Gauchos at Olympic Trials: Nwaba Off to Strong Start

Barbara Nwaba took a leap into contention for a place on the U.S. Olympic team, but UCSB’s collegiate All-American has a lot of work to do in the final three events of the heptathlon Saturday, June 30.

“I’m super excited,” said Nwaba, who set two personal bests in Friday’s four events at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon. Her score at the end of the day, 3,736 points, was also a career best and put her in fourth place.

Hyleas Fountain, the silver medalist in the 2008 Olympics and defending trials champion, led the way with 3,948 points. The next four were in a tight group – Sharon Day (3,797), Chantae McMillan (3,762), Nwaba, and Bettie Wade (3,680).

Nwaba started the competition by running the 100-meter hurdles in 13.68 seconds, her third best time ever. She got a big boost in the high jump, as she cleared 1.87 meters (6’1 1/2”) for the first time. She fed off the rhythmic clapping of several thousand hands at Oregon’s Hayward Field.

“I wanted to embrace the moment,” said Nwaba, who made it over on her second attempt. Fountain and Day also cleared the top mark of the day on their third and final tries.

Nwaba’s mark of 41’1 1/2” in the shot put dropped her from second to fourth place. She came back with a new PR of 24.33 in the 200-meter dash.

Nwaba said she would be happy to score 6,000 points for the first time, but a loftier possibility looms. A top three finish would put her in the London Olympics – if she achieves the Olympic “A” qualifying standard of 6,150 points.

Fountain and Day appear solid bets to make the team. Fountain, whose top score is 6,725, has not completed a heptathlon since 2010 because of injuries, but the Georgia graduate appeared to be in winning condition Friday. Day is the only athlete who has surpassed the “A” standard this year, scoring 6,337 in the Sam Adams meet at Westmont College. The former NCAA high jump champion from Cal Poly is the defending U.S. heptathlon champion, and she said she is aiming to run the 800 in 2:10 or better.

McMillan is putting together the meet of her life and is in position to grab the third spot. She moved ahead of Nwaba by heaving the shot 49’ 3 1/2”. Her personal bests in the long jump (20’8”) and javelin (156’10”) exceed Nwaba’s.

“I’m telling Barbara to keep relaxed, have fun,” said Josh Priester, Nwaba’s coach. “Get a good takeoff on the long jump, a good javelin, and a better 800 than ever.” It could come down to the 800. Every second counts. “I’m excited for the eight,” said Nwaba, whose best is 2:15. “I’m usually not.”

Nwaba, who placed second in this month’s NCAA Championships to Canadian Olympian Brianne Thiesen, is the only collegian in the top five. She graduated from UCSB this month. McMillan hails from Nebraska; Wade, who scored 6,143 earlier this year, is from Michigan.

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