Junior sprinter Courtney Champion played a big role in helping the Lady Volunteers track team finish third at the NCAA Indoor Championships. The team improved by 15 spots from last year’s result and is back in the mix as a national powerhouse.
In the championships, Champion finished second in the 60-meter sprint and third in the 200-meter final. In the 200m race, she set a school record and a personal best. She also accumulated 14 out of the team’s 30 points during the championship, and her second place finish in the 60m was just enough for Tennessee to finish in third place overall.
“We’re extremely proud of ourselves,” Champion said. “We’re thankful we have the coaches we do because they didn’t give up on us. They kept pushing us, and it obviously led to an SEC Championship and a third place finish in the nation.”
Coming into the final, Champion had the second fastest time in the country in the 60m, and she held the nation’s fourth fastest time in the 200m. As a whole, she is ranked as the fourth fastest woman in the world, and she is the fastest American.
“I do not really think about breaking records when I am running,” she said. “If you break a record it means you are running well, so I try to focus on the task rather than the outcome.”
Champion also excels in the classroom. She has earned a spot on the SEC Academic Honor Roll for two straight seasons.
But all of her success has not come without adversity.
After having a stellar freshman year in which she helped Tennessee to an Indoor National Title, Champion’s success took a hit her sophomore season. Even though her performance was still good by most standards, she did not qualify for the 55m or 200m events in the NCAA Championship as she did her freshman year.
This year, she has been consistent all season. She hit an automatic qualifying mark for the 60m in the team’s first event of the season in January. She also won the 200m in that competition and kept winning all season. In February, at the Tyson Invitational, Champion recorded her automatic qualifying time for the event.
She was undefeated in short race sprints this season until the SEC Championships, where she finished second in the 60m. She was bested by Auburn’s Kerron Stewart, the sprinter who won the event at the National Championships, as well. Her second place finish was still the third fastest time in the world this season, proving the competitive nature of the SEC.
Champion has also helped the team succeed in the 4x400 relay this season. The relays were among her strongest events last season, but this year the coaches have focused her more on individual events.
She attributes the ability to overcome last year’s adversity to her coaches and herself.
“A lot of it is because of Coach Caryl and Clark; they never gave up on me,” Champion said. “A lot of it is myself — it would have been easy to give up after last year, but I did not.”
Coach J.J. Clark, who was recently named the south region women’s coach of the year, leads a lot of great athletes, but he knows the importance of Champion to his team.
“Courtney can run a very fast time as a sprinter,” Clark said. “I can say Courtney has really improved throughout the year.”