Illini track and field's Green, Spencer and Akinosun to represent U.S.
Seven Illinois track and field athletes competed at this weekend’s USA Track and Field Senior and Junior Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. The event held at Drake Stadium hosted the finest athletes that the United States has to offer. Illinois’ participation was headlined by three athletes who made it to the Junior and Senior World Championships to represent Team USA.
Freshman sprinter Juan Paul Green booked his ticket to the Pan Am Junior Championships in Medellin, Colombia, in the 400-meter dash. Green qualified for the final with the best time in the semi-finals and came in second in the finals with a time of 46.64 seconds.
“I was really happy,” Green said. “I got excited before the race, and I just try to calm myself down. I focus on myself and what I can do. Just going into the finals and competing against some of the best young runners in the world and coming in the top three. It was great.”
Green, who ranked 14th in the same distance at this year’s NCAA Championships, will now be looking for further national glory.
“I was born here, but my family is from Jamaica,” Green said. “I would like to represent the USA on the national stage because this is where I’m from.”
For the female Illini contingent, both competitors were able to qualify for their respective events. Ashley Spencer will represent Team USA at the world championships in early August and teammate Morolake Akinosun will be joining Green at the Pan Am in Medellin. Akinosun won the USA junior title in the 100 meters with a time of 11.64 seconds, and she capped her weekend as runner-up in the 200 with a time of 23.18 seconds. She will compete in both events at the Pan Am meet. Spencer qualified with the third best time of 50.58 seconds in the women’s 400 final. Illinois women’s head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey attributed part of their success to the dynamic relationship between the teammates.
“Ashley has really helped Morolake grow this year into the athlete that she wants to be,” Buford-Bailey said. “She’s a very good role model, pushes you and shows you an example of what the elite do. Morolake does so well that it pushes Ashley to do even better. Both of them together is really a dynamic duo. They can be teammates and have some camaraderie but, when the gun goes off, it doesn’t matter who they are competing against, they want to win. It helps to make them better, and it’s a great friendly rivalry.”
Also this weekend, former Illini Andrew Riley qualified for Moscow by winning the 110-meter hurdle title at the Jamaican World Championships.
The Pan Ams will be held this year in Columbia from the 23rd through the 25th of August. The world championship will be held from August 10th to the 18th in Moscow, Russia.
Lanre can be reached at alabi2@dailyillini,com.