Big aspirations for Texas A&M's Little

STANFORD, Calif. – When asked what she planned for an encore in 2015, Shamier Little thought for a moment and said, “I just keep going out there and running my butt off.”

In the spirit of keeping things simple, well done, Shamier.

For someone who accomplished so much in so short a time, Little seems remarkably unaffected by her success. Now a Texas A&M sophomore, Little in 2014 had a freshman season for the ages. Over a span of six weeks she won an NCAA championship in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles in a personal best 55.07 seconds and followed that up with U.S. Junior (55.43) and World Junior (55.66) titles.

The common denominator there is all three titles were achieved at Hayward Field.

Little will be back in Eugene later this spring for the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, June 10-13, followed a couple of weeks later by the USATF Championships. After a full indoor season this year, Little opened up in the 400 hurdles at the Stanford Invitational in early April, where her winning time of 56.42 represented the fastest opener of her young career.

Texas A&M freshman Shamier Little holds her hand over her heart during the national anthem after winning the 400-meter hurdles at the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon last summer. (TrackTown Photo)

Texas A&M freshman Shamier Little holds her hand over her heart during the national anthem after winning the 400-meter hurdles at the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon last summer. (TrackTown Photo)

In the race, Little was challenged up to the 10th hurdle by Sparkle McKnight of Arkansas, who struggled over the last barrier to clear the way for Little to win by nearly three seconds over the field.

“It was good, definitely the push from Sparkle,” Little said. “I definitely know it’s going to come down to the last few hurdles, because I’m not the best starter. I really enjoyed it. It was my best opener. It tells me a lot. Last year I opened in 59 or slower. This year, opening up at 56, I’ll be ready for the rest of the season.”

At some point in the season, Little will be surprised by the presence of her mother, Tiffany Mayfield of Chicago, at one of her meets. Seems mom likes to show up announced to support her daughter, who usually hears her before she sees her.

“If you watch any of my races, she’ll be screaming, ‘Go, Khalia!’ That’s my middle name. She likes to surprise me at some of my meets. I never catch on. She was there at World Juniors. That was a surprise.”

A pleasant surprise, that. Little’s family enjoyed seeing her win the World Junior title to cap an outstanding season.

“They loved it. They were so excited for me, especially my mom.”

If Little has another superb season in 2015, she can be excused for looking ahead, especially with the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials on the horizon in Eugene.

“I’m looking forward to it,” she said of the Trials. “I’ve been getting better every year. I would say that’s a goal of mine. Hopefully, I’ll make the Olympic team, being on the elite level and hanging with those people.”

Little also excels at the flat 400 meters and runs a leg on Texas A&M’s 4×400-meter relay team. Last May she won the SEC 400 in 51.06. But it’s the 400 hurdles that has her heart. In fact, she gets downright dreamy talking about an event many consider the toughest in track and field for its requirement of speed, endurance and technique.

“There’s something about the 400 hurdles. I just love it,” she said. “The competition has you on the edge of your seat. You’re running and jumping and you have to keep your form over the hurdles. Not many people can do it, and it’s exciting to see people who can.”

For comparative purposes, the world record in the 400 hurdles is 52.34 by Yuliya Pechonkina of Russia, the American record is 52.47 by Lashinda Demus and the collegiate mark is 53.21 by Kori Carter. Little, at 55.07, has miles to go before she can sleep on her talent alone.

“She’s an amazing talent,” said Vince Anderson, Little’s event coach at A&M. “She has everything it takes. She understands the 400 hurdles particularly well. She has an intuitive sense for it. Nothing she does surprises me. She’s capable of wonderful things – fast times, records, consistent performances on the highest level, Olympic and World Championship medals. All of that is within her power to achieve.”

When Little returns to Hayward Field in June, first for the NCAAs and then the USATF meet, she knows the folks in Eugene will remember her from a year ago.

As the lead-off leg for Team USA in the 4x400-meter relay at the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships, Texas A&M's Shamier Little earned a second gold medal. (TrackTown Photo by Phil Johnson)

As the lead-off leg for Team USA in the 4×400-meter relay at the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships, Texas A&M’s Shamier Little earned a second gold medal. (TrackTown Photo by Phil Johnson)

“It’s going to be a lot of hype, especially since it’s a day of all girls,” Little said of the new NCAA format of alternating genders. “I definitely know it’s going to be a lot of hype in Eugene. It’s exciting. I hope I get to enjoy that again. Fans came up to me, making comments and asking for autographs. I’m a shy person.”

For the USATF meet later in June, Little said, “I just want to end my season right, with a PR. I want to end every season with a PR.”

Anderson first saw Little compete at the 2012 U.S. Junior Championships and came away with one more check mark on his to-do list.

“Her split marks were perfect,” Anderson said. “That’s something as a coach you don’t see too much. She’s way more than a 400 hurdler. She’s a very good sprinter and a great 400-meter runner. She’s the SEC champ, in most impressive style. It was wire-to-wire, from the first step. It’s been fun to see how much speed she has.

“Even in the 400 hurdles, speed is the limiting variable, and she has it. We’re excited and optimistic about her development. God willing, she can be Olympic champion if she lives right. There’s only a few people who have that ability, and she’s one of them.”

Previous TTUSA stories by John Crumpacker:

Finding his sweet spot

Sun Devils eye repeat of NCAA titles

John Crumpacker was a sportswriter for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle for more than three decades. In that time he won seven national writing awards and covered 10 Olympic Games. He was president of the Track & Field Writers of America on two occasions.