08 JUL 2013 Feature Long Beach, United States

X no longer marks the spot for Washington when she runs in Donetsk

Ariana Washington (Kirby Lee)Ariana Washington (Kirby Lee) © Copyright

Ariana Washington won’t be marking a red X on the back of her neck with a pen to inspire herself, like she did at the California State Championships last month, when she steps into her blocks for the first round of the 100m at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Donetsk on Wednesday.

Wearing the USA jersey for the first time has been inspiration for the 16-year-old Washington.

“It’s the hardest team in the World to make,” said Washington.

Qualifying for the US team going to Donetsk is the latest accolade for Washington, the fastest girl in the world this year over 200m at 23.18, and holds five of the top seven marks in the longer sprint, and also has a wind-aided 100m in 11.18 to her name.

In the prestigious high quality California State meet, Washington won the 100m and the 200m for the second year in a row and anchored her Long Beach Poly high school 4x100m Relay squad to a 44.93 win, the fastest time by a US high school team since 2004.

Washington achieved a triple that had been only accomplished once before, in 1978, in California State meet history.

Target practice

Washington has been joking about an imaginary target on her back throughout this season.

In the State meet, Washington made it reality. She had a teammate write a large X on the back of her neck for motivation to push herself and her opponents to a fast time.

“It keeps getting bigger and bigger as I run, especially as my times keep coming down,” reflected Washington.

“There’s always more people on my back, not only in the state of California and in the nation but across the world. People know Ariana Washington and they want to be Ariana Washington. The big x keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Washington first entered the spotlight last year at the 2012 Penn Relays when she brought the Jackrabbits from fourth to first in the 4x100m Relay on the anchor to become the first US high school to repeat as the champion in that event in the meeting history.

Basketball first love

Several years earlier, Washington had captured the attention of Long Beach Poly coach Don Norford on the basketball court. After all, this was a girl who once collided so hard with a teammate while chasing the ball that she broke the other girl’s arm.

“She did not know what she was doing but you could see her athletic ability,” Norford said. “She was so fast that the ball couldn’t keep up with her.”

Track is now Washington’s preferred sport and Norford calls her potential unlimited.

“She is in a class by herself. I really believe that one day she will be an Olympic champion and she can do the same things that Flo Jo (Florence Griffith-Joyner) did,”

Those are some hefty words coming from Norford, who coached 2004 World junior 200m champion Shalonda Solomon and London 2012 Olympic Games 4x400m Relay silver medalist Bryshon Nellum, when they were at the same school.

Washington is still chasing the Poly records of 11.35 in the 100m and 22.84 run by Solomon. She has vowed to break those marks before her high school career is completed. When that happens, Solomon will be among the first to congratulate her.

“I am glad my times are motivating her. I hope she gets it,” Solomon said

Cherish the Championships

Fellow Long Beach native Angel Perkins, who won the 200m at the 2001 World Youth Championships, encourages Washington to take advantage of the opportunity to compete in the World Youth Championships and use it to expand her horizon in athletics.

“It was an unforgettable experience, truly a blessing. Being able to do something so few people my age get to experience was unreal,” said Perkins, now an assistant coach at nearby Cerritos College, which is located a few miles north of Long Beach.

“Cherish and appreciate every moment. Not many high school kids get to experience that, so make the best of it. Have fun, sightsee and embrace the start of something great in your career.”

The US has had success in the women’s sprints in the seven previous World Youth Championships, crowning five champions in the 100m and the 200m, including 2001 100m winner Allyson Felix, who last year graduated to being the World Athlete of the Year.

The US has also won the first six gold medals in the Medley Relay. A medal is the ultimate goal but Washington is also looking beyond.

“A medal would be special for me as an athlete, but I want to use this meet as a steppingstone for maybe a junior team and a senior team.”

With the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships being held in Eugene at the iconic Hayward Field, every teenage American sprinter will be looking to raise their game and qualify for the first global athletics event on US soil since the 1996 Olympic Games but Washington has the talent to make her one of the more likely contenders for that team.

Kirby Lee for the IAAF