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PA Stars United for US

Evelyn Dwyer (2:11.68) and Tiffany Abney (58.82, US freshman record for 400m hurdles), teammates on the United Stars Track Club in Philadelphia, will both be on the US Junior National team this summer.  Evelyn and Tiffany talk to Don Rich about their feelings

Tiffany Abney

Evelyn Dwyer

"When I got to practice tonight, the two of them were hugging. I asked someone what was going on, and was told they were hugging and crying because they were so happy about making the team."  Ken Abney, Coach, United Stars Track Club

by Don Rich, publisher of DyeStatPA

Tiffany Abney, a rising sophomore, and long-time friend and teammate Evelyn Dwyer, a rising junior, will both be wearing the uniform of the United States USATF Junior National Team this summer at meets in Canada and Mexico. And they couldn't be happier.

Both are thrilled just to be representing the United States. But both also had similar experiences during their races. Experiences which should help the young stars in their next few years of racing in high school. Both said they would not be surprised again in the same way. More on that later.

In interviews just a day after returning from Denton, Texas, where the US Junior National Championships were held, the two said it was only just sinking in. Abney had known almost immediately Saturday after finishing third in the 400 Hurdles with a 58.82. The mark set a new US Freshman Record, breaking the standard of 58.90 held by Sandra Farmer since 1977. Abney finished behind college freshman Randi Smith of Washington State, and recent high school graduate Sheena Johnson, of Virginia. The top two automatically qualify, and with Johnson heading to the Olympic Trials and Smith going back to college, Abney was immediately slotted to make the team.

Dwyer, on the other hand, didn't know officially until Monday at practice when told by her coach. She had finished fourth in 2:11.68, the third prep finisher, but just a half step behind Stanford freshman Lindsay Hyatt. Hyatt is turning to cross country training for the Cardinal, and one of the other two will not be competing this summer.

Evelyn's Race:

Evelyn Dwyer didn't run with her high school team as a freshman because of a stress fracture. And she didn't run with her high school team this year, because the coach wouldn't allow her to keep training with the team she has run with since she was six years old, The United Stars Track Club, of Philadelphia.

"It was an easy decision.  Coach (Abney) has done too much for me, and I can't turn my back now. He found my talent and showed me it was in me. I'll probably even come back and train with him when I'm in college."

Dwyer says that the Junior Nationals race is what her years of training are all about. "This is what I have been training for. I'm happy-happy-happy. I'm certainly not disappointed with getting fourth. Especially now that I'm actually on the US team!"

She says she had a little doubt before her qualifying race because she was only able to race twice this Spring. She ran 2:17 from the 'slow' heat of a college race at Villanova, and then a 2:13 against top college competition at a race in Holmdel (NJ) a few weeks ago.

The theme at both Holmdel and Junior Nationals was that the more experienced runners surprised her both times. At Holmdel, Dwyer says, she didn't expect them to take off like they did at 600. She feels that with only two races under her belt she wasn't ready for the pace at nationals.

But when she got to the line for the Junior Nationals qualifier on Friday, she was in the fourth (and final) heat and knew what she had to run. A 2:12. "If you weren't prepared to run a fast time in the trials, you were gone. When I finished, I looked back and saw 2:12 and knew I was in."

She was the sixth seed out of eight finalists. "Yes� the fear was there. But I freed my mind. And it wasn't as hard as I imagined. But the competition was there."

For the finals, Coach Abney told her to let it all hang out and just run� smart and not in first. "He told me to stay with the first girl. But no one followed my race plan. I was in great shape and getting ready to go at the 700 mark. But at the 450, three girls went around me on the outside. I tried to respond. With 200 to go, I was in sixth. I think I was still in sixth at the 700. I hit the last 100 hard and moved up to fourth. If I had another 10 meters I may have gotten second. I just wasn't used to taking off at 450 like that."

She is feeling more confident following the experience. "In practice yesterday, I came through the 600 in 1:32, which is the fastest I've done in practice this year, and three seconds faster than I did in the race. Now I just have to do it in the race."

Evelyn's Reactions and Goals:

Evelyn was told she had made the US team when she got to practice the Monday after the race. "I was like 'wow!' It hasn't registered yet with Tiffany and I. We're going to be in USA suits. It's an amazing feeling. It means our training has not been in vain. When you're struggling in practice and the pain is so great, your stomach hurts so bad. But if you want it, you go get it."

Dwyer takes nothing for granted. And she certainly isn't going to settle for a 2:11 this summer. The time was slightly off her PR of 2:11.43 set when she won the National Scholastic Indoor 800 Championship last March at The Armory in New York.

"My goal is to run 2:06 by Mexico. Coach says I should do 2:03. My long-term goal is to be an Olympian and be under 2:00 by my senior year and break the US high school record." (2:00.07)

"I thank God for my talent. It means I have to work harder to use my talent. Now it's mental, just keeping my head in the game."

Tiffany's Race and Reactions:

Abney says she was not at all surprised by the level of competition. "I've seen the times on the Internet, and I knew how good they were. I knew it would be a challenge."

Overall, she says she was very pleased with her time and her performance. Just before 300 meters into the race, she was exactly where she needed to be, side by side with Johnson and Smith. 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. Tiffany said she was shocked by the move. Her father concurred: "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 fifteen years old. And I'm on the Junior National Team."

Evelyn has two more years, and Tiffany, three, to compete against prep competition. And while both were a bit surprised by race tactics at Junior Nationals, they will continue to learn by racing against international fields in both Canada and Mexico this summer.

Coach Abney says that even if they qualify, neither will compete at the Junior Worlds in Chile this October. "They have school. That's their first priority. Maybe in a few years."

NEXT: more on Tiffany Abney; the coach's daughter is not your average 15-year-old.




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