US 400m champion and world indoor silver medallist Shakima Wimbley explains why the 2016 Olympic Trials was the low point of her career and recalls the elation of the 4x400m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017.
I had enjoyed a promising 2015, setting a PB of 50.84, and I had high hopes of dropping that time and making the Olympic team. Yet during my junior year at college, I barely cracked 51, I struggled all year and I didn’t even make it out of the semi-finals at the Olympic Trials.
I don’t think I performed to my best in 2016 because of the expectation and pressure I put on myself. I went into races focused more on times and outcomes instead of having the confidence to properly execute.
I had been recruited by the University of Miami as an average high school runner but as soon as my (college) coach Amy Deem got her hands on me, she turned me into one of the fastest 400m runners on the college circuit. I wasn’t used to being the fast girl, and my physical abilities developed quicker than my mental abilities.
I was now expected to win, but as the kind of athlete that doesn’t like to disappoint, I felt I owed it to my coach and my school – who had given me so much support – to run well.
As a young athlete, this can create pressure. Rather than focusing on the task ahead, I was thinking ‘what if I lose?’ Over time, you realise there are certain things you can’t control but as a young athlete it can escalate and this can lead to you being all over the place (mentally).
I wasted a lot of energy on negative thoughts, and when it came to performing, this left me tired. I had finished third at the NCAA Championships (in 51.43) and I didn’t go into the trials with a lot of confidence.
After getting to Hayward Field (at the 2016 Olympic Trials), I knew I was up against girls who were running quicker times than I had run in my life (up to that point). I did the best I could, but I was knocked out (finishing fifth in the semi-final). I was devastated. I remember walking off the track feeling crushed. I had never felt so low and such a failure. I questioned whether I had what it takes, and I was disappointed for a whole week.
Yet I remember telling my coach, ‘I know the next Olympic Trials are four years away but I won’t give up on my dreams’. My coach also didn’t give up on me and we found a way to get ready for the following year.
My high moment came in London last year on my journey to winning the World Championships 4x400m gold medal with the US team.
Out of the disappointment of 2016, I decided every day during my senior year at college (University of Miami) I was going to give 100 per cent effort in every area of training. I became very disciplined and broke everything down into a science. I thought, only if I do this can I show my true talent and accomplish my goals.
My training changed. I’m not a strength runner, I’m more of a speed endurance athlete, and my coach and I worked hard on more cardio and longer practises in training such as 600m, 500m, 400m and 300m sessions. My sprint work was also carried out with less recovery time. I learned a better technique for weightlifting and made sure I listened to my coaches. I took the attitude that one session can be the difference between a PR and a disappointment.
I overhauled my diet. I started to see a nutritionist who taught me about understanding protein and taking in the right amount of carbs. I also got rid of the junk foods such as pizza and chicken wings, and ate more vegetables. I became really aware of what I was doing and why I was doing it.
I started the season undefeated indoors and took my first ever NCAA title (the indoor 400m crown). I finished fifth at the US Championships with a PB (50.36) and earned a shoe contract.
I then went to the World Championships as part of the relay pool determined to make a statement. It was my first time competing overseas in front of 60,000 people. I felt very proud and happy to be competing in US colours alongside the likes of Natasha Hastings, Allyson Felix and Phyllis Francis on the relay squad.
Having finished fifth at the US Championships, I wasn’t guaranteed to feature in the 4x400m final so I knew I needed to run a great leg in the heat. It could be my final 400m of the season, so I just enjoyed the experience. I ran from the heart and with so much joy, I didn’t even feel the pain.
Walking out of the stadium, my teammates Shamier Little and Kyra Jefferson said ‘good job, Shakima’. I thought they were just sending their congratulations that we’d qualified, but when I saw my coach’s face and she said I had run a 49.41 leg, I realised what I had done.
I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I cried, but unlike at the 2016 US Trials, it was tears of happiness.
Steve Landells for the IAAF