Oregon sprinter Jenna Prandini put her head down as she stretched her white Nike shoes into the starting blocks in lane five.
Inside her head, Prandini said she was confident and relaxed as she prepared to run the 200 on the final day of the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field.
She didn’t think about the soreness in her legs from Friday’s sixth-place finish in the 100. She didn’t look at Kentucky’s Deszerea Bryant, who edged Prandini in the 200 at the NCAA National Championships two weeks ago and was also in the race.
Instead, she let the words of her sprints coach, Curtis Taylor, guide her.
“You know you can do it,” Taylor told her before the race. “Just visualize running around that track with an American flag in your hand.”
A personal best of 22.20 seconds later, Prandini threw up her hands, raising her index finger on each hand, and crossed the blue tape at the finish line as the national champion in the 200.
Seconds after the finish, she was handed that American flag coach Taylor told her to visualize. It was a golden ticket to Beijing, China where in two months she’ll represent the United States in the 200 at the IAAF World Championships.
The tangible was way better than the visualized for Prandini.
“It’s nowhere close to the real thing,” she said. “It’s awesome to be able to hold this flag. It’s like a dream come true – you always want to take that victory lap and get that flag.”
But that dream, to take a victory lap after being crowned a national champion, never actually happened for Prandini.
After the race finished and her exhaustion subsided, she headed to the camera for an interview with NBC. Then, it was off to the medal podium where she climbed the tallest stand. There, she was crowned champion and posed for pictures with Candyce McGrone (second place) and Jeneba Tarmoh (third place) – her two US teammates for the trip to Beijing.
After, Prandini headed to the media tent, smiling cheek-to-cheek.
“The feeling is kind of indescribable,” she said. “It hasn’t really hit me until right now. But I’m thrilled and I couldn’t be any happier and I’m really excited to go to Beijing.”
By the time her obligations were finished, Hayward field and its grandstands – the same ones that had cheered her on through 200 meters with thunderous clapping and cheers – were empty.
It was too late to take the victory lap she always dreamed.
With a year of eligibility left, Prandini said she plans to return to school and will compete for Oregon again next year. Prandini later added that she would talk to her coaches before making a final decision.
Though she didn’t have a chance to take a victory lap like the one Willamette University (Salem, Oregon) product Nick Simmonds took after winning the 800, she did punch her ticket to the World Championships.
Maybe then, on a track in Beijing, Prandini can have her moment.
Follow Joseph Hoyt on Twitter @JoeJHoyt