The Internet Home of Track & Field

2008 Simplot Games

Idaho State University, Pocatello ID
February 14-16, 2008

DyeStat on-site with Rich Gonzalez, Dave Devine
Mike Kennedy, Marc Davis and John and Donna Dye

Jackie Coward version 2.0
Tennessee hurdler shows new and improved version in Simplot hurdle prelims.

by Richard Gonzalez, editor, DyeStatCal

Staked with the challenge of learning under a new technique coach and the added novelty of racing indoors merely in flats for the first time, national hurdling phenom Jacqueline Coward posted symbolic triumphs in Friday's 60-meter high hurdles qualifying at the 30th annual Simplot Games.

By the way, this is the new and improved Jackie Coward.

If all holds true to form, Jackie Version 2.0 she should be right at the national record set by Version 1.0 last winter, when she smoked to an all-time best 8.17.

As effective as always in competition, the University of Central Florida-signed Coward relied on a clean getaway -- despite not using her spikes -- and was equally dazzling over the hurdles to bust out a meet-best 8.49 in flats. With the nation's elite hurdlers showing an average one-third-of-a-second increase in spikeless-prelims-to-spiked finals clocking progressions at Simplot in recent years, her projected time in the finals could be in the 8 and teens.

But especally noteworthy from this vantage point was the Knoxville West (Tn.) senior's confidence and ease after successfully dispensing her latest challenges. Seemingly radiating jitters and a quasi-confident demeanor in the past, Coward was a picture of poise this time while reviewing her race, reflecting on her near-term challenges, and revealing her longer-term goals.

"I felt it was a pretty good prelims race, especially without spikes," said Coward, who was making her first trip to the mega-sized indoor meet in frigid Pocatello, where temperatures dipped into the 20s. "It definitely felt different in flats and it sure was cooooooooooool out here too."

Coward volleyed herself between interviews with Internet, print and cable television with ease, confidently covering all questions in stark contrast to the brief replies and uneasy demeanor evident in past major meets.

"This was fun. I loved the noise in here and the hype," she added. "The excitement just carries you and through and if the technique is right, it all falls into place."

Everything must fall into place for Saturday's final, which figures to be a prime showdown between her and Californian Vashti Thomas, the Golden State hurdling recordholder indoors at 60 meters (8.30) and the national federation recordholder outdoors at the 100-meter high hurdles (13.03). Thomas was timed just 0.04 seconds slower than Coward while winning a separate heat, with her coach (Steve Nelson) pointing out Thomas' own maturation as an athlete in recent months, making her an ultra-tough foe for Coward. The two have faced off only twice, with Coward prevailing both times but by only 0.08 seconds at the 2007 Arcadia Invitational. Thomas also owns the faster lifetime mark at the 100 highs, 13.03 to 13.17.

"If I get a good start and I can kick my foot out (over the hurdles), I'll be running my race' said Coward. "My speed is there and my technique has been my focus."

Coward was the precocious hurdler under the tutelage of club coach Charles Ryan in recent years, exhibiting explosive starts and don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it clearances that resulted in three national records in a series of weeks. With Ryan now hired off to the coaching staff at Louisiana Tech University, Coward puts her full trust in co-coaches Tyangela Sanders and Carjay Lyles, the former handling the sprint coaching chores and the latter specializing in the technique work. So far, the transition has been near seamless according to Coward as the synergy among all three coaches over the last calendar year has benefitted her accelerated development.

Coward caught many track aficionados off guard when she committed to Central Florida rather than collegiate track mega-powers such as Tennessee, LSU, Texas, et al.
"I decided to go the spiritual route," she explained with a warm smile, layered in a fleece top and Team USA tights. "Central Florida is a great fit for me as a person and an athlete."
Citing her devotion to religion, her affinity for the coaching staff and being won over by a "great group of girls" welcoming her onto the sprint team, Coward is unabated in her optimism for the future. That includes the months to come, with the burden of making a college decision now siutated in her rear-view mirror.

"I just want to leave high school giving people something to really say," said Coward. "Not just saying, "yes, she was good; she ran 13.6 (for the outdoor 100 hurdles)," but more like, "yes, she was the girl who ran 12.8."

12.8 ??? Yikes! The national record is 12.95!

And the equally important senior-year goals?

"Well," she said while flashing a warm and humble smile, "we're actually talking about maybe going for the Olympic Trials. "

"The goal between now and then is just really staying focused and being patient. Being patient and executing the technique in races... then my fastest times will come."

Perhaps starting with Saturday's titanic clash against Thomas and crew.

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