NO LIMIT FOR PREP HURDLER JACKIE COWARDBy Pete Cava
National Scholastic Sports Foundation
Jackie Coward’s performance this season in the 60-meter hurdles has been . . . well, heroic. Twice this season, the junior from West High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, has lowered the U.S. indoor prep record.
And there may be more to come. The 5-foot-7, 130-pound Coward is one of the leading entries at this year’s Nike Indoor Nationals in Landover, Maryland, March 10-11.
“She has no limit,” Coward’s coach, former UCLA and University of South Carolina hurdler Chuck Ryan, told the Knoxville News after Jackie’s first record-setting performance. “She can do whatever she wants to do.”
Born in Knoxville on November 5, 1989, Jacquelyn Coward started as a pupil at the Green Magnet Elementary School. In her first year at West High she ran the 60-meter hurdles in 8.72 seconds, the ninth-fastest indoor time for 2005. She won the 100-meter hurdles at the state high school meet that spring in Murfreesboro, and her season best of 14.02 was the year’s top freshman mark.
As a sophomore, Coward had two of the top four indoor prep times for 2006. Her best of 8.39 ranked second on the national high school list.
Outdoors, Coward took third at the early-season Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational with a time of 14.58 into a headwind. She was the star of the Tennessee state meet in May, running eight races in two days. She repeated as the hurdles champ, this time in 13.73, and finished first in the 100, 200 and 400-meter events. Coward scored more than half her school’s points as West High scored its first team title.
“My coach asked me about trying all four events,” she said, “and I’m like, ‘Has it ever been done before?’ And he said, ‘No, you’d be the first.’ So I said, ‘Alright, I’ll try it.’ I just thought of it as a workout.”
On June 17 at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina, Jackie took third in the 100m hurdles in 13.62 – a personal best. The next weekend at the U.S. Junior Championships in Indianapolis she finished first in a preliminary heat – again in 13.62 – but she failed to finish in the final. “Going into the sixth hurdle, my knees crashed together and I fell,” she explained. “Just that one mistake cost me the race.”
Undaunted, Coward returned to Greensboro on July 2 for the USATF Youth Championships and won in 13.71. Six days later at a USATF Junior Olympic regional meet in Nashville, Tenn., she came up with another PR with a time of 13.59. At the end of July in Baltimore, she wrapped up her season at the USATF Junior Olympics in Baltimore with a second-place finish behind April Williams of Dallas. Jackie’s time was a wind-aided 13.27.
The 13.59 performance in Nashville made Coward the year’s No. 3 prep behind Williams (13.35) and Shalina Clarke of Illinois (13.51).
She started training for 2007 before summer ended. “I took a month off,” she said, “and I started working out again in September. I worked on endurance, and leg strength and upper body strength, too.”
Getting an early jump on the indoor season, Jackie entered a meet at Clemson University the first weekend in December. “I finished second to a college hurdler, Shantia Moss of Georgia Tech,” said Coward. “I ran 8.51 in the prelims and 8.52 in the final.”
Jackie’s next outing was scheduled for January 26 at East Tennessee State University’s Niswonger Invitational in Johnson City. Her arrival was delayed and she stepped on the track just twenty minutes before the start of her preliminary heat. Asked if she had time to warm up properly, Jackie’s response was emphatic: “Not at all!”
Coward again faced a field consisting mostly of college hurdlers. Amazingly, she breezed home first in 8.29. The mark bettered the national high school record of 8.33 jointly held by three performers.
Jackie won the final in 8.35. After the first four races of her junior year, she had produced the best-ever prep indoor performance and tied for sixth-place on the all-time list. “Adrenaline will do that for you,” a beaming Chuck Ryan, told SI.com’s Dave Krider. “For her to do it so early in the season is phenomenal.”
The Johnson City performance even left Jackie stunned. “I wasn’t supposed to do it until the end of the year,” she said. “I was shocked when I saw the time. I was just happy I was able to do it so early in the season.”
The ink on Coward’s record application was still drying when she entered the University of Kentucky High School Invitational at Lexington’s Nutter Fieldhouse on February 17. Her preparation included a step-by-step dissection of the record-setting race. “After Johnson City, Coach Ryan reviewed my race with me,” she said. “He picked up little things I had to improve on, and I worked on them in practice.”
The result was another national high school record of 8.17.
Could a solid field at the Nike Indoor Nationals produce yet another record performance? Perhaps. After all, Coward’s ultimate goal is Candy Young’s 18-year-old outdoor prep mark of 12.95 for the 100m hurdles.
“I believe if you dream the impossible, you can do it,” she said. “You’ve got to believe.”