Originally Published: July 11, 2018 6:15 a.m.
PRESCOTT VALLEY – Bradshaw Mountain standout sprinter Charles Nnantah rallied to place fifth in the open 400-meter run with a personal-record time (PR) of 51.47 seconds, qualifying him for the USA Track & Field (USATF) Junior Olympic National Championships July 23-29 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Racing for the Arizona Bobcats club team from Phoenix in the 17- and 18-year-old age division at the USATF’s Region 10 Junior Olympic Championships July 7 and 8 in Aurora, Colorado, Nnantah also finished sixth in the 400m hurdles with a PR of 55.88 seconds. He claimed seventh in the 110m hurdles in 15.95 seconds.
Nnantah said if he’s among the Top 30 of the open 400m after the first round at nationals, he would advance to the national finals that weekend. Nnantah’s mom, Philomina, and his coach, Jonathan Crawford, will accompany him to North Carolina.
“He’s done a phenomenal job – he’s one of the hardest-working athletes I’ve ever worked with,” said Crawford, a veteran Bradshaw Mountain assistant coach for sprinters and middle-distance runners who helps the Bobcats, of Nnantah. “In the last three months, he has really grown as a kid, and as a student, too.”
For the next two weeks, Nnantah – an Advanced Placement (AP) student scheduled to graduate in 2019 – will focus strictly on the 400m run with Crawford mentoring him.
“We’re training for about a 48-second 400 pace right now,” Crawford said. “He’d like to go sub-50, and I’d love for him to do it. He has it in him to go under 50 seconds – it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”
That means Crawford’s asking Nnantah to run the first 200m split of the 400m race in 24 seconds or faster.
“We’re going to be training him at about 23 seconds in that first 200, so it’s a little bit faster,” Crawford said. “So, we’re breaking the race down into sections.”
For instance, on Tuesday, Nnantah ran 10 100m sprints in under 12 seconds apiece and “every one of them was right where he needed to be,” Crawford added.
Nnantah should have at least one advantage on several of the runners who are entered at nationals because he trains at 5,000 feet of elevation in Prescott Valley. Greensboro is a mere 897 feet above sea level. Aurora is 5,471 feet.
“[Wednesday] we’re going up to Mingus Mountain and running on six 150m hill workouts,” Crawford said. “We’re taking him up there just for the altitude, for the lung development [at 7,000-plus feet]. When we bring him back down here [to Prescott Valley], he’ll notice the difference.”
On July 8, Nnantah entered the USATF regional finals in seventh place in the open 400m run, which put him on the doorstep to nationals.
“The way I thought about it is, ‘This was my last race of the day, I haven’t qualified for nationals in any event, so if it comes down to anything, I have to make Junior Olympics in the open 4,’ ” Nnantah said in reflection. “I just knew that I was going to have to PR to stay in the Top 5. I ended up going 51.47, but I felt like my finals race was a much better race than my prelims race.”
In the preliminaries on July 7, Nnantah ran the 110m hurdles first, which he admits isn’t his best race.
“I just took it a little bit as a warm-up – like I just wanted to PR – but that didn’t end up happening,” said Nnantah, who’s run track since the fourth grade, four years before his family moved from Coralville, Iowa, west of Iowa City, to Arizona.
He then ran the open 400m prelims. In Lane 7 of Heat 1, Nnantah concentrated on giving the final 200m of the race, or the home stretch, “all he had.”
Nnantah added that he ran the race the way coach Crawford told him to run it and recorded “a huge PR” of nearly 1 second, in 51.50.
“I came into the race not even entered to make finals – I was like 10th [place] or so,” Nnantah said. “So, I just looked at it like I had nothing to lose, honestly. I went for it.”
Added Crawford, “As a coach, all we ask for is for the athletes to go out there and do their best. And when they PR, we know that they’re giving it all that they have.”
About an hour after running the open 400m, Nnantah raced the prelims of the 400m hurdles. He later missed out on qualifying for nationals in the 400m hurdles by a mere 8-hundredths of a second.
“It was pretty unfortunate, but I still PR’d by almost 5 seconds,” Nnantah said of his 400m hurdles time. “So, I was happy about that.”
CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES?
To make regionals, Nnantah had to place at the USATF Junior Olympic State Championships June 16 and 17 in Mesa. He did just that, nabbing fourth in both the 110m hurdles (PR of 15.88 seconds) and the 400m hurdles (57.75 seconds), and third in the open 400m (52.30).
Nnantah, 17, said he won’t celebrate his USATF accomplishments until nationals are over.
“I still have 2-1/2 weeks of training before I can start celebrating,” he added. “I’ll be in Prescott Valley for the next two weeks of training [with coach Crawford], for sure.”
Nnantah believes his off-season work in club track will bode well for him once he rejoins Bradshaw Mountain for the 2019 high school spring season.
“I can’t wait to see how I do at [nationals in] Junior Olympics,” Nnantah said, “and then going into senior year – having fun with it and posting good times.”
Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at email@example.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.
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