Quanera Hayes: "Here I Am!"

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Hayes_QuaneraQSF-World16.JPGQuanera Hayes, photo by PhotoRun.net

Non-plussed was how I felt when I first saw Quanera in the rounds at USATF Indoors. They, I shook myself and blinked and said, "Darn, Quanara is amazing."

Her final at the US champs was fantastic, and her semi-final in the 400 meters at the World Indoors!

16th IAAF World Indoor Championships / Day Two

Quanera Hayes: "Here I Am!"

March 18th, 2016
Portland, Oregon

One of the more intriguing elements of our sport is the ever-green nature of, shall we say, "talent refreshment" as younger performers emerge on the stage of athletics as older veterans move into the gloaming of their careers. In the field, this spring we've witnessed - among others - the arrival of high jump phenom Vasthi Cunningham. And on the track, several youngsters have impressed - including newly-minted professional 400 meter specialist Quanera Hayes.

Two weeks ago, Hayes' biggest claim to fame was as a former multiple-time long sprint national champion for the Division II Blue Bears of North Carolina's Livingston College. But that all changed last weekend when first she first made the 400m finals and then upset the likes of Natasha Hastings and Phyllis Francis to capture the national crown. Rookie professionals just don't do that in their first trip to the national championship rodeo - especially in the women's 400 meters.

Hayes admits that her upset victory surprised even her. But she is quick to add, "I came in knowing that I worked really hard for this. But to actually pull through and win and to have my Mom there it was just like, 'I really did it.' Me and God - we really did it." One of the most important byproducts of her stunning championship run was its positive impact on her confidence. "It showed me that I am considered one of the best in the world and that I can compete on this level even though I am considered a rookie as this is my first year out of college," explains the new national champion. "To compete on the world stage and to win U.S. nationals for the first time - and it was my first time going - just gave me a lot of confidence to believe in myself and to know God is with me no matter what I do."

Facing two qualifying races earlier today, Hayes - who turned 24 last week - handled the double task with a poise that belied her youthfulness. In the morning, the pride of Livingston College looked unpressed as she won her heat in 52.98. Eight hours later she was back on the emerald green oval to compete in the 400m semifinal. Hayes easily advanced to tomorrow's final - clocking a seemingly comfortable 51.54 in the her semi to finish second behind Bahrain's Oluwakemi Adekoya whose winning mark of 51.47 established a new area indoor record [Asia].

A confident Hayes offered a few quick post-race comments before escaping to get off her feet for tomorrow's final. "I felt great, but I just had to work a little bit harder [than in the morning heat]," she explained in the mixed zone after her second effort of the day. "I didn't win my heat, but I got second to secure a spot in tomorrow's final." What about strategies for the final? "We'll talk about that once the heat sheets come out." And with a smile she adds, "Then I'll know."

Hayes has quickly learned to not get too ahead of herself, to strive to keep it simple. "I just take it race by race. I don't want to clutter up my brain with too much thinking," she explains. "I just wanted to focus on making it through these rounds. This is my first go around. I have never been here. I'm trying to process everything. It is a learning experience for me."

The United States has a great legacy of exceptional female quarter milers who have demonstrated they could do great things on the world stage - athletes like Diane Dixon, Jearl Miles Clark, Sanya Richards Ross, and Allyson Felix. Also in the current conversation would be Hastings and Francis - two of the pelts she harvested in last week's USATF 400m final. Could she be headed for possible inclusion in that special U.S. sprint sorority? "I could be," she offers coyly. And after a pause, she adds, "If it's God will, I am sure I will be."

When asked how she would respond to those who two weeks ago didn't even know she was, Quanera Hayes doesn't hesitate. With a big smile and a hearty laugh, she replies, "Get ready, because here I am!"

Dave Hunter

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