Track & Field program on pace to become Olympic training school
Recruiting athletes is easy when the coaches are Olympic gold medalists Leroy Burrell and Carl Lewis. Prospective Cougars come in to see athletes being transformed into world-class athletes by former world-class athletes.
Three of these athletes are sophomore Mario Burke, freshman Brianne Bethel and Class of 2016 graduate LeShon Collins. All three ran at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Relays this weekend and helped the 4x100m relay teams from Barbados, the Bahamas and the United States qualify for the IAAF World Championships in London.
“Having athletes on national teams is what we’re trying to do,” Burrell said. “We want to be successful in conference and then nationally and then produce a couple athletes that can compete at the international level and ultimately at the highest level of games.”
Running with the best
Burke, Bethel and Collins have all had success at the collegiate level for the Cougars. The IAAF World Relays was their first opportunity to represent their respective countries at the World Championships.
Collins and Burke earned gold and silver medals after Team USA and Team Barbados finished first and second in the men’s 4x100m final. Bethel missed the podium, but she helped the Bahamas to a sixth place finish, good enough for a ticket to London.
“I think that it’s such a wonderful opportunity and it says a lot about the program that we have here,” said assistant coach Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie. “I think it’s an honor and set the precedent for the rest of their teammates to follow.”
Burke and Collins in particular got to run with some of the best for their respective countries. Burke got to hand the baton off to Olympians Ramon Gittens and Burkheart Ellis Jr. Meanwhile, Collins met Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin.
A long season
The Cougars are in the middle of preparations for the Penn Relays, the oldest track & field meet in the United States. The Cougars currently have the second fastest 4x100m relay team in the country and look to break the Penn record.
The team is primarily focused on the World University Games this August.
At the World University Games, only U.S. citizens will represent the United States, including still-eligible graduates like Collins. This creates an interesting dynamic for the Cougars: With eight international students on the roster, there is a chance they may end up competing against their teammates.
“Our goal going in when we agreed to represent the U.S. was to bring home a really solid medal haul,” Burrell said. “We think we’re on pace to do that, and that’ll be just another chapter in the story.”
The Perfect Method
With three athletes qualified for the World Championships, the coaches’ vision for the program is being realized. They wanted to sell the Track & Field program as a place where athletes could have successful collegiate careers and then go on to have post-collegiate careers representing their countries.
Coach Lewis created Team Perfect Method to train these athletes post graduation. Collins and fellow 2016 alumnus Issac Williams are two current members of Team Perfect Method. They are following in the footsteps of Lewis who trained at Houston all throughout his Olympic career.
“All these young recruits that come to us that want to go to the Olympics, we’re actually physically showing them the path,” Lewis said. “You can do it in school while you’re here and you can also do it post collegiately for (your country).”