Starting strong is nice. Finishing first is better.
South Carolina’s newest national champions know that very well, on and off the track.
Gamecock juniors Quincy Hall and Wadeline Jonathas both took home first-place finishes at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships late last week, Hall in the 400-meter hurdles and Jonathas in the 400 meters.
Both sprinters entered the final stage of their race trailing — In the hurdles, where technique and precision are crucial, Hall had messed up his usual sequence of steps and was in third, while Jonathas rounded the final bend solidly behind the leaders.
Late surges, however, gave them each personal bests and the fastest collegiate times in the nation this year — Hall finished at 48.48 seconds, while Jonathas stopped the clock at 50.60 seconds.
“The kick is my strength, so even though I was in the back, I knew if I could stay close enough when I got off the turn, I’d be able to win, because I probably have the strongest finish out there, but not the greatest start,” Jonathas said.
“I know I’m faster than them — I have two seconds on them in the field in the open 400,” Hall said. “But the 400 hurdles is not more of a speed thing, it’s more of a technical thing, so they technically beat me, I was just faster coming off the last hurdle.”
Closing out strong after a less-than-ideal start also describes how Jonathas and Hall came to be at South Carolina. Coming out of high school, neither were top prospects; Hall had the speed but not the grades, and Jonathas was a late bloomer who only really got going her senior year.
UMass-Boston, a Division III school, offered Jonathas a strong financial aid package, so she went there. South Carolina coach Curtis Frye, the only major coach recruiting Hall at the time, arranged for him to go to College of the Sequoias, a JUCO institution in California.
Two years later, and both runners had become major recruits — Jonathas won nine DIII titles and was courted by numerous SEC schools, and Hall had captured a U.S. junior title and a Pan-American U20 championship.
“We found the school, Sequoia, and we’ve been putting kids there before, but we put them there and they went to the University of Oregon, because they came in looking for people and we lost people we put there,” Frye recalled of Hall’s recruitment. “So I was a little bit nervous about putting him out there because I knew the big dogs would come. The first year, he made the Pan-American team, the big dogs came, but his mother said because we believed in him ... “Coach Frye, Quincy’s going to South Carolina.”
Frye didn’t even want to recruit Jonathas at first, he said — he didn’t want to take her from her education at UMass-Boston.
“Wadeline kind of fell into our hands. She called twice and I didn’t take the call the first few times because I’m not interested in raiding kids getting opportunities to get an education ... So I didn’t accept the call, I didn’t try to recruit her away from her DIII school, but when it kept happening, to me, it was meant to be,” Frye said.
Those humble beginnings played a major role in both athletes’ developments, they said.
“Junior college has been a great blessing for me. It’s taught me a lot about how to fend for myself and still get my responsibilities done. And then just to be here at the University of South Carolina, taking care of me and making life more easier for me, getting me faster, getting me stronger and just bettering my career,” Hall said.
“The training, the food is different, having mentors and people working with you, they basically doing everything behind the scenes and all I gotta do is just run. I don’t gotta to work or anything ... I’m able to just focus on school and training,” Jonathas said of the difference between DI and DIII.
So when it came those final 100 meters or so last week, with a national title on the line, digging deep and overcoming just a little more adversity was never not an option.
“Ten seconds of pain is nothing compared to a whole season of greatness,” Jonathas said.