Northwestern State’s sprinters, jumpers could benefit from Olympics postponement

The next time Jasmyn Steels was supposed to set foot in her native College Station, Texas, would have been for the Texas A&M Invitational on May 1, just a week before the Southland Conference Outdoor Championships.

Instead, Steels is a full-time resident of College Station now, continuing her second semester of graduate school in sports administration in online classes.

Steels, like countless other winter and spring sport student-athletes, had their competitive seasons ended in the second week of March as the country started its methodical quarantine to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

But a silver lining exists for Steels and a handful of current and former Northwestern State athletes.

The 2020 Olympics were postponed this past week, which includes various Olympic Trials.

At least three NSU athletes were expected to qualify for their countries’ respective Olympic Trials – Steels in the long jump, senior Natashia Jackson (in the 200 and 400 meters) and Grenada native Junior Charles, who had all but solidified a spot on Grenada’s 4X400 relay team.

Former NSU sprinters Amir James (200 meters) and Micah Larkins (100 meters) were possible Olympic Trials candidates in their respective events.

Larkins, a Haughton native with Korean heritage from his maternal grandmother, could possibly compete for South Korea in the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in 2021 in Japan.

“The delay in the Olympics and Olympic Trials could benefit our athletes,” said NSU associate head coach Adam Pennington, who directly coaches sprinters. “For Junior Charles, he was overcoming a hamstring injury that affected him all indoor season. Junior also gets more face time with Grenada sprinter Kirani James (won gold in the 400 in 2012 Olympics and silver in 2016 Olympics)

“With Micah and Amir training on their own, they get more time to adjust to the different coaching styles and programs. They get an extra year to compete and reach their peak at the next trials. For Jasmyn and Speedy, they were in great rhythm in their competitive seasons, and I would have loved to see what they would have done at the Olympic Trials this year. But they are young and eager, and I think they’ll keep training and be ready for the trials next year, too.”

Steels had already traveled to New Mexico to defend her NCAA Indoor national championship when sports were canceled.

Steels, who soared past the 22-foot mark (22-0.25) to win silver at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships and had already cleared 21 feet multiple times in the 2020 indoor season, was firing on all cylinders.

“I felt like I was in a really, really good place,” Steels said. “I figured out my run and had gotten everything mostly perfect.

“I was ready to peak. I actually had a few practice jumps at (NCAA Indoors) and cleared 21 feet, so I felt really good. I don’t know if the postponement for the Olympics was good or bad right now, but I’m a positive person, so this gives me an extra year to prepare and an extra year to compete at NSU (should the NCAA pass a measure to award student-athletes an extra season).”

Another question ricocheting in the mind of Steels, who’s accustomed to professional-level conditioning and training while achieving in the classroom?

“After a week or so of the season being canceled, it’s hit me that it’s over – what am I supposed to do, just be a student?” asked Steels, who won the Southland Conference Field Events Performer of the Year for the indoor season. “But it’s given me more time to work on the little things.

“With the gyms and tracks closed, I’m doing what I can to stay in shape like running outside in parks, doing some body weight exercises. I’m running wherever I can, doing sprints on the road. I’ve also learned to play the piano – I’ve always wanted to do that. I’m watching more TV shows in my spare time and playing basketball. I recommend ‘Locke and Key’ and ‘Private Practice.’”

NSU teammate Jackson was near her peak as well, taking home the SLC Women’s Track Athlete of the Year after capturing her third high-point scorer distinction and setting the conference’s indoor record in the 400 meters (53.25).

“Speedy was in a good rhythm, too, and getting better with each meet,” Pennington said. “With what she was running, she was probably making it to the Olympic Trials in the 200 and 400 meters.

“But the more competitions she can participate in, the better. She believes in herself more than ever, and she gets an extra year of maturity. Her and Jasmyn can carry that momentum from indoor into next season.”

Larkins is training in Biloxi, Miss., under former Ole Miss head coach Brian O’Neal.

With tracks closed, he’s doing what he can with abdominal work, dumbbells and lunges.

“With a new program, sometimes it takes a year to get adjusted, and that’s what was happening for me,” said Larkins, who competed for the Demons from 2016-2019, including competing on two All-American 4X100 relays and earning two All-American honorable mentions as an individual sprinter. “I would like to think the Olympics postponement does help me.

“I’m sticking with my program, and I can start to feel the changes. I won’t know for sure until competition come back, but I get one more year to buy into this system.”

Larkins’ career-best wind-legal time of 10.12 would be the top mark of any current South Korean sprinter.

James is in similar circumstances after a career (2015-18) in which he was part of those two All-American 4X100 relays and was an honorable mention All-American in the 100 meters as an individual sprinter.

For Junior Charles, chasing his Olympics dreams will be delayed one year.

But after struggling through a hamstring injury in the indoor season, Charles will get more than a year to return to a form which placed him in the mix on Grenada’s 4X400 Olympic relay team.

“Junior will definitely benefit, and he’s had the best training year he’s ever had,” Pennington said. “The hamstring injury lingered the whole season, and he ran an open race, but he felt it.

“His career best in the 400 is 46.57 (at South Plains Junior College, which included bronze medals at the NJCAA national championships in the 400 and 4X400 relay). We think he could have been in the 44s by the end of this outdoor season. He might have won NCAA national championships in the 200 and 400 meters had this season continued.”

Photo Credit:
Larkins photo is Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services
Steels photo is Mike Wade Photography