Track and field primes to compete on international stage
The Cougars sent a message to the track and field world when they swept the American Athletic Conference indoor and outdoor titles last season. Under head coach Leroy Burrell, the Cougars showed that they have the talent to compete and win no matter the level of competition.
This impressive form over the last seasons has earned the men and women on the team the right to represent Team USA at the 29th World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan on August 2017. Better known as the Universiade, the prestigious games are held every two years and give university athletes a chance to participate on behalf of their countries on a stage second only to the Olympics.
Nine-time Olympic gold medalist and assistant track coach Carl Lewis knows a thing or two about success on the track. Lewis said that when he took the assistant position, he told Burrell he wanted to be the best team in the world.
By taking just Cougar runners to the games, Lewis said the games will show the world the University’s mettle.
“And how do you do that? By entering international competition,” Lewis said. “Basically we’re taking the University of Houston team with the objective of showing the world who the best team is. I think we’ll probably set a record for gold medals at the event.”
The event, as a whole, is organized by the International University Sports Federation. Still, it consulted the U.S. International University Sports Federation to decide who would represent them at the Universiade.
In the past, the committee selected a coaching staff who would pull athletes from across the U.S. to form Team USA. Selection tactics have changed recently, and they now pick a sole university to represent the country.
Burrell will get to pick some athletes who have already graduated from UH along with current athletes.
Former sprinter LeShon Collins and hurdler Issac Williams will be eligible for the team since they have only spent a year away from the squad.
Coupled with some of the nation’s top talent that is already on the team, the Cougars will have invaluable experience to compete against the world’s best.
The Cougars are the ideal squad to represent the U.S. since they feature a team as diverse as the country. The track and field program’s storied tradition and presence of three Olympic gold medalists on the coaching staff have led to international athletes competing for the school to improve their talents for the national stage.
Notable examples are sophomore sprinter Barbados native Mario Burke, junior shot putter Felipe Valencia from El Salvador and freshmen sprinters Brianne and Brittany Bethel, who were born in Bahamas.
This could create fun scenarios where the Cougars will compete against their teammates, but for different countries in the games’ later stages.
“That is going to be interesting because I can’t represent team USA,” Burke said. “I’d be representing Barbados. The fact I’d be going up against my teammates would be fun, so hopefully I win and my teammates come second and third. We can all be on the podium representing UH.”
The games will be a major branding tool for both the team and the University.
While many know about the national titles and the Olympic gold medals that adorned the program, this is a chance to show the world that a new generation of Cougar athletes are ready to compete and win.