For most high school seniors, winning Gatorade Athlete of the Year would be a career crowning event. For Anna Cockrell, it wasn’t her crowning accomplishment for a particular week.
The week was June 20-26.
Cockrell, a recent Providence Day graduate, learned June 23 she had been awarded North Carolina’s Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year. She was informed as she waited at the Phoenix airport on her way to the U.S. Track and Field Junior National Championships in Clovis, Calif. There she posted her best time ever, 55.89 seconds, in the 400-meter hurdles. While she placed second, she earned a spot on a U.S. team headed to international competition.
And that wasn’t the biggest stage awaiting her.
Cockrell also will compete, starting July 7 in Eugene, Ore., in the U.S. Olympic trials. She said she has known that for a while, but chose not to focus on it.
Cockrell turned in a record-setting performance in her days at the U.S. Track and Field Junior Nationals. Her time was the best in N.C. history and the fourth best in U.S. history. The second-place finish also earned her a berth in the International Amateur Athletic Federation U20 World Championships, July 19-24, in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
Here’s how 55.89 seconds compares:
In 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist Natalya Antyukh won with a time of 52.7 seconds. The Silver Medal winner, Lashinda Davis, of the U.S., had a time of 52.77. Cockrell’s time would have qualified her for the Olympic semifinals.
Cockrell’s summer has been a whirlwind, starting with the final meet of her Providence Day career at the NCISAA 3A state championships. Cockrell led her team to their fourth consecutive team state title and won four individual state championships. Now she’s headed to Olympic trials and international competition.
“Just saying the word Olympic trials is very exciting and at the same time very stressful, just thinking about it,” Cockrell said. “But I’m just going to try to stay calm and enjoy the experience and take one step at a time.
“Having competed at Oregon before, last summer (Junior Nationals), and been around a lot of Olympians will definitely help me, because I won’t be so star struck this time. I know I will be nervous, but I am looking forward to the challenge.”
Providence Day track coach Carol Lawrence said two high school students qualified this year for 400-meter hurdles. She said only a few ever make it to the trials. Lawrence said Cockrell could make it to the semifinals, then “we’ll see what happens.”
Cockrell said “It’s been a wild ride this summer from states to graduation to New Balance Nationals to Junior Nationals and now the Olympic trials and then World Juniors.”
The 18-year-old also was looking forward to the July 2 wedding of her older brother, Ross, at her family’s home in Waxhaw.
“I haven’t had a lot of time to stop and think about exactly what I’m doing. My focus is always on getting better, getting faster,” she said.
Lawrence said focus is Anna’s is biggest strength.
“There’s nothing that Anna accomplishes that will surprise me because she’s always thinking about her next race,” Lawrence said. “She is always motivated because she expects to be the best in every race, and she works to be the best.”
Cockrell also will report to the University of Southern California on Aug. 15. She said she is eager to work with track coach, Caryl Smith-Gilbert, and her teammates.
Cockrell said she’s proud to carry on the athletic tradition of her family. Her father, Kieth, played football at Columbia University. Ross starred on the gridiron at Duke University and now plays cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Her older sister, Ciera, is a rising sophomore on the Davidson College volleyball team.
Cockrell said family vacations often involve marathon Monopoly games.
“When we play Monopoly, the games go on for hours and hours and everybody wants to win,” Cockrell said. “Somehow, my dad, who is the banker, always wins. But we are never going to stop trying to beat him.”
That same competitive spirit continues to drive Anna Cockrell as she moves forward.
Minutes after finishing second in the 400-meter hurdles at the U.S. Junior Nationals, Cockrell said she was thinking about what she needed to do to finish first.
“My goal is win every race,” she said. “But even if I win, I’m rarely 100 percent satisfied. Because I know you can always improve. I believe that I am nowhere near as good as I can be... So, I’m always working to be better than I was in the last race.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.