Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Layne Anderson has watched thousands of track and field athletes during his career and the former University of Iowa women’s coach knows all runners are not created equal.
Specifically, there was something different and distinctive about Kineke Alexander.
“On the athletic side of things, Kineke was gifted with things that most other young ladies will never have,” Anderson said. “She has talent, God-given ability, speed, and endurance.”
Alexander, a native of the Caribbean country St. Vincent and the Grenadines, starred on the track for the Hawkeyes from 2005-08. She will be one of seven inductees into the 30th National Iowa Varsity Club Hall of Fame class Aug. 31 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. Tickets to the event, which is open to the public, can be purchased at hawkeyesports.com/HOFtickets.
Alexander was discovered by former Iowa coach James Grant at a competition in Barbados. Grant, who grew up and coached in Jamaica, died in 2007.
“I was interested in Iowa because of coach Grant,” Alexander said. “He seemed nice and he was Caribbean as well, so I felt comfortable with that. That’s when I decided on Iowa.”
When it comes to sport popularity in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, track and field takes a back seat to cricket and soccer, among others. Still, Alexander ascended the ranks in primary and secondary school and running became her ticket to the United States.
“I am from a poor family in the Caribbean, so through running I was hoping to be among that next generation that gets out and does something,” Alexander said. “I didn’t want to limit myself to going to high school and staying in St. Vincent. Everybody said I had potential and talent and that’s when I realized I could use running to help myself and family.”
When Alexander arrived at Iowa, she bonded with Shellene Williams-Davis, who had just completed her two-year career with the Hawkeyes and was serving as interim assistant coach.
“The girls that were from the Caribbean were going through the same thing, so we helped and supported each other, especially Shellene,” Alexander said. “Shellene was the mother of the team and she helped all of us.”
Alexander went on to become one of three Iowa women to win an NCAA championship. As a sophomore in 2006, Alexander ran the 400-meter dash final in 52.16 seconds to win the title by 0.01 seconds over Miami senior Dominique Darden.
“Nobody expected me to win, I didn’t even expect to win,” Alexander said. “That was a real shocker.”
Alexander was in the five-person first, or “slower,” section for the final and won by four-tenths of a second over Auburn senior Markita James. The second section included runners with the top four times from the preliminaries, but Alexander’s time held.
The 400 final included competitors from the states of Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
“Kineke dispelled the myth that you can’t sprint at a cold weather school,” Anderson said. “She demonstrated to others the path and proved it was possible.”
Alexander’s career is unrivaled among Hawkeyes. While at the University of Iowa, she was an eight-time All-American, four-time all-region, four-time Big Ten indoor champion, 2007 Big Ten outdoor champion, Big Ten Track Athlete of the Year (2007), and University of Iowa Female Athlete of the Year (2006 and 2007).
Alexander holds school records in the indoor 400 (51.48, 2007) and indoor 600 (1:27.45, 2008). Her outdoor 400 record-time of 51.35, set in 2006, was bettered by Briana Guillory (51.30) on June 23 at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
Now training in Clermont, Florida, Alexander is set on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. She has already represented St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2008 in Beijing, 2012 in London, and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
“I was thinking of finishing up after Rio, but Kim Collins is still going (at age 42) and Novlene Williams-Mills retired at 35,” Alexander said. “I thought, if they could do it, I can do it.”
Alexander will be 34-years-old when the Olympics are held in Tokyo from July 24-Aug. 9, 2020.
“All three (Olympics) I got to carry the (St. Vincent and Grenadines) flag and experience all of that,” Alexander said. “It was overwhelming. It was exciting to see the support on social media.”
Alexander returns home to St. Vincent and the Grenadines at least once a year, where training venues for track athletes remain dated.
“They are still grass, nothing has changed,” Alexander said. “We still run in the main cricket stadium and you have to compete with cricket and soccer. Every year we beg the government for a (track and field) stadium, but nothing yet. They recently built an international airport, so we hope the stadium is next.”
When it comes to career highlights, Alexander points to her national championship in 2006 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. That honor will move to second on her list when she is inducted into the National Iowa Varsity Club Athletics Hall of Fame.
“It tops the NCAA win for me,” Alexander said. “When you are competing, you don’t think ahead to the Hall of Fame. I used to have little get-togethers at the Hall of Fame building and you see all these people in there. I never thought that one day I would be in the Hall of Fame.”