EUGENE, Ore. – Twelve years ago, 19-year-old Lashinda Demus claimed gold and a world junior record in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2002 IAAF World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica.
That moment was one of many that Demus would add to an extensive list of track and field achievements that include two Olympics, four World Championships and an American record in the 400-meter hurdles.
Today, as the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships come to U.S. soil for the first time, Demus recalled how that experience impacted her athletic career and offered advice for the newest batch of World Junior competitors.
The six-day meet will be held July 22-27 at historic Hayward Field.
Demus was successful in track and field at an early age. She excelled at events across the board including the 800 meters and pentathlon, but ultimately settled on the 400 meters and hurdle events in high school.
By the time she graduated from Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif., Demus had already set a national high school record in the 300-meter hurdles and made her first world team at the 2001 World University Games. The following year, she joined the track and field program at the University of South Carolina, where she broke the world junior record in the 400-meter hurdles as a freshman at the 2002 NCAA Championships with a time of 54.85 seconds.
“Hurdling came so naturally to me,” said Demus. “It didn’t take me long to learn how and I enjoyed doing it so much. Once I saw how I rarely lost a race in high school in the 300-meter hurdles, I knew that my best event would be the 400 hurdles.”
It was during her freshman year of college that Demus pursued the World Junior Championships.
After the NCAA meet, she won the 400 hurdles at the USA Junior National Championships, and joined a standout team of world junior athletes from the U.S. with names that comprise many of today’s track and field elite, including Sanya Richards-Ross, Bershawn Jackson and Marshevet Myers (née Hooker).
“I didn’t think we would be where we are today,” Demus said. “I literally lived in that moment. But when some of us are together, we always talk about how stacked that team was.”
Team USA then traveled to Jamaica, where Demus won the initial 400-hurdles round, easily qualifying for the final at 57.38.
“It was totally an honor and I took how I did very personal,” Demus said. “When I stepped on the track with my USA uniform on I meant business. I knew I was representing something bigger than myself.”
Her shining moment came two days later when she ran 54.70 to win the women’s 400 hurdles final, setting a championship meet record and breaking her own world junior record.
“I was in heaven,” Demus said. “I was so happy to win and I realized how talented I really was. It was a staple in my track career.”
The competition for Demus didn’t end there.
On the final day, she competed as a member of the women’s 4×400 meter relay with teammates Christina Hardeman, Monique Henderson and Tiffany Williams. Demus ran the anchor leg and, once again, crossed the finish line first. Team USA won the race in 3:29.95, a national junior record.
With this repeated success, Demus became the first woman to win both a World Junior Championship and a NCAA Championship in the same year. She believes it was an experience that prepared her for a future as a professional track and field athlete.
“The stage might be smaller, but the pressure is the same. I was able to experience the pressure and learned how to control those feelings in the future,” Demus said.
Today, the 31-year-old Demus continues to compete, and she has become one of the most decorated female hurdlers ever. She also shares athletic and general advice on her website gowomango.com.
In terms of advice for World Junior track and field athletes, Demus said, “I always say it’s great to think about the perfect race and visualize that, from start to finish, over and over. It’s never too early for that.”
Finally, Demus offers, “Live in the moment and prepare yourself mentally for what you want out of these games. And always make sure you have fun.”