By: Kevin Sully in FloTrack News on July 27, 2019
Between the three, there are Olympic gold medals, NCAA titles and numerous spots on the U.S. national teams. They span five years in age, but their stories share common threads. Alongside the success, there have been surgeries—on the knee and Achilles— torn hamstrings, struggles with confidence and up-and-down results.
On Friday night in Des Moines, Teahna Daniels, English Gardner and Morolake Akinosun sprinted across the finish line, separated by less than a tenth of a second to claim the top three spots in the women’s 100m at the USATF Outdoor Championships.
The race wasn’t flashy. Daniels ran 11.20 into a persistent headwind that slowed times in the first two days of competition.
It was a fitting result for an event that has been hard to pin down in the United States. Tori Bowie, the reigning world champion didn’t have to run in this race, and opted not to start. Aleia Hobbs and Sha’Carri Richardson, the last two NCAA champions placed sixth and eighth.
Instead, it was a trio that even as recently as last month appeared unlikely to make the final, let alone the world championship team.
“It’s what I love about track and field. It’s whoever is ready to run the fastest on that given day,” Akinosun said.
“It doesn’t matter what you did yesterday…..the day before….two months ago, it’s about what you can do today.”
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18 months ago, Morolake Akinoson spent nights touching her surgically repaired Achilles tendon. She’d run her hand along her right leg to feel if the tendon was in fact connected. She’d also wonder if she’d make it back to elite running again.
The past two seasons she finished fourth at the U.S. Championships in the 100m and gone on to win gold at the 2016 Olympic Games and 2017 World Championships as part of the U.S. 4x100m relay team. She was still young, but she knew the history of Achilles injuries.
“Sometimes I was confident that I would be back and better than I ever was before and then sometimes I’d be like, ‘but some people never come back from an Achilles. What if I can never come back? What if I rupture the other one?’”
The Achilles went during an indoor meet in January of 2018 in Lubbock, Texas. Akinosun had been dealing with nagging tendonitis and her body finally had enough. When the rupture happened after her 60m race, she remembers relief more than pain, like a pressure release.
Her season was lost. As the questions swirled about her recovery at night, she tried to fill her days. She volunteered as an assistant coach at the University of Texas. She read. She traveled to Europe and spent time in cities where she’d raced before, but only seen the track and the hotel.
She enjoyed all of it, but she also came to a conclusion.
“I’m not done with track and field yet.”
After months of rehab, she returned to the track in late March at the Texas Relays. She ran the 100m in 11.32, her first with a visible scar on that right leg. It was far from her best time, but it was progress. She remembered that a year prior, March of 2018, was when she took off her walking boot for the first time and stumbled when she tried to walk on the Texas track.
Before the US Champs, she raced frequently. None of the results were spectacular, but they were steps forward. The focus remained on qualifying for the World Championships in the 100m.
That’s something she’d never done on a healthy Achilles. Now, she’d have to do it a year-and-a-half after surgery.
Akinosun entered this meet tied for the 20th best time in the United States of 2019. Still, there was unrelenting belief. In Thursday’s prelim, she won her heat. In the semifinals, she finished a close second to Daniels.
“When I woke up this morning I knew that I was going to be on this team,” Akinosun said.
What was already apparent to Akinosun was becoming increasingly clear to everyone else. She could finish in the top three.
In the final, she was in lane five between Gardner and Daniels. At the midway point, all three were trying to chase down Dezerea Bryant, who jumped out to a great start. In the final meters, Akinosun squeaked past Bryant to finish third by .01 seconds.
After the finish, there was happiness from Akinosun but no disbelief.
“It was like getting to the end of the sentence and seeing a period,” Akinosun said. “It’s supposed to be there.”