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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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Stowers_Jasmine1b-Doha15.jpgJasmin Stowers, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

Former LSU Hurdler Primed For Continued Progression

 

With the Olympic year upon us, the rest of the world's elite women 100m hurdlers better hope second year professional Jasmin Stowers doesn't replicate another year of hurdling improvement like she had in 2015. If she does, you might as well gift wrap the Olympic gold medal and maybe the world record for her right now.

The 24 year old LSU graduate burst onto the professional track & field circuit in 2015 with a retooled physique and enhanced technique to impose early-season domination in arguably the USA's most deep and talent-laden event: the women's 100m hurdles. Stowers' journey to the top has been a curious one - filled with both success and some disappointment for an athlete determined to learn just how good she can be.

Jasmin Stowers picked up early on how to go with the flow and to adapt when necessary. With a father pursuing a military career, the German-born athlete and her family moved frequently in her early years before settling down in Pendleton, South Carolina. She flourished there. An honor roll student who eventually served as President of her high school's chapter of the National Honor Society, Stowers still found time to excel on the track. "My parents really stressed having the grades and going to college not only for the sport but also for academics," notes Stowers. "It wasn't too tough. They did a good job of having us maintain a high level in academics as well as track." Even before entering high school, Stowers was perceptive enough to see how athletic excellence could open other doors. "I ran track in the summertime when I was little. Back then I saw scouts from the universities come look at some of the older kids," she explains. "And I knew that if I wanted a scholarship like those kids, then I would have to focus more and do just one sport."

Stowers' singular attention to the hurdles led to pinnacle high school performances. "I know my high school coach back then really pushed me to be my best. But it was more of a fun thing. I had been running summer track for so long. So each year I got better and better," explains the young hurdle star. "Luckily, while I was having fun, it got me a scholarship." With a prep career that featured two 100m hurdle titles at the Nike Outdoor national championships and an indoor 60m hurdle crown at the Nike Indoor nationals, Stowers was the nation's #1 sprint/hurdle recruit coming out of high school. "It got me recruited by some of the best universities in the country. It was more nerve-wracking to figure out which college I thought was best for me. I am glad I got with the college I went to - LSU - because it was the best decision for me."

Stowers enjoyed a decorated career in Baton Rouge: 5-time SEC hurdles champion; 7-time All-American. And the first women ever to capture 3 Penn Relays 100m hurdle titles also posted a windy collegiate PR of 12.54 - the #5 all-time collegiate 100mH clocking under all conditions. But an NCAA title - the anticipated collegiate capstone for such an accomplished athlete - was missing. Coming back from a junior year injury, a determined Stowers had two painfully close near misses to win that elusive national collegiate title as a senior: a third place finish indoors, a mere .01 behind champion Sharika Nelvis; and a runner-up finish to Nelvis again outdoors, just .02 back. "It definitely impacted me," admits Stowers. "Going back to my junior year in college, I had a slight hamstring strain. And that put me back a little bit. I knew that I wanted to do well my senior year," she explains. "And finishing second to Sharika [Nelvis] outdoor in the w100mH and being that close, I knew I could beat her. So the following year, I made some drastic changes with myself to actually be able to compete on the next level as a professional."

Prior to her first full year as a professional, the newly-inked Nike athlete went back to the drawing board. "I definitely felt like I could lose a few pounds and get more muscle mass and be more lean," admits the LSU Nutrition and Food Science major. "And that is one thing I did: changing the way I ate." Dennis Shaver - Stowers' LSU coach - also played a role. "Coach Shaver looked over my videos and he saw a few things I could work on to get better as a sprinter. The first thing was my start. In college I wasn't driving out. That was one thing that I did change. Secondly, I was lifting heavier, getting stronger. Also, over the hurdle, my lead arm was across my body and we worked on getting my lead arm straight forward. That makes a big difference. Also, he focused on me looking down over the hurdles. Looking down over the hurdles helps in getting your trail leg down faster." That particular technical tweak was extremely difficult to master - requiring hours of repetitive practice. "It is one of the hardest things ever. As a hurdler, you want to look at your next hurdle mark. He kept pressing me, 'Look down; look down.'" With the targeted changes identified, it was then up to the athlete. "I worked on those things," declares Stowers in earnest. "Based on me correcting my body fat and doing the things [Coach Shaver] was telling me to do, I was able to cut my time drastically. It all transcended into me PR-ing and it made a big difference."

As 2015 opened, the new and improved young hurdler showed progression right away. At the indoor national championships in Boston, Stowers skimmed the timber in 7.84 to capture the 60H title - her first national championship crown since high school. Now the first year pro had yet another helpful addition: confidence. Moving outdoors, it was off to the Drake Relays and the howling wind and rain. Against a championship field that included Dawn Harper Nelson and reigning world champion Brianna Rollins, Stowers grabbed the win with a world-leading PR time of 12.40. Next it was Doha, where Stowers notched her first Diamond League victory and improved her world-leading PR time to 12.35.

Heading into the 2015 USA outdoor nationals, chatter about Stowers abounded. Would she make her first U.S. senior team? Is the world record in jeopardy? Few knew her confidence had been shaken. "Coming into that meet, I had a few mishaps. I false started one meet. I didn't finish in Rome. Those things never happened to me before," Stowers reveals. "So I would say I wasn't mentally confident in myself coming into USA's. I knew that I could be one of the top three. But I felt like I had lost a little confidence in myself." Dehydrated and cramping in the Eugene heat, the year's early world leader failed to make the world championship team, running 12.65 to finish 5th in the final. "I definitely learned a lot about the whole situation," offers Stowers in retrospect. "It will definitely inspire me to get better and improve on things I need to improve on to make the Olympics. Because this is definitely the year that I want to do very well. Last year was very surprising for me because I ran so well and I didn't expect that from myself. To know that I can run 12.3 is something I can use to help me make the Olympic team."

Coming off a year of breathtaking progression, Stowers aspires for continued improvement. The second year pro - whose 12.35 last summer was #2 on the year's world list and makes her the #8 all-time performer - sees more technical refinement as the step to the next level. "I am not as technically sound as the other hurdlers, but I do have speed. So to correct my technique even more would definitely be something I'm now going to work on." With her PR now only a scant .14 seconds behind the long-standing world record [12.21 by Bulgaria's Yordanka Donkova in 1988], Stowers - who knows her specialty is a rhythm event you can't overpower - prefers to focus on consistency. "A lot of people mention to me about breaking the world record. But to me an event like the hurdles needs more of a consistent basis. So the next level for me would be to run 12.3, 12.4 consistently. Because you see in the hurdles that usually a 12.4, 12.5 will win the races. To run consistently as possible and to make the Olympic team definitely would be something where I could say, 'I made the team. I'm an Olympian.' To me that would be the accomplishment of my whole life. To be consistent at 12.3, 12.4, I think I will go to the next level."

In preparation for the outdoor campaign she hopes will lead to Rio, Stowers - who proclaims herself to be fit and healthy - is planning on a customary indoor season capped by the USATF indoor championships in Portland, and hopefully the World Championships in the same city the following weekend. "I am basically going to be using indoors as a preparation for outdoors. So I'm not going to take indoor as seriously as I would the outdoor championships. If I make the team, I make the team. If I don't, I'll use it as inspiration to make the Olympic team."

In the disciplined world of track & field, even the most focused athletes allow themselves an occasional, sinful little treat. Jasmin Stowers is no different. "I'm a big candy person," declares the nutrition major in identifying her favorite indulgence. Candy can be dandy. But a berth on the USA Olympic team and maybe a medal from the Games - perhaps even a gold one - would probably be even sweeter.

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