you’re at.”
Wimbley broke free from the pack in the last 100 meters to win her heat of the 400 meters in 51.68 seconds, qualifying her for Saturday’s final at the NCAA Track and Field Championships with the second-fastest time overall.
The holder of the fastest collegiate time in the event this year, Wimbley knew she had what it takes to run hard enough to finish in the top two.
“I didn’t feel any pressure coming in,” Wimbley said. “I think I ran pretty well. There was a strong head wind down the back stretch, so for me to close that way felt really good.”
In the weeks leading up to the NCAA Championships, Wimbley found out she was named Woman Track Athlete of the Year by USA Track and Field shortly after winning the 400 at the ACC Championships.
“That award came as a total surprise, but it means a lot to me,” Wimbley said. “It shows that with hard work, dedication and believing in yourself, there is no limit to how high you can go or what goals you can reach.”
Wimbley was able to qualify for two finals at the meet when she and her teammates ran later Thursday evening in the 4x400 relay. The team qualifed for the finals in the event with a time of 3:33.18. USC qualified with the fastest time at 3:29.97.
One of her relay teammates, Kelsey Balkwill, finished fourth in her heat of the 400-meter hurdles, missing the final by just three one-thousandths of a second. Balkwill tied Florida State’s Sage Watson in her heat, but Watson’s time of 57.052 knocked out Balkwill’s 57.055.
“I started off good, but the wind was a little strong,” Balkwill said. “I knew it was going to be strong, but it was more than I thought. I had to get back into it on the homestretch, so it was a little bit slower than I had hoped, but overall I’m happy with it.”
After injuring a bone in her foot during her freshman season, Balkwill is running just her ninth hurdle race in four years. Balkwill was able to set a personal record last week in the regionals to qualify individually for NCAAs.
“That showed me that I do have what it takes and my hard work is paying off,” Balkwill said. “I was honestly just happy getting here, being able to be in the race. Today wasn’t what I wanted. … I still feel very blessed.”