Posted: Friday, June 22nd 2012 at 2:05pm
Rucker streaking through incredible freshman season, to Junior Worlds
By Morgan Lee Editor
Jimmy Sorrells is already planning on pinching his pennies over the next four years.
He’s going to have to if he’s going to Rio in 2016 -- and if Erika Rucker makes it to the Summer Olympics in Brazil, Sorrells has to go.
“If Erika makes it, I’m buying tickets,” Sorrells said. “And she is definitely a potential future olympian.”
As her high school track coach at Flowery Branch, Sorrells saw that ability in Rucker years ago. And now that she is burning up the track for the University of South Carolina, Sorrells is far from surprised.
“She has the proper perspective, motivation and talent,” Sorrells said of Rucker, who has been named SEC Indoor Freshman Runner of the Year and is already an All-American after her first year with the Gamecocks. “The sky is the limit for Erika.”
Rucker hopes to prove that to the globe in a few weeks when she heads to Spain to compete in the IAAF Junior World Championships (July 10-15) at Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium in Spain.
“It’s so exciting; I remember thinking that maybe one day I’d get a chance to go run and compete overseas, maybe one day...” Rucker said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
Rucker’s story would seem crazy to many, considering that she went out for track as a freshman at Flowery Branch with social pastimes in mind as much as any athletic endeavors.
“She came out for track to make some friends,” said Sorrells, who keeps in touch with Rucker regularly via phone calls and texts. “And she didn’t want to run anything but the 100 (yard dash). But I saw a lot of raw, natural talent, and I saw that she could really be something special.”
Yet Sorrells didn’t push Rucker to attempt longer distances; he wanted her to unearth her strengths in her own time.
“It was maybe my best coaching move ever not to force her into it,” Sorrells said. “I wanted it to be a journey of discovery for her.”
That journey has yielded an athlete that dominated her final two years of high school competition and continued to excel in her first campaign at the NCAA level.
Rucker claimed back-to-back state championships in the 400 meters as well as the 800 in her senior season. And she has shown that was just part of her immense talent, slashing her 400 time during her freshman year in Columbia, S.C. Rucker claimed the Class AAAA 400 in 53.96 seconds her senior year. She recently booked a spot in Barcelona by sprinting to a time of 52.27 -- a new personal best.
“My improvement this year really sort of snuck up on me,” Rucker said. “It was only at the indoor SEC Championships at the end of February that I really started rolling.”
The combination of her talent and work ethic, allied with a collegiate training and nutrition program is helping to continue Rucker’s ascent.
“In season I’m training about four hours a day, around an hour and 45 minutes on the track, then maybe 45 minutes in the weight room, then I have treatment afterward and recovery,” Rucker said. “We also eat at the dining center where they have a nutritionist doing our meals; that’s making a big difference too -- no fried foods.”
That doesn’t mean it’s been easy however, as juggling training time with a full course load has provided plenty of challenges for the fleet-footed Rucker.
Of course none of that analysis would make much of a difference were it not for Rucker’s inner desire to maximize her talent.
“She started (elementary) school early, and this really could still be her senior year of high school,” Sorrells said. “That says a lot about the kind of competitor she is; she’s nowhere near her absolute fastest yet. There will come a day when she runs her absolute fastest -- we call it reaching her genetic potential -- but that’s a long way off.”
Will that potential be enough for Rucker to achieve something so special as an Olympic berth?
Just looking at the numbers, it doesn’t seem a long journey. The USA Track and Field qualifying time (to compete for a spot on the U.S. team) for the women’s 400 is 51.55 seconds -- less than a second off of Rucker’s recent personal best. (The last Olympic gold medal winner in the 400 in 2008 was Great Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu with a time of 49.62.)
“It’s not a long way to go, but it will be very tough to reach,” Sorrells said. “She definitely has that potential though. She’s taking the steps necessary to get there, and qualifying for the junior worlds is another stepping stone in that direction.”
As for Rucker, all the grandest dreams will have to wait. She’s simply focused on improving herself at each event.
“I just hope to get better each year, wherever it takes me,” Rucker said. “I definitely feel blessed and just glad to have this opportunity.”
As for Sorrells, he’s just happy he was able to play part in Rucker’s journey.
“It’s humbling; I never thought I’d be associated with someone so awesome,” he said. “She has incredible talent and consistent humility. And she’s taught me as much about coaching as I ever taught her about running. I had a minor role, and I’m just glad I had a part in it.”
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