Former Cat punches ticket to Paris

Published 2:41 pm Tuesday, July 9, 2024

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Former University of Kentucky star Masai Russell is now headed to her first Olympics and has a great chance to win a gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles which just makes the story of how she got to Kentucky even more remarkable.


She was an eight-time national champion and 2018 Gatorade Athlete of the Year in Maryland who had initially verbally committed to Texas A&M before signing with Tennessee after Texas A&M pulled her scholarship offer one day before the national signing period opened.

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Russell went to Tennessee because of assistant coach Tim Hall and then a few weeks later he left for Kentucky. Hall contacted Russell with the same offer to come to UK and she was “just going on faith” when she signed with Kentucky and new head coach Lonnie Greene.


Russell became a multiple SEC champion and All-American at UK and broke the collegiate record in both the 60- and 100-meter hurdles. However, her biggest moment came at the U.S. Olympics Trials by winning the 100 hurdles in 12.25 seconds that broke the Trials record of 12.33 set by Gail Devers in 2000. It was the fastest time in the world this year and fourth fastest ever.


“I don’t think it has been given the just reward it is,” Greene said. “This is the fourth-fastest time in the history of the sport. Only three women have run faster in the history of the sport. The accomplishment was huge.”


Russell was just .05 seconds off  UK alumni Keni Harrison’s American record of 12.20 as the two fastest women’s 100 hurdlers in U.S. history and two of the four fastest in the world are both Kentucky products. Harrison was sixth in the Olympic Trials final after she claimed Olympic silver in Tokyo in 2021.


Russell said she was “super elated, happy and very emotional” with her performance at the U.S. Olympic Trials after the “toughest season” of her life.


“I was running 12.8 a month ago (compared) to 12.3 a season ago. This was the first time I ever won a national title and the fact I broke the Olympic Trials record and won in a world class field in the fastest race in history was incredible,” Russell said.


Russell’s previous best time had been 12.36 seconds but the 24-year-old had not approached that time recently until her breakout performance at the Trials.


“The way I was thinking about it was you can have the worst season of your life and make the team, you can have the best season of your life and make the team. It’s a clean slate,” Russell said. “When you come to the (starting) line it doesn’t matter what you have done to this moment. It matters now, because this is the determinant moment.”


“I continued to tell myself that. We were working really hard in practice. I literally train with a world record holder (Harrison). We just continued to push each other like we’ve been doing for the past five years and she always gives me advice. I just let go and let my body do what it was capable of (to win the Trials).


Volunteer UK assistant coach Devynne Charlton, a former Purdue star, will be a member of the Bahamas team competing in the Olympics. She won her Trials in 12.62 seconds to earn another Olympic berth after finishing sixth in the 2021 Olympics.


Russell believes the consistency of working under Green and Charlton for five years had paid off for her.


“Coach Greene is a very consistent coach. That’s what I tell everybody. Nothing has truly changed. It’s just about the mentality and getting stronger and nitpicking the little things make the biggest difference,” Russell said. “Nothing has truly changed. I just think consistency is the best thing to kind of stick with because it has been working.”


Green believes one of the biggest mistakes coaches make is thinking they need to make changes to something that is working.


“If they are continually improving, why throw the baby out with the bath water? Continue to the thing you know,” Greene said. “These two young women (Russell and Charlton) are going into the Olympics as two of the favorites to mount the podium and win. Either of them could touch the world’s record.”


Greene believes the one who makes the least unforced errors in the Olympic final can win.


“It’s going to be intense. It’s a level of intensity people cannot fathom,” Greene said. “For them the pressure and anxiety is exponential. They have both run faster than that in practice. If they don’t touch it (world record), they are going to come real close.”


Russell said at a recent UK press conference that she thinks “I can go faster” in Paris after thinking her times last year were as fast as she could ever go


“This year I am set up to continue to believe in myself and have faith,” she said. “I can go further and push more. I feel like for me this is just the beginning. I think I can go faster.”