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Friday, November 24, 2017

Sports

USA Team stocked with Cougars for Taipei contest


The Cougars are bringing a veteran unit to Taipei as they take on the world’s best university athletes. | Peter Scamardo/The Cougar

Four of the Houston track & field coaches have 15 Olympic medals between them.

Each day at practice, head coach Leroy Burrell, assistant coaches Carl Lewis and Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie and volunteer assistant coach Frank Rutherford represent a model of success to student athletes.

The Olympic games are still three years away, 22 Cougar track & field athletes are competing as member of USA Team at the 29th Summer Universiade through Monday. Altogether, Cougars make up most of the 30 spots on the national team.

“When I took the position here that Coach Burrell offered me, I said that day that we wanted to be the best team in the world,” Lewis said in a November interview. “And how do you do that? By entering international competition.”

The Universiade is a bi-annual competition where the world’s top university athletes gather to compete in events ranging from basketball to badminton. It’s essentially a miniature Olympic games.

In November, Burrell was named the head coach for the USA Track & Field Team, meaning the vast majority of USA Team’s track & field athletes would be coming from UH.

USA Team has chosen an entire university team for one competition in the past. The University of Kansas Jayhawks notably represented USA Team in basketball at the 2015 games and took home the gold medal.

Validation of success

The track & field world knows very well who the Cougars’ coaches are, but USA Team’s decision for Cougars to represent the United States in collegiate track & field serves as validation for everything the Cougars have achieved in recent years.

“Being named as the USA representative for the World University Games is a tremendous honor for our program,” Burrell said in a press release last November, using another name for the competition. “This is an opportunity for the University of Houston to prove that we can compete not only on the collegiate stage but on an international platform as well.”

The Cougars are coming off their best season in recent memory. Not only did the men defend their conference titles, but the women had their first podium finish in three years. And at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, the men’s 4x100m relay team ran 38.34s in the final, winning the title.

Glory as a team

But for the Cougars, being named to the USA Team is a unique opportunity. Unlike the Olympics or the World Championships, where each athlete qualifies through their individual results, the coaching staff chooses athletes for the Universiade.

There is no qualifying tournament.

Coach Burrell has seen first hand what his athletes can do, making it an easy decision to select a majority-Cougar team.

At the Universiade, the Cougars get to showcase their individual skills and win acclaim for the United States and themselves — as a team. After training together on a daily basis in Houston, USA Team will hope to bring that camaraderie turns that success onto the track.

A Veteran Unit

Of the 22 Cougars going to Taipei, five have experience in international competition and seven have competed at the NCAA championships.

Senior sprinter Eli Hall-Thompson qualified for Team USA at the IAAF World Championships, but he decided to skip Worlds in order to fully rehabilitate an injury he suffered during the outdoor season. Hall-Thompson holds the school indoor 200m record, 20.75 seconds.

Senior sprinter Cameron Burrell did not qualify for the World Championships in the 100m, but he still ended his season on a strong note. Burrell ran sub-10 seconds in three straight races on his way to the NCAA Outdoor 100m final, where he finished second. In the process, he broke two records — UH’s and his father’s — with a 9.93 second run.

Junior Amere Lattin, a four-time AAC hurdling champion, competed at the IAAF U20 World Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland last summer, where he won a silver medal for the United States.

But 2016 graduate sprinter LeShon Collins is the only one with a gold medal from a senior track competition. Collins, an All-American sprinter in each of his four seasons with the Cougars, has continued to train with the Cougars as a member of Team Perfect Method, Lewis’s training program.

Collins recently ran the first leg for Team USA 4x100m relay team at the IAAF World Relays in April. The U.S. won the gold medal and qualified for the IAAF World Championships.

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