LEADING HER HEAT of the hurdles in the Olympic Trials heptathlon, Anna Hall got tangled on the eighth barrier and crashed hard.
Unfortunately, she had bypassed the NCAA multi — where she would have been seeded No. 2 — so she could focus everything on a Tokyo bid. The sacrifice ended in tears and pain. At the time she posted, “My heart is broken that I didn’t get to put up the score I know I was ready for and my Olympic dreams (for this year) were shattered before my eyes.”
The doctors could give her only bad news: she had broken the navicular bone in her left foot, as well as tearing a deltoid. Surgery followed to insert a screw into her foot, and she wasn’t cleared to even walk until October. Through it all, a nagging fear kept her company: “I didn’t really know what the future would hold or if I would have to switch events. Just coming back from the foot thing has definitely been a very big struggle.”
While Hall dealt with the physical challenge, at the same time she was moving to Gainesville, having made the decision to transfer from Georgia to Florida. She says, “I’m really thankful for how the transfer process and everything worked out, because it got me around the right group of people to bring me back.”
And yes — in case anyone could have possibly missed it — Anna Hall is back. Now a Gator soph, she crushed a 4618 pentathlon to win the SEC Indoor, moving to No. 4 among collegians all-time. Then at the NCAA, she won her first national title by more than 200 points, scoring 4586.
On her 21st birthday, Hall opened up her outdoor season in the Texas Relays heptathlon, reeling off PRs in the hurdles (13.41), shot (44-1½/13.45) and 200 (23.81) on Day 1. Day 2 she delivered a PR long jump (20-5¼/6.23) and solid javelin (134-5/40.98) before lining up for the 800.
“Going into Texas Relays, I didn’t have a goal of what I wanted to score. I just wanted to execute well and have something to build off for later,” she explains. But after that javelin she had done the math, and knew that a 2:04.11 would give her 1053 points, enough to hit the World Championships A-standard of 6420. Her PR, from the SEC, was 2:05.33; she had never broken 2:10 in the 2-day multi.
Didn’t matter. She went for it. After a 58.39 opening lap, she gritted her teeth and held on for a PR 2:04.61 PR, the fastest any American or collegian has ever run to close out a heptathlon. “I can’t say that I’m disappointed I didn’t get [the standard], because I didn’t go into the meet trying to get it. It’s a great starting point, but yeah,” she admits after a pause, “it is a bummer not to go into USAs with the standard.”
Still, her 6412 added 22 points to the American Collegiate Record set 39 years earlier by UCLA legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee, plus more than 200 points to her PR (6200 from ’21).
She says, “I think that’s a fair measure of where I was at entering the outdoor season,” but she adds, “I think there’s still a lot of meat on the bone. That was my first time going over 10 hurdles and you fade a little bit after running the 60 hurdles indoors. The biggest thing I think I’ll improve in my next multi is the 200. That time doesn’t reflect the actual race that we all ran. We had like a negative 0.5 in our face on the turn. All the girls were like, ‘Oh, we couldn’t even breathe because the headwind on the turn was just so strong.’”
Hall will have her next chance at the USATF multis in Fayetteville the first weekend in May — making her bid for the World Championships squad — a week before the SEC, where she plans to focus on individual events. “I’m excited to see what I can do,” she says.
She attributes that improvement at 800 to working with Gator coach Mike Holloway and his 400 group. “He has historically done an amazing job coaching middle distance runners, specifically 400 runners and I’m getting into some of their workouts. I run with the 400 group on Tuesdays, so I’m getting to push myself next to Taylor [Manson], Vanessa [Watson], sometimes Talitha [Diggs, the NCAA Indoor 400 champ]. I think that has really made that a strength for me.
“I also think a lot of the time that I spent in the pool this fall has really helped me grow my endurance in a low-impact way. I still swim once a week.”
That strength showed itself at the Florida Relays, where a week after her heptathlon breakthrough, she ran the first 400 hurdles race of her life, stunning with a 55.35. It was one of the fastest-ever debuts at the distance (’00 Olympic champ Irina Privalova opened up at 54.49 after a career of world-class sprinting).
Recall Hall had run an altitude-aided 40.76 over the 300H as prep junior in Colorado, so she was not without long-hurdle experience. But preparation for that full-length debut? “Not a whole ton. I mean, I train kind of between the 4 and 8 runners, so I think my open 4 right now would be pretty strong just based on indicators we’ve had in practice and 4×4 splits. I knew I had the potential to run pretty fast.
“Then it was more about hitting the steps. We didn’t start practicing the 400H till after the Texas Relays, because we wanted to focus on that heptathlon. I think I had two sessions where we just figured out the first 5 hurdles, and then they’re like, ‘We’ll just see what happens and go from there.’”
What happened was a time that put her in the second position on the NCAA qualifiers list. And it would have been a bit faster, had she not run into step trouble heading to the final barrier. “It was just a lack of experience… I think maybe I could have made it in 15 [strides], but I didn’t trust myself because I’d never been there before.”
She adds, “We’ve been working on that and I’m going to try to 15-step towards the end of the race the next time I run it; I will be running it again later this year.”
And that raises the question that’s on her rivals’ minds as the collegiate season enters the second half: what events will she enter at the NCAA? That, she says, all depends on how she does in the USATF heptathlon. “You have until June 30 to hit the [Worlds] standard. So if I’m on the team or if I still need to hit the standard, it kinda depends on that, so we’ll make the call after USAs.”
The Finance major says she still remains drawn to the heptathlon instead of her multiple options in individual events. “I like the challenge of it. I like that I get to prove how athletic I can be and really showcase that. It’s really fun to challenge myself in the different areas and watch the progress as you work on little technical things. And training for a lot of other events helps me in my strong events as well.”
Working with Gator assistant Mellanee Welty as her multi coach/coordinator, Hall, like most heptathletes, spends much of her time bouncing around between various event coaches. However, she says there is one event she feels needs serious attention: “The elephant in the room is the high jump.” It had been one of her top events and she has a PR of 6-2¼ (1.89) from a year ago. Since her foot surgery, her best is just 5-11¼ (1.81).
“The fall-off there is definitely something that is a top priority for me to fix soon. The foot I had surgery on is my takeoff foot. I knew it would be later to come back, but now my foot’s fine and I’m not having any pain jumping anymore. Obviously, it’s kind of a mental… trusting thing, and relearning the timing because I haven’t been there in a while. It’s hard to be competitive without that event.”
With her graduation set for a year from now and two years of outdoor eligibility remaining, she says, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do after graduation yet, maybe look at a Masters, maybe pursue track post-collegiately. I’ll still be doing track in 5 years, I’m just not sure in what way yet. That will definitely be a decision probably for next summer.”
Till then, Hall continues to focus on building her point-scoring potential, while enjoying the Gator environment that has helped her flourish: “We just have a really special group of people and a good leader in coach Holloway. Everyone is 1—working really hard and 2—doing things the right way. It just makes a difference when there’s so many people working towards really big goals.”