The NCAA Track and Field Outdoor season may be over, but UCF Knights redshirt freshman Rayniah Jones is not done in Eugene, Oregon just yet.
Back on April 24, Jones ran a 12.73-second time in the 100-meter hurdles at the Knights Invite, qualifying her for the United States Track and Field Olympic Trials and a chance to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
On Saturday, at 8:04 p.m. ET, not only will she take the starting block against some of her fellow collegiate athletes once more, but also against professional athletes, including two former gold medalists.
It’s these qualifications that will be used to break down Jones’ competition this weekend.
Since the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship was less than a week ago, there is more recent information available on the collegiate athletes in the Trials, including Jones.
Chief among Jones’ competitors from the collegiate level is the national 100-meter hurdle champion, USC redshirt senior Anna Cockrell. Coached by former UCF Track and Field coach Caryl Smith Gilbert, Cockrell took home the national title on June 12 with a 12.58-second time, only 0.04 seconds slower than her 12.54-second personal best in the event, which she ran two days earlier.
Another collegiate hurdler that Jones will have to keep an eye on is LSU senior Tonea Marshall. Unlike Cockrell, Marshall did not take the starting block for the 100-meter hurdle Final, possibly a bid to keep her healthy for the Trials. However, even though she did not race in the Final, she was the fastest hurdler in the semifinals, winning her heat with a 12.48-second time. This is 0.04 seconds slower than her personal best, a 12.44-second time she ran on May 29.
Five more athletes that qualified for the 100-meter hurdle Final will also be joining Jones in the Olympic Trials: Florida’s Grace Stark, Kentucky’s Masai Russell, Duke’s Cha’Mia Rothwell, and North Carolina A&T’s Madeline Akobundu and TeJryica Robinson.
Other collegiate athletes that qualified for the Trials include LSU’s Alia Armstrong, USC’s Jasmine Jones, Kentucky’s Faith Ross, Oklahoma’s Camri Austin, NC State’s Akira Rhodes, and Wisconsin’s Destiny Huven.
According to the Entry List for the event, only four collegiate athletes have qualifying times that are faster or equal to Jones’ qualifying time of 12.73 seconds: Cockrell, Marshall, Stark, and Texas’ Chanel Brissett.
Brissett had a false start in the NCAA West Preliminary in the 100-meter hurdles, eliminating her from advancing to the Championship in Oregon. However, she ran a 12.52-second time on June 8, 2019, which qualified her for the Trials.
One advantage that Jones has against these athletes is that she’ll have prior knowledge of competing against them thanks to the NCAA Preliminaries and Championship. However, this is not the case when it comes to professional athletes.
Factoring in both collegiate and professional athletes, Jones’ 12.73 qualifying time for the Trials is tied for the 12th fastest.
Headlining the professional competition is Kendra Harrison, the world record holder for the 100-meter hurdles thanks to a 12.20-second time on July 22, 2016. Even 5 years later, she is still putting up fast times, since she is entering the trials with the fastest qualifying time, 12.43-seconds, and her most recent time, 12.49 seconds on May 23, is not far off that pace.
In addition, two Olympic gold medalists will also be competing in this year’s Trials.
Dawn Harper-Nelson, gold medalist in Beijing 2008 and silver medalist in London 2012, qualified for the Trials with a 13.15-second time on May 31. While this time is 0.42 seconds slower than Jones’ qualifying time, getting the chance to compete alongside her can be a great experience for a young athlete like Jones.
In the last Olympics, Rio 2016, Americans swept the podium in the 100-meter hurdles, but both silver medalist Nia Ali and bronze medalist Kristi Castlin will not be competing in this year’s trials. However, gold medalist Brianna Rollins-McNeal will be back in an attempt to start her journey to get a second 100-meter hurdles gold medal thanks to a 12.61-second time she ran on July 27, 2019, albeit with some controversy.
Earlier this month, The Athletics Integrity Unit banned Rollins-McNeal for five years for “tampering within the results management process” of doping control samples.
However, because Rollins-McNeal filed to appeal the ban, The Court of Arbitration for Sport froze her ban so she can compete in the Olympic Trials. Her appeal will be heard on July 23, so in the event she qualifies for the team, the ultimate decision of whether she can travel to Tokyo or not will be determined then.
Blaney Aims for 10,000 meters
UCF Alumna Anne-Marie Blaney will also be at the Olympic Trials, competing in the Woman’s 10,000-meters on June 26 at 9:44 p.m. ET.
This will be Blaney’s second time competing for a spot on the 2020 Olympic team, as she also competed in the Marathon Trial on Feb. 29, 2020, before the pandemic-enforced lockdowns began.
She qualified for the 10,000-meters Olympic Trial thanks to a 32:03.79 she ran on May 14 in Irvine, California.
Her competition in the event includes Emily Infeld and Marielle Hall, the two Americans that ran in the 10,000 meters in the 2016 Rio Olympics, finishing 11th and 33rd respectively.
However, Infeld and Hall are not entering the Trials with the fastest qualifying times. That distinction goes to Bowerman Track Club’s Elise Cranny and Karissa Schweizer, who qualified for the Trials with a 30:47.42 and a 30:47.99 respectively.
Can Jones and Blaney make the Olympic Team?
Blaney will likely have to shave about a minute and a half off of her time to match the marks that Cranny and Schweizer put up to qualify for the Trials. Factoring in the return of the American representatives in the event for the 2016 Rio Olympics and things do not look good for Blaney’s chances to make the trip to Tokyo.
As for Jones, while she certainly has an outside chance, she will likely have to shave about 0.24 seconds off of her time from the 100-meter hurdles Final on June 12 and 0.15 seconds off of her personal best to put herself in the best position to make the team.
One thing that must not be understated is that Jones is still a redshirt freshman. UCF Track and Field Coach Dana Boone made sure to emphasize this when she spoke after the Outdoor Track and Field Championship.
“When you look at Rayniah, she’s still so young, there’s so much to do,” Boone said. “We still have a whole lot of hurdling technique to clean up.”
Is it possible Jones can adjust her technique in the intervening week between the NCAA Championships and the 1stround of the Trials? Sure.
However, based on the available information, Harrison, Cockrell, and Marshall look to be the favorites to head to Tokyo for the Woman’s 100-meter hurdles.
So, all likelihood shows we will not see a UCF Knight heading to the Olympics this year.
At least in Jones’ case though, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel. With the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics from 2020 to 2021, the 2024 Paris Olympics are now just three years away, meaning Jones has the potential to still be at UCF as a senior when those Olympic Trials arrive, i.e. the same position that Cockrell and Marshall find themselves in today for their respective schools.
So, take solace in the fact that Jones will be able to get some Olympic Trials experience at such a young age, just like Jones herself.
“I just want to go out there and compete, have fun,” Jones said. “If I make the Olympic team, the I make the Olympic team, if I don’t, I’m just grateful for the experience.”
Jones will be competing in the 1st round of the 100-meter hurdles at 8:04 p.m. ET on June 19, and NBC Sports Network will be broadcasting the Trials from 8-10 p.m. ET on that same day before it moves to the main NBC channel from 10-11 p.m. ET. All this information is being provided in the event the Trials are broadcast on a tape delay, something NBC has done with Olympic coverage before.
Meanwhile, Blaney will be competing on June 26 at 9:44 p.m. ET. In the 10,000-meters. The main NBC network will broadcast trials action that night from 9-11 p.m. ET.