Nov. 11, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina Track and Field’s 2016 Olympians took center stage recently after being honored at the Gamecock football game on Saturday, November 5 at Williams-Brice Stadium. Gold medalist Natasha Hastings (2005-07, USA), alumna Jeannelle Scheper (2011-15, Saint Lucia), sophomore Aliyah Abrams (Guyana), head coach Curtis Frye (USA assistant coach), and assistant head coach Delethea Quarles (personal coach for Scheper) were recognized, while alumna Kierre Beckles (2011-12, Barbados) was unable to attend.
We caught up with three of the current and former Gamecocks who competed in Rio.
What was the best part of your Olympics experience?
Abrams: (Pictured right)“The best part of the Olympics was watching the men’s 400 meter record being broken.”
Hastings: “Of course winning a gold medal with Team USA, but the overall experience for me, even though it was my second Olympics, was a first for me in a lot of ways. I tried to take in every moment of the experience.”
Scheper: “The best part for me was just being in the Olympic Village. Being surrounded by athletes you emulate, who then become your colleagues, is a pretty interesting experience.”
What was it like to put on the uniform for your country?
Hastings: “It’s absolutely a thrill. I always remember my high school coach told me that when you put on the Team USA uniform, you’ll feel a certain sense of pride. Any time I put on the uniform, I almost feel like a superhero. It’s amazing to get to represent this country. To get to be a part of such an elite group is truly an honor.”
Scheper: “I’m from a small island. There are not many people, so everybody knows who I am at home. Putting on the uniform just means representing all of those people.”
Abrams: “I try on my uniform, and I see my country’s colors on me and it just represents so much to me. Everybody is watching me. It just felt right.”
Did any of you have any “wow” moments when seeing other famous athletes?
Hastings:(Pictured right) “For me, it was seeing four of the ‘Fab Five’ American gymnasts. We ran into them the day after they won their first gold, so we got a quick selfie with them. They’re so young, and forgive me, they’re so tiny. Just to see that much power, and how they performed just phenomenally was great.”
Do you have any superstitions before you compete?
Scheper: “I get ready in a specific order before I complete. I used to have some weird superstitions, like wearing the same socks, but now I take two hours to get ready really slowly and in a specific order.”
Hastings: “I have to listen to music, and I have to do my makeup. People think the makeup thing is a vanity thing. Well, most of it is vanity. It is also a way of getting away from what I’m about to go do. As much as I love what I do, it is stressful to get out there and compete. I do have a belief that when I wear bight lipstick, I run faster.
“And when I get my kit from Under Armour, they send me different colors. I pick one, and if I run well, then that’s the color I wear the rest of the season. If I have a bad race, then I won’t wear that color anymore.”
Abrams: “I don’t usually switch out my spikes. I’m a strong believer that the same spikes I did great in before, I’ll do great again. The ones I ran with at the Olympics were old, but not beaten up.”
The Olympics are the highest place you can be in the sport. It’s the best stage to compete on.
With all of the pressure to compete, did you have any time to have fun in Rio?
Abrams: “I was definitely focused on the race until the day of. After, I had a chance to see Rio and go into the city. I went to the beach and had a chance to site-see. I was usually on the track just watching events after mine.”
Scheper: “I did get to see one of my teammates compete in swimming, and it just so happened that same night, (American gold medalist) Michael Phelps was competing. So I got to see him swim. It was very impressive to see him swim.”
Hastings: “Track started at a weird time, and it was a week long. That is my only regret, that I didn’t go and see a lot of other sports. I did get out and see Rio. I went to the beach. I saw the Christ the Redeemer (statue). I made a conscious effort to spend a lot of time with my teammates.”
While the Olympics is still an amateur competition, do the games still hold their value and prestige?
Scheper: “It’s the Olympic Games! As an athlete, it’s something you look forward to your entire career. Only a handful of people get to have this type of experience.”
Hastings: “While the Olympics isn’t something that you are immediately compensated for, it is still the pinnacle of our sport. If you don’t win any other medal in your career, that’s still the medal that you want to have. Our endorsements have things written in to them, and you reap the benefits down the line, but it only comes around every four years. Just to be an Olympian, there are only a handful of people in the world that can be on that stage.”
Abrams: “The Olympics are the highest place you can be in the sport. It’s the best stage to compete on.”
Let’s pretend you had a chance to compete for your country in any other sport. What would it be?
Scheper:(Pictured right) “It would have to be a team sport. I’ve never really played a team sport. Probably volleyball. I’m really terrible at basketball. People ask me if I can dunk, but I shouldn’t be on a court – period.”
Abrams: “I’d have to say synchronized swimming. I see on TV, and it looks easy, but I know it’s not. I want to do what they do.”
Hastings: “I tried basketball when I was eight, and I was horrible. I found track, and I stuck to it. So I guess maybe tennis.”
How did being at South Carolina help you reach your Olympic dreams?
Hastings: “I knew that I wanted to be here before even taking my visit to South Carolina. I just saw the tradition of success at the school on the collegiate level and with the athletes that were having great success on the professional level. The bar was always high. When I first got here, I wasn’t in the Honors College, but Coach Frye pushed me to a higher standard there, too. There was always the expectation that we are representing our families, our school and our country, so we always set the bar high.”
Scheper: “What’s different here is that the coaching staff is very world-minded. All of them have had worldly and international experience. Their expectation is for us to make it to that level. I always felt, from my freshman year, that the goal was the Olympic Games. That was Coach Dee’s (Deletha Quarles) goal for me, and that was Coach Frye’s goal for me.”
Abrams: “Being here, the coaches definitely hold you to a high standard. Coach Frye knows your capabilities, and he’ll push you to reach the levels you know you want to reach.”
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