2018 Brussels DL Diary: Brianna McNeal wins the big races

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McNeal_Brianna-Stockholm18.jpgBrianna McNeal, photo by PhotoRun.net

Brianna McNeal

Brianna Rollins (or Mrs McNeal as she is these days) has that uncanny ability to win big races. There is something about the women's hurdles. America seems to have a production line of women to can run 12.3s but perhaps, not in the races that matter. USA had a 1-2-3 in the Rio Olympics and I remember writing at the time, that had 3 different women made the US team, the result could still have been an American clean sweep.

Rollins won the World Championship in 2013 in 12.44 but then struggled to maintain consistency. She said, "It was my first year as a professional, my first year not competing collegiately, so I had to learn and grow during the year. I got a little complacent and didn't train as hard. I thought I could get away with a few things, like I did in college. But I realized that year that it was going to take more to make it at the professional level. So I had to reassess myself, and get back in the game mentally, compete and train and focus on the things I needed to focus on in order to get back on top of my game".

She won the Olympic gold in Rio (12.48). As part of her celebrations she went to her home town and the White House and was not where the drug testers expected her to be, and she got a 1 year ban. Now personally, I feel that ban reflected a jobs-worth, lack of common sense, rules are rules approach to the important task of catching drugs cheats. I think that! But I have never heard Brianna express any such sentiments. She is always gracious, accepting the responsibility herself. In Doha this year she described it as "a mental break, a year away from track and a time to get my body back after years of training - a year to learn new hobbies - including cooking and baking" adding "I am really happy to be competing, having had a year away. I am just looking forward to having fun this year".

In this year's Diamond Leagues she won in Shanghai, Stockholm and Rabat and was second in Doha and London. In Rome she had a disagreement with the first hurdle and came last. In Stockholm she ran a season's best, of which she said: "Awesome. I'm just so happy that I was able to come out and run a season's best, and the best I could. Before I came to Europe I said to myself I'm going to run a 12.3 before I went home, and I did it". For the record, her time in Rome was 15.80 but she still spoke to me with grace afterwards.

In Brussels, the favorites would have been Keni Harrison and McNeal and there was very little in it with McNeal winning in 12.61 by two hundredths of a second from Harrison. McNeal told me afterwards: "It was awesome. My coach and I talked about this race. He told me: 'don't come out here to run fast. Come out to win'. And that's exactly what I did. I came here and competed to the best of my ability. I wanted to have a clean race. I didn't start that well but I finished strong, and that is all that matters. I've been practicing in the last couple of weeks coming off the last hurdle and running hard. Tonight, I knew that if I did that I could win".

I asked her about the secret of her ability to perform in the really big races - World Championship 2013, Rio Olympics, Diamond League final etc. She replied: "The grace of God. Just having that focus and knowing that I could do anything with Him. I've put in so much hard work, especially in the last couple weeks, just to be here. The goal was to win and when you set goals you can accomplish them".

Finally I asked if having a year off might have brought her back fresher and hungrier. She replied: "It helped me to be more responsible. It helped me to work harder and take care of myself better - to take care of my mind and my diet as well. I am grateful for that lesson and I look forward to the next couple of years and have hopes for my future. I got married last year and having the support of my husband helps a lot".

There is so much to admire in her attitude. Her little comment about looking forward to the next couple of years sound ominous. There could be quite a lot more to come from Mrs McNeal!

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