News13 Jul 2012

Ashley Spencer lets statistics and superlatives tell the story


Ashley Spencer of United States competes on the Women's 400 metres qualification heat on the day two of the 14th IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona 2012 (© Getty Images)

It was apparently the 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli who coined the phrase 'Lies, damn lies and statistics' but in this case the statistics tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about how good Ashley Spencer's run over one lap of the Montjuic Olympic stadium was on Friday.

Her time of 50.50 broke a Championship record that had stood since 1990, it was the fastest time in the world by a junior since Sanya Richards-Ross set the US junior record in 2004 and moved the University of Illinois student up to sixth on the world-all-time junior list and second - behind Richards-Ross – on the US junior list.

Spencer also becomes only the second woman to have won a prestigious and highly-competitive NCAA title and then gone on to win at the IAAF World Junior Championships in the same year; only the 400m Hurdler Lashinda Demus had achieved the feat before.

Not surprisingly, Spencer was pretty pleased, and that's an understatement about her performance.

Not lost for words

“I feel great. I ended up my season with this, coming to Spain, and I'm having so much fun, it's an amazing feeling, absolutely unbeatable. But I have to be honest, I'm very tired now, it's been a long season.

“It's unbelievable and to be on this level with these girls is just phenomenal; for me to come out with a win is just incredible and I couldn't be happier,” reflected Spencer, deservedly going through almost her entire vocabulary of superlatives after getting herself upright following some severe cramping of her thighs immediately after crossing the line.

An interview with a TV channel was actually done with the presenter, former 100m World champion and World record holder Maurice Greene, propping her up while he struggled to get a reaction.

Fortunately, she was a quickly a little more coherent and was able to describe how her race unfolded as she blew away the rest of the field with a brutal change of pace down the home straight.

Guyana's Kadencia Baird finished second in an Area Junior record of 51.04 but was more than half-a-second adrift, a jaw-dropping gap over 400m.

Fine execution kills off rivals

“I knew I just had to go and execute the plan that me and my coach talked about, and I never gave up doubt. I trusted in my training and I trusted in my coaching, there was never a shadow of doubt that I was going to win, if I could; and if I couldn't then at least I was going to come out with a PR (personal record) and I did both so it was just incredible.

“The race really did go to plan and that plan was to come out of the blocks clean and smooth, the last couple of times I wasn't keeping my toes up, and I had to work on that. I then had to keep my stride pattern down the back stretch and be mindful of the headwind; coming home, just hit it when the time was right. That was in my mind throughout the race.”

Bahamas' defending champion Shaunae Miller was never a factor in the battle for the medals and eventually finished a distant fourth, but Spencer wasn't distracted by the fact that the event had rightfully been built up as a head-to-head duel between the pair.

“I'd heard about her but I just had to focus on myself. Once you start losing focus on yourself you start messing up.”

Thigh tattoo

In addition to her speed on the track, one thing that catches the eye about Spencer is that she has a patterned tattoo down her right thigh, and she responded with mock indignation when it was suggested that it was a leopard print. “It's a cheetah's markings, that's an even faster cat!

She has another tattoo on a foot, a reference to a biblical proverb, “that's to make sure I stay focused.”

Now she can deservedly put her feet up for a few weeks after returning home to Indianapolis from her first overseas trip.

“Now, I'm just going to rest, school starts on August 19 so I'm just going to get ready for the next track season. I might just run a mile or two, maybe, if I feel like it,” she joked.

“But it's pretty remarkable coming out of the United States for the first time and then winning the gold at the World Juniors. Barcelona's a beautiful city and, of course, had the Olympics in 1992. They were before I was born but I've studied what happened here and seen all the great performances on this track.

On Friday night, the spectators in the stadium witnessed Spencer also produce a great performance in the same stadium where France's Marie-Jose Perec won a memorable Olympic 400m gold medal 20 years ago and who would bet against the American teenager following in her footsteps in four years’ time when Rio stages the 2016 Games.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF
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