Tyra Gittens closed off her National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 Outdoor Track and Field Championship campaign with women’s heptathlon gold and high jump bronze in Eugene, Oregon, USA, late on Saturday.
Also a silver medallist in Thursday’s long jump, Gittens contributed 24 points to Texas A&M University’s 63—good enough for second spot in the women’s team competition.
University of Southern California (USC) finished first with 74 points, while third spot was claimed by University of Georgia (37.5). Kadesha Prescott’s University of South Florida went point-less at the meet.
Gittens went into the 800 metres with a huge heptathlon lead, and virtually assured of gold. But she still had to run her two laps of the Hayward Field track to complete the formality in the seven-discipline event.
An exhausted Gittens battled to line in the 800, collapsing to the track as she crossed in two minutes, 28.88 seconds. The Trinidad and Tobago athlete was 19th in the two-lap race, but first in the hep, a total of 6,285 points giving her a significant cushion on American Michelle Atherley, the University of Miami student finishing second with 6,067.
On Friday, day one of the heptathlon, Gittens got home in 13.46 seconds in the 100m hurdles, cleared 1.84 metres in the high jump, threw 13.31 metres in the shot put and clocked 23.79 seconds in the 200m. On Saturday, before her 800 run, the 23-year-old disturbed the sand at 6.64m in the long jump and landed the spear a personal best 41.24m in the javelin.
Between the javelin and 800, Gittens competed in the individual high jump. She shrugged off her multi-event fatigue to bag bronze, the talented student-athlete going over the bar at 1.87m. University of South Carolina’s Rachel Glenn was golden, the American clearing 1.93m. Gittens’ Texas A&M teammate, Jamaican Lamara Distin picked up silver at 1.90.
Gittens went into the NCAA meet hopeful of achieving the Olympic Games heptathlon entry standard of 6,420 points. At the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championships, last month, she struck gold with 6,418, missing out on a guaranteed Tokyo Games berth by a mere two points. Though short of her goal, the 6,285 accumulated in Eugene was a satisfying outcome.
“This week has been the hardest week in my collegiate career,” Gittens said in an interview following her NCAA heptathlon triumph.
“I have never said this, but I am so happy to be done. This meet was not how I wanted it to go, but I’m happy with my score.
“It’s still my second best score,” Gittens continued, “even though high jump and long jump didn’t go great. That proved to me that I’m a consistent multi, and I don’t need to do something amazing in those two events to do good. That’s one thing I’m really proud of myself for.”
In addition to her 2021 NCAA Outdoor Championship heptathlon gold, long jump silver and high jump bronze, Gittens has 2021 NCAA Indoor Champs pentathlon and high jump gold and long jump bronze to her name, as well as hep silver from the 2019 Outdoor meet. She is an Olympic qualifier in the long jump, and could earn a spot in the Tokyo Games heptathlon by virtue of her world ranking.
“The season takes a toll on all the NCAA athletes. And then we have to go in the professional world where they get a lot of break between meets. So, it’s really just recovering mentally and physically,” Gittens ended, “and the physically is going to be the most tough thing.”