Lille, FranceOnly seven athletes have managed to strike gold at the World Youth, World Junior, and then later, the IAAF World Championships. Shaunae Miller will be taking her next steep to join that illustrious club when the opening round of the girls' 400m gets underway tomorrow (Wed 7) morning on the opening day of the 7th IAAF World Youth Championships.
As the reigning World junior champion, logic would dictate that Miller's run towards the World Youth title would be a simpler task for the 17-year-old Bahamian, now a year older and that much wiser 12 months after taking down several girls faster and older at the World Junior Championships last year in Moncton. But that won’t be the case.
Even though she’s improved dramatically to 51.85 this year when taking the Bahamian senior title less than two weeks ago, a performance quick enough to garner invitations to some major one-day meetings, Miller won’t be starting as the fastest young lady in the world. That honour belongs to Jamaican Chrisann Gordon, a 4x400m Relay gold medallist in Moncton last year, who clocked 51.62 in early April. Their head-to-head meeting could be one of the finest of these championships. And Miller knows it’ll be a stiff challenge.
“It’s going to take a lot of effort,” Miller said. “As usual I just want to go and have fun. I’m not looking at the time. I’m just looking forward to competing well. My training has been going well so far so I’ll just do my best.”
That training seems to have been spurred, at least in part, in her return to more familiar training surroundings. She’s recently returned to training with her father, Shaun, a close relationship that is already reaping dividends.
“Training with my father is going pretty good. When I was younger I used to train with him so it feels good to be back with him. It feels really good to have my father there.”
He’s been there from the beginning when she competed in her first track meet at the age of six and was nearby when she made her first team for a regional Caribbean event at the age on nine.
“I competed in a few events there,” she recalled. “The 100, the 200, the high jump, the long jump and the softball throw. And I was the overall champion at that meet, so from there it started to motivate me. It’s been really fun so I stuck with it.”
Miller is in many ways a typical teenager. She enjoys listening to music, sharing laughs with her friends, and spending spare time –when she’s not going to school, studying or training- with her family. But she’s also picking up valuable lessons on the road to what could be an extremely successful career as an athlete.
“It was a great experience for me being there at such a young age,” she said of her triumph in Moncton last year where she set her previous personal best of 52.45 in the semi-finals. “As one of the younger ones there I just had to work a little bit harder.”
“I learned to stay focused and to run,” she continued. “It’s always fun to compete. But I mainly learned to just stay focused and run and hopefully that will bring the victory.”
That was precisely the advice that Wilson Kipketer, the former World record holder in the 800m and an IAAF Ambassador, gave to Miller, and other athletes gathered at the afternoon press conference: use this big stage opportunity –one he didn’t have as a youth athlete—to observe and learn.
“Usain Bolt, he started from here,” Kipketer said. “Veronica Campbell Brown, she started from here. Use this a platform for planning how to run, the tactics, the rhythm.”
Those were valuable lessons that Jamaicans Campbell-Brown and Bolt, along with South African high jumper Jacques Freitag, Australians Jana Pittman and Dani Samuels, New Zealander Valerie Adams, and Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva learned and took to heart as well as they collected World youth and junior crowns on the way to success at the senior level.
Bolt of course, along with World champion Sanya Richards, are among the athletes she looks up to.
“I met him in 2005 when he was in The Bahamas, and got his autograph,” she said of Bolt, the memory putting a smile on her face.
Pretty soon, it may be time for her to start signing autographs, but first things first. Exuding confidence but not in the least bit cocky, Miller knows her challenge will be a difficult one, and is eager to take it on.
“I’m in better shape than last year and I’m looking forward to trying to do it again.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF