COMING OF AGE: That’s the last few years for sprinter Teahna Daniels, who at one point struggled with complacency. As a frosh at Texas she won the NCAA Indoor 60 in ’16, then in her soph campaign she showed great outdoor promise, blitzing a PR 11.06 to place 3rd in the NCAA.
But the next year, she struggled, and the loss of her father made the climb back an even bigger challenge. The expected next step up didn’t happen. No PRs came, and she got stuck in the NCAA 100 semis.
In ’19, however, Daniels proved that she was back to business. She finished 2nd in the Indoor 60. Outdoors, she hit PRs of 10.99 and 22.51 and placed 4th and 5th at the NCAA Championships.
She had more coming, though. At the USATF Champs in Des Moines, she stunned with a win, an 11.20 into a 1.7 headwind. Two days later she placed 4th in the 200.
Fast forward a couple of months, and Daniels made the World Championships dash final, placing 7th in 11.19. A week later, she ran second leg for the U.S. 4×1, helping propel the team to a bronze.
Daniels looks back on that day with pride. “How many people can say they that they got a medal on their first World team?” Daniels asks. “I feel that’s pretty huge regardless of what it is. And consider who we were going up against. Those were some big names… I definitely had faith for us to be on the podium.”
After Doha, her pathway to the Olympics seemed clear; she knew what she had to do. “I really felt like coming out of 2019, having gone to the World Championships, I was really on a high. And I was so young. I was like, ‘OK, I just have to do the same thing I did to make the Olympic team as I did for 2019.’”
Perhaps fortuitously for Daniels, the pandemic forced her to pause and reassess that game plan.
“I’m starting to learn that I can’t go through that approach. I have to rewrite the plan and switch some things up, because making an Olympic team is a whole ’nother ball game than making a World Championship team.”
With her training facilities at Texas shut down, Daniels had to scramble with her teammates to figure out solutions. “It was really strange. We were bouncing around Austin trying to find tracks, doing at-home workouts, asking around for gym access to lift weights and stuff.”
She says the guidance of Longhorn mentor Edrick Floréal was crucial in getting through the pandemic, explaining, “Flo was really flexible. Last year when it came to our training, even though he had a plan to set us up for the Olympics, he created another plan to get us through the year.”
Racing was minimal for Daniels and her teammates last summer. She ran just a few races in a small Ft. Worth meet in July that was set up for athletes to satisfy their shoe-contract obligations. The high point was a modest 11.53 in the 100. “That was it,” she says with a shrug.
She admits, “I definitely dipped back into my old ways when the pandemic started, like, ‘OK, I’ll be alright, I can definitely slack off on my diet for now.’ I slipped back into that mindset of complacency and throughout the fall season I kind of retaught myself how to get out of that mindset. It’s all working out.”
Come fall, her program’s intensity left no room for complacency. “I really feel like during the summer, Flo was kind of testing out some workouts with his pros to give to his collegians every week,” she says. “So going into fall training, I feel like I was more prepared, because I already kind of went through the workouts that he laid out for us.”
She adds, “I really feel like I’ve matured mentally and physically throughout last year’s pandemic issues.”
The 23-year-old explains that she’s is taking this Olympic buildup more seriously than the one she embarked on after her ’19 season, and that a lot of the changes come in how she spends her off-track time.
“I’m implementing sacrifices. One week, I’ll not watch TV and I’ll replace it with reading. Right now I’m taking a class to be a yoga teacher. I’m starting to do meditation. I’ll do meditation or prayer or breathing exercises, something productive… maybe watch track & field videos or even something from my practices.”
While she’s had more career success at the 100, she insists that the 200 is still very much in the picture for the Trials. “I feel like they both have the same value, honestly,” she says. “I have just as much chance making it in the 100 as I do in the 200. I’m going to approach it that way come June. I’m down for both.”
And when she gets to Tokyo, the relay will take on added prominence, perhaps because that’s where she earned her first global podium. “The goal is obviously gold,” she says. “But we have so many great sprinters in the United States. So it’s just a matter of who’s going to be giving the baton to me or who am I going to give it to. It’s a mystery, but I’m definitely shooting for it.”
The long run plan for Daniels is to go into education. Her mother owns an educational daycare in Orlando, Florida: “Hopefully I could get a spot in her school or even just set my own up down the line.”
Before she gets around to that, Daniels admits she’s driven to accomplish big things on the track. “I want to make my mark in track & field history as one of the best sprinters that this country has ever had, and impact whoever I need to with my testimony and story.
“I’ve been through a lot of adversity,” she notes, reflecting back on the loss of her father. “I just want to show people that it’s okay to go through things, but it’s how you get out of them that really matters.
“Anyone can get through anything. At the end of the day, I feel like that’s what my message would be.”