Barbara Nwaba of the ABEO/Santa Barbara Track Club (SBTC) will lead a trio of American women into the heptathlon competition at the Rio Olympic Games. Nwaba, a 2012 graduate of UCSB, finished the seven events at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials on a rainy Sunday with 6,494 points. It was just short of the 6,500 she scored in winning last year’s national championship, also at Oregon’s Hayward Field.
It took personal bests by the next two finishers to make the Olympic team. Heather Miller-Koch, a 29-year-old nurse from Columbus, Wisconsin, scored 6,423, and University of Georgia speedster Kendell Williams tallied 6,402.
“My main thought was, yes, I’m the 2015 champion, but don’t let that put pressure on you,” said Nwaba, 27. “You have positive thoughts, and you have negative thoughts. I’ve been doing great all season. Once I did the hurdles, I was okay.”
The 100-meter hurdles, the first event of the heptathlon, was a crucial barrier for Nwaba. At the IAAF World Championships in Beijing last summer, she lost her step and fell over two hurdles, receiving no score for the event.
She ran a clean flight in 13.49 seconds Saturday, and when she finished, she said, “I came across the line screaming.”
She then set a meet record in the heptathlon high jump, clearing 6’2 ¾” on her third attempt. After another last-attempt effort of 46’5 ½” in the shot put and a time of 24.17 in the 200 meters, Nwaba ended the first day with an 11-point lead over Williams.
On Sunday, a subpar mark of 19’2 ¾” in the long jump dropped Nwaba to fifth place in the overall standings behind Williams (20’4”), Miller-Koch (20’9”), and Erica Bougard (20’9 ¼”). Responding like a champion, Nwaba sailed back into the lead by unleashing the best javelin throw of her career, 161‘4” – more than 20 feet farther than the other contenders – and she wrapped up her victory by running the 800 meters in 2:11.71.
“Barbara made my job easy,” said SBTC coach Josh Priester. “She was focused and ready.”
Three other SBTC athletes competed in the heptathlon. Lindsay Schwartz broke though the 6,000-point barrier for the first time, scoring 6,036 points for ninth place. Lindsay Lettow (5,960) placed 10th, and Chari Hawkins (5,956) 15th.
A record crowd of 22,944 at Hayward Field watched the final day of the trials. During the 10 days of competition, 77 athletes – including all three in the heptathlon – made themselves Olympians for the first time.