Aug. 11, 2006
She beat out women who swish three pointers, crush spikes, bend corner kicks and throw no-hitters.
She did it because she runs fast.
In earning Iowa’s nomination for Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year, Kineke Alexander beat out hundreds of Hawkeye athletes with success in their respective sports.
But none had quite the success that Alexander did – an all-American who won a national championship in the 400m at the NCAA Indoor Championship, set a school record in the process and then bettered it by placing second in the 400m at the NCAA Outdoor Championship.
The best news for Hawkeye track fans and head coach James Grant is that this happened during only her sophomore year.
“She is very coachable, she listens and she adapts very well to her races,” Grant said. “You point [mistakes] out to her and the next race, she corrects it. That’s the sign of someone who has a great future.”
She was a diamond in the rough find for Grant, who first saw her at the Central American Carribean Games in Colombia when she was only 15 years old. Grant said clearly she was the best athlete there, so he wrote her high school and sent them a questionnaire. She said that before she got a booklet from Iowa, she didn’t know anything about the school. From there the relationship started and the recruit blossomed into today’s national champion Alexander.
“I thought, this young lady has got to have something,” Grant said. “(It was) her physique and her age and how she looked. She looked very good in the first half of a race so I thought with maturity and good training she’d be something special.”
The committee to nominate Alexander also saw something special from the 20-year old from St. Joseph’s high school on the island of Saint Vincent in the Carribean.
“Look at Kineke and her success at not only the conference level but the national level,” associate athletic director Jane Meyer said. “The Big Ten athlete of the year is really the athletic prowess that they have — how do they display those gifts, how do they carry themselves.”
Success was a year-long this for Alexander in 2006; she didn’t just excel at one particular meet. She won a Big Ten Indoor Championship in both the 200m and the 400m; she ran on a school record-setting 1600m relay at the Iowa State Classic, and she won the 600m at the Hawkeye Open. That’s four different events at three different meets. – and it all happened during the indoor season.
The outdoor season brought her a 400m victory at the Drake Relays, a NCAA Midwest Regional championship in the 400m and won a bronze medal in July at the very same CAC Games where her coach spotted her.
“From her freshman year, she had progressed much more than I had ever imagined,” Grant said. “When she came in, her best time (in the 400m) was 53.8. Her first 400m open indoors, she bettered that time. She’s going to go a long, long way.”
Alexander herself said she saw signs early on that this could be a successful year.
“I knew that I was going to do big things this year because I was much stronger and experience,” she said. “The biggest surprise for me was winning NCAA Indoors.”
She was the star of the Big Ten Indoor Championships too, winning the 400m in 52.31 seconds, smashing both the Iowa school record as well as the Big Ten championship record. She broke the Big Ten record by 1.47 seconds and then won the 200m dash, earning first team all-Big Ten honors.
Still, there may be biggest meets on her horizon than the Big Ten Championships. Grant wants her to run in the Olympics.
“If she runs 50 point next year, which I’m almost sure that will happen, that’s all she needs to do,” he said. “She’s basically a shoo-in to go because of her country. She’s about the best thing coming out of Saint Vincent. She will go, my goal for is just not to go but to at least be in the finals.”
Grant said there are still plenty of things for her to work on to get under that 51-second mark. The pair are working on the distribution of her energy throughout the race; the coach said she sometimes runs a slow first 200 meters and then runs herself ragged in the last 200.
Fortunately, determination doesn’t seem to be a problem. The coach recalls one of his favorite meets last year for Alexander, the Big Ten Indoors where she broke the conference record.
“She didn’t run a very good prelim in the 400 so she was seeded in the slow section for the final,” Grant said. “I said to her, `this is going to be just you and the clock.’ She just went out and she was awesome.”
For the fire in her eyes on the track, she seems very laid-back off of it. Grant said that she likes to pal around with teammate Peaches Roach and that a glance their way usually reveals at least one of the two of them laughing.
“(She’s) very, very jovial,” Grant said of Alexander. “She’s fun; you very rarely see a serious side to her. She’s always joking, always happy, kind of happy-go-lucky.”
Happy-go-lucky? Sounds about right. She said she’s happy now with the Big Ten nomination, she’s been lucky to stay injury-free thus far, and Grant says that there is even farther that she can go.
“This young lady doesn’t even realize how good she can be.”
Gregg Found, UI Sports Marketing