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Black college products take home three titles, one second at U. S. Track and Field nationals

Two former black college hurdling standouts and one jumper took home first place finishes at the U. S. A. Track and Field Outdoor Championships last week at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon and earned spots on the U. S. Team for the upcoming World Championships in Beijing, China.

On Friday, Coppin State product Christina Epps soared to a career best 14.09 meters (46 feet, 2.75 inches) to win the women’s triple jump. Epps, who competes for the adidas Garden State Track Club, hit her 46-2 3/4 inches (14.09m) mark on her first attempt but fouled on her final two attempts. But the first jump stood up as the best performance of the competition. April Sinkler was second with a best leap of 45-4 1/2. “It actually hasn’t sunk in yet,” Epps said. “It feels so unreal. I was going through my victory lap yesterday like I can’t believe this is happening right now. I am extremely humbled and honored.”

With her victory, Epps moved one step closer to earning a sacred spot on the 2015 IAAF World Championships team set for August 22-30 in Beijing, China. She needs to clear 14.20 meters in order to officially earn a trip to China. Fortunately for Epps, her performance on Friday earned her another opportunity to reach that destination. Epps will compete in the 2015 Pan-American games in Toronto next month. The triple jump will be held on Tuesday, July 21 at 6:00 p.m. according to the schedule. For Epps, this was the ultimate triumph in an amazing and excellent career.

“I am blessed to have another opportunity to hit the mark I need for world championships,” Epps said. “This will be my first international competition, so I am excited about that.” Earlier this year, Epps won the triple jump at the Penn Relays and the Morgan State Legacy Meet. She jumped her previous career best of 13.83 meters at the Legacy Meet. Epps credited the energy and enthusiasm of the large crowd for providing the necessary fuel for the best performance of her life.

Epps was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Woman of the Year and one of the 30 finalists for the 2014 NCAA Woman of the Year Award after last season. During her star-studded career, Epps was an 12-time All-MEAC student-athlete in track and field and a six time triple jump champion in the conference. She is the current Coppin State triple jump record holder. Her school standard is 13.40 meters (43 feet, 11.75 inches). Saint Augustine’s University graduate Bershawn “Batman” Jackson stayed close to the pack and produced a winning kick to win the men’s 400 meters hurdles title Saturday in 49.06 seconds.

Capturing his fifth U.S. 400 hurdles crown, Jackson advanced to the World Championships 10 years after claiming the 2005 world championship in the event. Jackson finished ahead of training partner Johnny Dutch with a winning time of 48.29 seconds. Dutch, who also qualified for the World Championships, placed second in 48.43 seconds. Both Jackson and Dutch are trained by St. Augustine’s legendary Track & Field Head Coach George Williams.

“I just wanted to execute my race, stay close to everyone and use my kick in the last 100,” said Jackson. “I executed it great.” Jackson, a 13-year veteran who stands 5’7″ and takes a non-traditional 15 steps between hurdles, talked about his winning technique. “Throughout my career, this has been my strategy. I always was a fast finisher. I won the world championship doing it. And over the years I tried to switch up my strategy. I ran 47.3 three times in my career, so I wanted to try something new to actually see can I could go out harder. But when I go out harder I don’t finish as well. So, I’m just going back to my old strategy I used to do when I was world champion and was number one in the world.

“It’s good to have doubters. That’s why I’m a hurdler. Because I’m 5-7, people doubted I could do it because I’m so short. They said a short guy could never do 15 steps and be a world champion. I love the doubters. I’m a competitor, I love a challenge and it’s a blessing to be in my position right now.” Howard product David Oliver led all qualifiers for the 110-meter hurdles semifinals in the event, winning his heat in 13.28 seconds and went on to take the title in 13.04 seconds – a season best. He finished just ahead of Ronnie Ash formerly of Bethune-Cookman who took second in 13.13 seconds.

Oliver set the Hayward Field record when he finished the event in 12.90 seconds in 2010. Oliver did not get out as fast as others, but he made up ground quickly — cleanly making it over all hurdles but fifth and ninth. He might have dipped under 13 seconds with a cleaner race. Oliver, now a four-time U.S. outdoor champion, was the world champion in 2013.

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This win comes after he recently fired his coach, 81-year-old legend Brooks Johnson, who didn’t approve of Oliver attending his best friend’s wedding a week before the Prefontaine Classic, an important meet in early June. Johnson let the media know how he felt, and Oliver responded with an e-mail to Johnson that eventually went public. “It was time for a change. He sent a nasty text message out to the media, and I just had enough. He didn’t want to talk about it face to face, so I had to e-mail him my feelings on things and how this just wasn’t going to work anymore.”

Hampton product Francena McCorory and Livingstone standout Quanera Hayes finished fourth and fifth in the women’s 400 meter dash won by Allyson Felix in 50.19 seconds. Only the top three finishers are assured of a spot on the USA roster for the IAAF World Championships, however if Felix decides to only compete in the 200-meter dash, McCorory and Hayes could be selected as relay team participants.

Savannah State’s Cameron Hall just missed qualifying for the semifinals in the men’s 110 meter hurdles by .01 seconds. He finished fifth in his heat (13.80) and had the 18th fastest time overall. Athletes earned spots on the 2015 IAAF World Championships team set for August 22-30 in Beijing, China, as well as on the Pan Am Games, Thorpe Cup, Pan Am Juniors and NACAC Championships teams.

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