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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sports

Cougar sprinter faces world’s fastest in London


The 100m final at the Olympic Stadium was the goal of Mario Burke in his first senior level competition | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Track & field took its first step toward reentering international prominence on Aug. 4: the opening day of the 2017 IAAF World Championships.

That’s when junior Mario Burke, Barbados’ top sprinter, competed in the competition’s opening event. He placed second and advanced to the 100m quarterfinals, where his individual run ended at the world’s premier track and field tournament — bar only the Olympics.

Burke, the only Cougar to attend the event, earned his trip to London by winning the Barbados National Championships with a PR 10.12s. For Burke, this marked the first time he would represent Barbados at the senior level.

Senior sprinter Eli Hall-Thompson had qualified in the 200m to represent the United States by running 20.60s at the U.S.’s national championships, taking third in the event. Hall-Thompson holds the UH record in the 200m. However, he decided to skip London to avoid aggravating a lingering injury he suffered during the outdoor season.

Ultimately Hall-Thompson wanted to ensure his health for his final season of eligibility with the Cougars, according to a news release. This left Burke as the sole athlete for the Cougars competing at the World Championships.

The London track

Standing in the same stadium that hosted the Olympics five years ago, Burke had to watch the first two heats before getting to stretch his own legs. But when he got to run, Burke seized his opportunity.

Burke ran 10.22s to qualify for the 100m quarterfinals, the third-fastest preliminary time overall. His time was second only to Jan Volko of Slovakia, who ran a national record 10.15s to win the heat.

Originally, Burke was scheduled to race against Canadian champion and Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse. However, the day of the championships, De Grasse pulled out with an injury.

Regardless, in the quarterfinals, Burke’s competition ended as he placed sixth in his heat with a run of 10.42s: two-tenths of a second away from qualifying for the semifinals.

The relays

Even though Burke’s individual run came to an end, his time at the championships was not over yet. On Saturday, Burke donned the blue and gold of Barbados again to compete in the men’s 4x100m relay.

Burke helped the Barbados relay team qualify for Worlds at the IAAF World Relays in April, where he ran the first leg on the team that finished second to the United States.

Two Cougars who competed against Burke at the April relay and qualified for London weren’t selected to run in the World Championships.

Graduate sprinter LeShon Collins ran for Team USA, and sophomore sprinter Brianne Bethel ran for the Bahamas women’s relay team at the contest. Both helped their teams finish in the top eight, qualifying them for Worlds. Collins even left the Relays with a gold medal.

But at the World Championships, Burke was the only one of the three to run for his country.

However, Barbados was unable to match their silver medal performance from the World Relays. Even with Burke running the final, or anchor, leg, the relay team only managed to run 39.19s, a dead-last finish.

Regardless, Burke’s presence on the world stage may carry him into success during his junior year. Assistant coach Carl Lewis said just after the April relays that the coaching team hopes to create a space at Houston where athletes’ success can carry into the national stage.

Burke is just the first of many, in his coaches’ eyes.

Now the track & field’s team focus turns to the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei from Aug. 19-30. Twenty-two Cougars will represent the USA Team there and compete against teammates like Burke who represent their respective nations.

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