Two N.C.A.A. Titles in 25 Minutes? A Sprinter Is Up for the Task.June 9, 2023
Britton Wilson of Arkansas, one of this year’s most accomplished college runners, will race in the 400 meters at the N.C.A.A. Division I outdoor track and field championships in Austin, Texas, on Saturday evening. Just 25 minutes later, she will take another lap of the track — only this time, she will have 10 hurdles in her way.
Wilson is a strong contender to win both races. But because of the schedule of events at the championships, she will have to try to complete the unusual double of the 400 meters followed by the 400-meter hurdles in a breathtakingly short period of time.
Although she has had short gaps between races in her career, Wilson said, “I have never done a turnaround time that’s so little.”
The 25-minute break must be used efficiently. “We’ll have someone bringing me snacks and Gatorade right at the finish line,” she said.
She had the luxury of a longer break between the races at the Southeastern Conference championships in Baton Rouge, La., last month, where she won both events.
“I had time to do some warm-up strides,” she said. “But we’re not going to do that this time, just because it’s so short and I’ll still be warm from all-out sprinting the 400. I think just being able to sit down and just decompress, get some recovery in, will be good going into the next race.”
Wilson seems mostly unconcerned about the time crunch — so much so that less than an hour after the 400-meter hurdles, she may line up with her teammates for the 4×400-meter relay, although that will be a raceday decision.
In a preview of Saturday’s 400 meters-400 hurdles challenge, she ran in the semifinals of both races on Thursday, with a 30-minute break in between, and had the fastest time in both heats.
Wilson has always tried a variety of events, and sports. When she was younger, she was a gymnast and a cheerleader and dabbled in a handful of events on track.
“In middle school, I was running the 200,” she said. “In high school, I pretty much tried everything. I did indoor 55 meters, 400, 500. I also tried long jump. I did the 400 hurdles later on. My high school coach basically just said he thought I could be good at it.”
He was right.
After the N.C.A.A. meet, Britton, 22, will pass up a final season of college eligibility and turn pro, with an eye on running at the world championships in Budapest in August and then the 2024 Paris Olympics. She already has a fifth-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles and a gold medal in the 4×400 relay from the 2022 world championships on her résumé.
As for further doubling, she said: “I definitely want to continue to do it. For one, I really love to do it. For two, I think I have something that a lot of other athletes don’t have, that I’m able to do it. I’m going to wait until I’m further in my pro career to do that, rather than do it as my first year as a professional.”
So which event will she choose when she transitions to being a professional athlete? “No idea — I’ll decide when I get there, with my coach,” she said. She will continue working with her coach at Arkansas, Chris Johnson. “It’s just a question of which one I feel more comfortable with.”
Doubling in the 400 meters and the 400-meter hurdles has become a mini-trend, at least among a small number of very talented women. Femke Bol of the Netherlands, the bronze medalist in the 400-meter hurdles at the Tokyo Olympics, has also won a European championship in the 400 meters.
But the biggest name in dual 400s may soon be the American Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the 400-meter hurdles gold medalist in Tokyo, who is now planning to enter more 400-meter races and has openly spoken about breaking the 38-year-old world record in that event. She may stand in Wilson’s way for an international medal in both events. But Wilson says it’s a friendly rivalry.
“I love Sydney,” Wilson said. “We’ve grown fairly close the past year, and she has been great, almost like a mentor to me.”
A full plate of events has not deterred Wilson from continuing to think about expanding her sights into even more. Could the 800 meters be in her future? “Absolutely,” she said. “I would love to. I really like how in this sport we can challenge ourselves to do stuff we have never done before. I hope to try the 200 too.”
But her dream event — the 100-meter hurdles — is probably a step too far, she said.
“I would love to be good at them,” she said. “But I don’t think I would try it.”
Victor Mather covers every sport for The Times.
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