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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Shamier Little, USA outdoors 2015, photo by PhotoRun.net

Ribbon-Sporting Collegiate Hurdler Is World Leader

Remember that awkward-looking, brainy girl with the oversized glasses in your high school algebra class who knew all the answers? When you first meet 400 meter hurdler Shamier Little, she might remind you of that meek little high school braniac from years gone by. But don't be fooled by Little's playful, unaggressive appearance. Beneath that placid exterior lies the heart of lion.

 

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Shamier Little, World Juniors 2014, photo by PhotoRun.net

Little - a rising junior at Texas A&M - offered only a brief glimpse of that fire in her heat in the opening round of the women's 400 hurdles at the World Championships In Athletics here in Beijing. Running out of lane 5, the 20-year old Chicago native who owns the #1 [53.74] and #3 [53.83] fastest 400H times this season got out cleanly and moved smartly down the back stretch. But from 120 meters in, her race lost its rhythm as she struggled down the homestretch. In the final 10 meters, Little was forced to rally to finish 4th [56.47] and grab the final automatic qualifier in by just .04 seconds. "I was just trying to make sure I set it up. If I set it up, then the end is just going to come to me," explained Little. "The end didn't come to me like I wanted it to, but it could've been a lot worse if I hadn't set it up. I am glad that I made it to the next round. I didn't want to press too much for it." Her thoughts as she struggled up the homestretch - chopping her strides to clear the final barriers? "It was, 'Just finish. Don't fall.'"

Little - the youngest 400m hurdler ever to run under 54 seconds - is already quite familiar with running rounds in championship settings. But competing in front of a packed stadium of 50,000 plus is a new experience for her. "Oh my goodness, it's crazy," exclaims Little when asked about the exuberant Asian throngs at these championships. "It looks like it's a lot of people - but it's just colors. But at the same time it's not a lot of people, but it is a lot of people. It's shocking. It's mind-blowing. But you kind of have to put that behind you otherwise it's just going to get in your head."

Little's first round brush with potential disaster is most uncommon for Shamier Little who - at only 20 years old - has already authored an impressive hurdling resume to date. After winning multiple state title in hurdling and sprinting at Chicago's Lindbolm Math & Science Academy, Little enrolled at traditional track power Texas A&M where she made an immediate impact on one of the country's leading collegiate track & field programs. After notching back-to-back NCAA championship victories in her first two years in College Station, Little went on to win the 2015 USATF 400H title - the first one-lap hurdler to do so in the same year since 2004 [Sheena Johnson, UCLA]. Her 2015 national 400H title when combined with her 2014 national junior 400H victory earned her acclaim as the first athlete to win national junior then senior 400H crowns in successive years since 1979 [Edna Brown, Temple].

Little - an athlete who is performing with distinction on the track - is also one who strives for a distinctive appearance in competition as well. Her over-sized eyewear - black and gray rimmed spectacles , circa 1966 - is one such unique feature. "They're the Malcolm X glasses, the style he wore," offered Little with a smile in explaining her glasses modelled after those worn by the slain civil rights leader of the 1960's. "They're RayBans. I've settled on these. I like them."

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Shamier Little, photo by PhotoRun.net

But her signature accoutrement is her stylish green hair bow - a personalized fashion accessory not unlike Alysia Montano's flower or Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce's ever-changing hair color. But the two-time NCAA 400H champion learned early on that Texas A&M coach Pat Henry just wasn't a fan. "Coach Henry, he's not a fan of anything," offered Little in a response that evoked laughter in the mixed zone. "His standard was, 'no long socks, no anything.' The bow, that was going to be different," she explained. But the head coach was reluctant to bend his team policy. "I was like, 'But it is little!' And he was like, 'No!'", added the Aggie hurdler. But the insistent athlete decided to take another tack. "So I just wore the bow to a meet," Little proudly revealed. "It took a couple of meets for him to finally admit that he liked the bow. But now he likes it." Undoubtedly, his athlete's display of world class hurdle potential likely played some role in Coach Henry's willingness to embrace a minor deviation from the team's competition dress code policy.

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Shamier Little, World Juniors, 2014, photo by PhotoRun.net

As would be expected, Little has very good speed around the track even when hurdles are not in the way. "I opened up 2015 with a 51.7 out of the blocks," offered Little who acknowledges she could probably post a quicker 400m clocking now. That knowledge piques her curiosity about her 400 meter potential. "I split 50 in the 4 x 4 in the Pan Ams. And now that I did that I am excited to see what I can do in the open 400." These types of self-discoveries and newly-emerging opportunities keep the Illinois native excited about her track and field future. "I'm still learning. I am definitely young to it. This is a breakout year for me. But there is still a lot for me to learn. And I'm still young. So I think I have a lot of time to grow and improve."

After a first round scare, Little is still in the game. While her initial competition in the Bird's Nest was not a thing of beauty, the world leader nonetheless slid by and will now move on to Monday's semi-final race where she will be poised to give it another go. "I'm pretty confident. It's a different day. Now I've got a race now under my feet. It's been a while [since I've raced] I'm feeling better," offered Little in evaluating her mindset for the next round. The Texas A&M athlete will, of course, want to wear her signature fluorescent green bow. And if Shamier Little wants to further ensure she moves on to Wednesday's 400 meter hurdle final, she'll definitely want to bring her "A" game as well.

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.