24: 6-time All-American is sprinting for an encore

Oct. 3, 2007

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 2, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2007-08 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY — When Kineke Alexander isn’t flying around the world, she is flying around a track.

Alexander, a 400-meter specialist who is originally from St. Vincent & the Grenadines, is no stranger to international track and field competition. The University of Iowa 6-time All-American and 5-time Big Ten champion spent the bulk of the 2007 summer competing abroad — at the North America, Central America and Caribbean Athletic Association Open in San Salvador, El Salvador; at the Pan American Games in Rio deJaneiro, Brazil and finally at the World Championships in Osaka, Japan. It was her second stint at the World Championships, having also run in Helsinki, Finland in 2005.

On Aug. 23, Alexander started in the third heat of the 400 dash in the World Championships. The top four finishers advanced to the semifinals, but Alexander’s 52.51-second clocking was only good enough for fifth.

“I don’t think I was that prepared for my race,” Alexander said. “I still went in with a positive attitude, as I do with all of my races. My time was bad, but overall it was a good experience. It’s just a great feeling knowing you’re competing against a record-holder or one of the top runners in the world.”

Alexander has already reached qualifying standards and will compete in the 2008 Olympic Games in Bejing, China. She likened the atmosphere of international meets to that of an NCAA Championship. The NCAA championships have been a highlight of Alexander’s career at Iowa. She was sixth at nationals in the 400 dash as a freshman and followed that up with a seventh-place finish during the outdoor season. As a sophomore Alexander became just the fourth Hawkeye individual to win a national championship when she captured the indoor 400 title. She was runner-up during the outdoor season. A year ago, as a junior, Alexander was second nationally in the indoor 400 (51.48) and sixth during outdoor (52.13).

“Kineke is a great student, a fierce trainer and a fierce competitor. It shows that if you go to a place like Iowa you can win an NCAA title and be on a level with the biggest sprinting powers in the nation.”
Layne Anderson, UI interim women’s track and field coach

“I’ve never won an NCAA title outdoors, so I’m hoping to get that this season,” Alexander said. “It seems that I have been injured much of the time during outdoor.”

The awards did not stop there for Alexander last year. She was named Big Ten Athlete of the Meet (indoor), Big Ten Track Athlete of the Year (2007) and Midwest Region Track Athlete of the Year (2007).

“Kineke is a great student, a fierce trainer and a fierce competitor,” said Layne Anderson, UI interim women’s track and field coach. “It shows that if you go to a place like Iowa you can win an NCAA title and be on a level with the biggest sprinting powers in the nation.”

It has been an interesting journey to the top for Alexander. In St. Vincent & the Grenadines, the track runners train on grass courses that are “borrowed” from the local cricket teams. But if a cricket match is scheduled, the runners need to look elsewhere for facilities.

“They would let us run on the grass, but if they had a match, we weren’t allowed to be there,” Alexander said. “Cricket is the most popular sport.”

Alexander was recruited by the late UI Coach James Grant, who was from Jamaica and had ties to the Caribbean. Alexander started running in first grade and the second time she attended a local all-comers track event “I won everything,” she said.

That was essentially the extent of Alexander’s youth running career. She made her first international appearance in Hungary in 2001 at age 15.

“Coach Grant worked with Kineke to refine her strategy,” Anderson said. “Her greatest weapon is her strength. Kineke is such a phenomenal athlete with natural fitness and raw athletic ability.”

Last year during the season-opening indoor meet, Alexander toed the line for the 600 run. She blew the field away and was not contested with a time of 1:27.84 — the second fastest time in Big Ten history. Alexander won the race by nearly nine seconds over teammate Sophia Ponce, who was runner-up. For her career, Alexander has personal best times of 23.49 in the 200, 51.35 in the 400, 1:27.84 in the 600 and 2:16.15 in the 800. Her 200, 400 and 600 times are the fastest ever run by a Hawkeye.

With all of her success, one would think that Alexander’s marquee event is the 400. Not so, according to Alexander, who paused and smiled before explaining that in her opinion, the shorter the race, the better.

“I like the 200 best. I hate the 400,” Alexander said with a laugh. “And I really hate the 600.”

Joking aside, Alexander knows that the 400 dash could lead her to a career as a professional runner, just like her idol Sanya Richards, who has a PR of 48.70 in that event.

“When I finish school I would like to get a contract and run professionally and see where that takes me,” Alexander said. “My goal this season is to run 49-something.”

A history major, Alexander knows that a competitive running career will not last forever. She has also considered attending law school or teaching history. As long as she is running, however, a return to St. Vincent & the Grenadines is out of the question.

“I would love to go back home, but we do not have the facilities I need,” Alexander said. “We don’t have a track or anything.”

It is a long trip from the Caribbean to Iowa City, but it is at the UI where Alexander discovered the first-rate facilities and coaching that have made her one of the premiere sprinters in the world. And with a season remaining, she plans to take Hawkeye running fans on one final memorable journey.

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