BECKY O’BRIEN STORY…
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
"It's been an upward climb, that's for sure," Rebecca "Becky" O'Brien tells you.
"I wasn't one of those kids that came in at that top elite level as a freshman and just stayed there.
"I had to work really hard to get up there."
"There" translates to gold medal status on the victory stand at the Nike Outdoor Nationals at Aggie Stadium in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Her arrival "there" last Friday, June 20th, involved one heck of a journey.
O'Brien, a senior from Cumberland, Maine, won the girls shot put with a personal-record heave of 52 feet, 1 3/4 inches and it was the second best in NON meet history, as well as 11th longest in USA girls track and field annals.
It was her fourth straight trip to NON - and she finally crashed through to the gold standard.
All smiles after the long-awaited triumph, O'Brien told the story of her past NON adventures.
"I came and threw 39 feet as a freshman and the threw 42 and PR'd as a sophomore," she said, after collecting her gold medal, her bouquet of flowers, and her American flag.
"Then I PR'd again as a junior and threw 48 feet, so I figured, "why stop the whole PR tradition now?'
"Luckily, I was able to pull off that long throw today, and made sure I got another PR."
She popped that 52- 1 3/4 in the sixth and final round - "I had all my adrenaline going," she said - as all the other throwers were relegated to spectator status. Silver medalist Emily Vannoy of Frederick, Md. was over four feet behind.
And so O'Brien was at last able to erase those memories of trailing Kamorean Hayes at Nike Nationals.
Hayes, then of Harding High School in Charlotte, NC, had won the last two NON crowns, with the 2007 verdict over O'Brien decided 50-6 Â¾ to 48-5 Â¼..
Just one other putter has ever bested O'Brien's 52-1 3/4 at Nike Nationals.
That's Red Oak, Texas's Michelle Carter, who established the meet record of 54-5 Â¼ in 2003 and continues to hold the National record of 54-10 Â¾, also set in 2003.
She may be a newly-minted NON champion but O'Brien is already a young veteran of the international track and field wars.
O'Brien covered herself with no medals but considerable glory as a member of Team USA at the 5th IAAF World Youth Championships last July in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
She warmed up placing eighth in the discus - not her best event - with a whirl of 145-11, back of Julia Fischer's winning 168-7 for Germany.
Then she fell just shy of the medal stand with her PR fourth-place shot put of 49-0 1/4 - a tight decision decided by second-best throws, Aliona Kryshko's 52- Â½ toss won it for the Ukraine.
But back to Greensboro 2008….one day after her gold medal shot put performance, she stepped into the Aggie Stadium discus ring.
And she nearly pulled out a NON double.
When all was said and done, just three inches - or eight centimeters to be precise - separated gold medalist Aslynn Halvorson of Charlotte (154-2) from silver medalist O'Brien (153-11,)
Each of these performances came in the third round; neither thrower improved in rounds four, five or six.
The O'Brien family entourage had already toughed it out in the 900-plus-mile drive from Cumberland, located just north of Portland, Maine's largest city, down to Greensboro.
Soon as the disc results were declared official, it was time for the O'Briens to head north and somewhat west to Columbus, Ohio.
Unfortunately for some athletes, the USA Junior National Championships, a Friday-Saturday-Sunday meet, had abutted squarely with the NON meet, and choices had to be made.
But, fortuitously for O'Brien, the shot put in Columbus was booked for the Sunday and the NON-Junior Nationals shot put double was definitely do-able.
As long as an accurate road map was at hand, and the rising cost of tanking up along the way didn't interfere, of course.
So there was O'Brien in the Ohio State University ring last Sunday, ready to duke it out with the nation's finest 19-and-unders.
As luck would have it, the field now included Kamorean Hayes, by now a veteran of the collegiate wars, with a year of undergraduate training and throwing for Florida State University under her belt.
Amazingly, schoolgirl O'Brien easily bested collegian Hayes, 52- 1 3/4 to 51-3. Only problem for both was that University of Louisville's Chinwe Okoro beat them both by muscling one out to 53-0 1/4.
And since the National Juniors was the official qualifying meet for the World Junior Championships, booked for July 8-13 in Bydgoszcz, Poland, this sets the stage for another likely O'Brien adventure on the international stage.
From Columbus, the O'Briens finally looked east for the long-long drive back to Maine.
"After the World Youth Championships last year, I took off about six weeks and then I came back and started training harder than ever," she said.
"I worked on my speed, I worked on every key point of my technique. And I got a lot stronger.
"You want to incorporate everything in your training. A lot of people think all we do is throw. But that's all wrong. I have jump workouts, I have sprint workouts. I have all my time maximized.
"Cumberland is a real small, quiet town. My high school has about 700 kids.
"Friday night in the center of town, there's nothing going on.
"We have one stop light in the entire town. But I live only 10 minutes away from my track, so I don't have to go too far to practice.
"I graduated with honors (a 92.7 average) and I'm pretty pleased with that. I work hard in every aspect of my life.
"I love the Nike meet. There was no way I wanted to give up the experience of coming here my senior season. I'm just happy the schedule (both meets) will work out for me."
As she later messaged NON meet director Jim Spier: "Thank you very much for the opportunity at Nike. I'm so glad I decided to do both meets .
"I have really enjoyed the Nike meets over the past four years! You have done a great job.
You make it an incredible experience for the athletes! "
Come the fall, O'Brien will return south as a member of the freshman class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where a special plus will be being coached by UNC track assistant coach/throws mentor Laura Gerraughty.
Like O'Brien, Gerraughty is a New Englander (out of Nashua, NH) who worked her way to the top of her American shot putting realm.
The national scholastic record-breaker in the indoor shot, she became a four-time NCAA champion for UNC, won the 2004 USA Olympic Trials, and got to the Athens Games.
Gerraughty, though, didn't reach the 2004 Olympic final and was forced into early retirement by a series of major injuries.
Now, though, she pours all that energy into her coaching career.
Gerraughty is precluded by NCAA rules from discussing incoming recruits but O'Brien talks enthusiastically about her soon-to-be coach.
"I can pursue all my academic goals at North Carolina, I love their athletic programs, too," said O'Brien.
"I really have a lot of faith in Laura Gerraughty. She made it to the Olympics when she was 21, and I have the same dream of getting to the Olympics.
"Maybe some day, if things work, the USA can start taking down the (shot put) powerhouses like Russia and Germany. Maybe I can even be part of that."
Who knows? As this Maine star goes, so may the nation's future global shot put hopes.