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Tiffany Abney:
not your typical 
15-year-old 

The fastest US freshman ever 
in the 400 meter hurdles 
talks about her season

by Don Rich, publisher of DyeStatPA

On any given day, you'll find most 15 and 16-year-old girls hanging out and talking and dreaming of friends, music, and boys. Not necessarily in that order. But when one particular Philadelphia girl gets together to hang out with her friends, they hang around a track.

And while their talk most probably includes the interests of any normal teenager, these friends also dream of much bigger things - such as toppling national high school records, competing against international competition, and of one day, not only making an Olympic team, but medalling, as well.

Meet Tiffany Abney. Fifteen. And in her first full year of high school, a freshman who made a major impact in prep track and field in her state, as well as nationally.

The daughter of Dawn and Ken Abney, Tiffany has blossomed on the track as well as the classroom. She attends Merion Mercy Academy, a private school on Philadelphia's Main Line, just outside the city limits. Already there is talk of the Ivy League and other prestigious colleges and universities around the country.

"I kinda get mad when people say it just comes naturally."

But don't think for a minute that she is simply a natural talent who works hard. Just as in every aspect of life, there really is no such thing as an overnight success. "I kinda get mad when people say that it just comes naturally. They have no idea how long and hard I have worked to get here. I give 100% in every practice. But everyone in track & field knows that you can't just show up. Those who work the hardest are generally blessed with success."

Just how long has she worked this hard? Actually, since she was six. She says she has been really serious about training since she was nine. "When I was younger, it was just Ev (Evelyn Dwyer-teammate and also on the USA T&F Junior National team) and I. We just ran and had fun. Practice is hard now. Grueling. The fun part comes when we travel and get to go to different places." This summer, she'll get to travel outside the US for the first time with the US Junior National team for meets in Montreal July 17-23 and Monterrey, Mexico, August 3-5.

Just how hard does she work? As hard, if not harder than anyone on the club team she calls home, The United Stars of Philadelphia. The team is coached by her father, and continually makes a major impact on the AAU Junior Olympic, USATF Junior Olympic, and now, USATF Junior National scene. The Stars accept girls between the ages of 6 and 21, and have served as a mostly invisible source of some of the top talent in the region on the high school level. Coach Abney says that he really doesn't care who gets credit for the performance of his girls, the high school coach or the Stars. "What matters are the kids and how they do in life."

Tiffany's typical weekday, while she is in school, consists of lifting after classes two days a week, or 1000 crunches two days a week, and then full practice four days a week. Stretching, drills and warm-ups can take 45 minutes. And then the track work is as intense as it gets on the prep scene. Coach Abney notes that his are just among the toughest practices in the country. "I know for a fact those California, Texas and Florida girls are working like this. You don't get this good without it." In the summer, she adds an 8:00 am practice with a medium paced run of three to four miles. Then she lifts from 10 am-12 PM. Practice is at either 1 or 6 PM (see above).

Diet: No candy. No cookies. An occasional piece of gum. (Editor's note: OK, I guess we aren't talking typical teenager, here.)

While she loves being able to excel individually, she also enjoys the team aspect of track and field. "I especially like the relays. You depend on each other. I usually run faster because you don't want to let your team down." That prospect will be a very scary one for those who will face her Merion Mercy 4 x 400 team next spring. The quartet took the District One (Philly-area) title, and then captured second at the PA State Championships this year. All four team members will be back, including Julie Lenzt, who will be a sophomore, Kristi Wallin, who will be a senior, and Amber Tyler, who will be a junior.

Tiffany has run four major events so far this year. The Penn Relays, Districts, States, and the Junior Nationals. And she has shared her thoughts and reactions to each along the way.

Penn Relays

She got into the Penn Relays as a freshman because of her first breakthrough race as an eighth grader. She nailed a 60.92 at the East Coast Invitational as she was preparing for the nationals. The time earned her a spot in the hot heat of the 400-meter hurdles at the incomparable Penn Relays.

On race day, there was no time to arrive, sit and watch as other runners helped her relax a little and deal with her nerves. She was in Event #4, Day One, Thursday, on the main stage.

And she said she wasn't nervous running her first Penn.

"Actually, I was fine until I heard my lane one assignment. Lanes one and two are probably the hardest lanes to run from because you feel like you're so far behind before you start." (In the 400 Hurdles, runners use a stagger start. The best lanes are the middle-outside ones, because you get the feeling of being ahead, and have better vision of the whole race).

Abney didn't let the lane one assignment get to her.

"In another way, lane one is good because you have to make up the stagger."

She started a bit tentatively, almost falling on the second hurdle. But experience has taught her that it's a long race… and despite not being able to shake her nerves until the fifth or sixth hurdle, she was able to focus at about 200 meters and put on a serious effort, passing several competitors and finishing fourth in a very fast field.

At the time, her 60.28 was a PR. Just as importantly, the effort gave her confidence. "If I hadn't hit the second hurdle, I maybe would have gotten second. I'm pretty happy with my race, though. When I was first standing on the track, it all seemed so big. When I finished, it wasn't so big anymore."

And what about next year's Penn Relays 400 Hurdles? "I think I can win it."

District One and PA State Championships (last two weekends of May)

The most obvious thing about Tiffany is her work ethic and focus. To even a casual observer, it is almost a businesslike approach. At Districts, while many were worried about the heavy rains and its possible effect on their performance, Abney had to qualify and run finals in four events, the 200, 400, 300 hurdles, and 4 x 400 relay.

"I just focus. I know what I have to do, and I do it."

She was not surprised she did so well at Districts and States. At Districts, she won three individual and one relay championship. At States, she almost repeated the performance, but was not able to make up a 30 meter lead on the anchor leg in the 4 x 400 by good friend Dominique Darden, a rising junior at Harrisburg High School. The two have run together during the summers for several years.

"I always believe I am capable of winning every race. The Penn (Relays) and the meet I ran at Lower Merion were good for me. It helped to run a few races, rather than just training. You get to see where you stand."

USATF Junior Nationals

Abney said she was very pleased with her time and her performance in Denton that qualified her for her first Junior National team. "There is no comparison between this feeling and winning three state championship titles. This is much better."

Just before 300 meters into the race, she was exactly where she needed to be, side by side with Sheena Johnson (VA) and Randi Smith (Washington State). But then something happened which her coach and father, Ken Abney, said you could see surprised her. With two hurdles and about 100 meters to go, Johnson hit another gear. "Smith hesitated a second, but responded very quickly and kicked into the same gear," according to Coach Abney. "I was at the eighth hurdle and you could see that Tiffany was surprised. In fact, the girl that was fourth was coming up on her at the end. But that's how they learn. You can tell them that in practice, but then when they experience it in the race, they remember it."

Tiffany says she will represent the US with her best effort. "I can't wait to put on that uniform. I mean, I'm representing my country. I'm just a sophomore. I'm 15 years old. And I'm on the Junior National Team."

This is just the beginning.

So what does Tiffany dream about with her friends? While she is giving a workout everything she has? While she's lifting or doing crunches? While she's saying 'no' to candy and cookies?

"First, I want to break Marion Jone's high school record of 22.58 in the 200. I think I can get it by my senior year. " Her coach and father thinks she can also get the 400 record, which was lowered this year.

"Then I want to qualify for the US Olympic Team in the 400 Hurdles. Right now, it's my favorite event, because you don't get as tired and you get a kind of mini-rest on each hurdle."

Something tells us that this is a dream that most likely will become a reality. Watch Tiffany Abney practice and perform, and you quickly realize there is no rest in this 15 year-old.

Tiffany Abney's 2000 Track & Field Highlights
(through June 30)

MAJOR

MEET

EVENT

QUAL

FINAL

PLACE

Comment

Penn Relays

400 Hurdles

NA

60.28

4th

2nd American PA # 1

District One Champion-ships

200

?

24.54

First

District Champion

 

400

?

55.40

First

Meet Record

District Champion

 

300 Hurdles

?

43.40

First

District Champion

 

4 x 400 Relay

?

3:56.46

First

District Champion

           

PA State Championships

200

24.94

24.49

First

State Champion

PA # 5

 

400

56.20

54.29

First

State Champion

PA # 1

 

300 Hurdles

43.20

43.37

First

State Champion

PA # 1

 

4 x 400 Relay

3:57.37

3:57.30

Second

 

USATF Junior Nationals

400 Hurdles

59.63

58.82

Third

 

Qualifed for US Junior National Team - US Freshman Record (was 58.90, by Sandra Farmer in 1977) - 2nd US Prep - PA # 1

Also see "PA Stars are US Stars" - Evelyn Dwyer and Tiffany Abney

 

 

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