ULTIMATELY, Janeek Brown’s breakthrough was due. She was the best hurdler throughout much of the regular season, her 12.55 at the SEC moving her to No. 5 on the all-time collegiate list. All that was lacking for the Arkansas soph was to do it at Nationals, a stage where Brown had shown lots of promise but, not surprisingly for someone so young and so new to the collegiate level, no medalist finishes. (As a frosh she was 8th indoors, 5th indoors and at this year’s Indoor was 5th again.)
To get that breakthrough, all the 21-year-old Jamaican needed to do was keep doing what she has done from April, where she was unbeaten in finals after an early loss to LSU’s Tonea Marshall at the Texas Relays, a loss she avenged at Conference.
“Honestly, my coach tells me when you’re consistent better times come in,” Brown said. “I knew I could do it. If it didn’t come out it would be OK with me, but it did come out and I’m happy about it.” What came out was a wire-to-wire 12.40 win just 0.01 off the CR. “I had a good start and I just tried to execute through the race,” the Kingston native said. That hurdle final was part of a strong meet that included a then-PR 12.53 in the semis and a PR 22.40 in the 200 that got her 4th and added to Arkansas’ ultimately successful run to the team national championship. This may have slipped under some radars, but she took 0.01 off the 200 school record, held by one Veronica Campbell-Brown.
Her day, which also included a leg on the bronze medal 4×1, was exactly what her team needed. “It felt really good, it felt awesome,” Brown said. “Today I told myself in the hotel room, ‘You’ve got to rise to the occasion.’ I’m going to come out and give it my best for the team.” This, though, was a different day than any she’s experienced before. For the first time on a stage this big, Brown wore the burden of expectations and her team depended on her. Brown, though, has a mantra, albeit one that sounds like she was formulating it on the spot.
“I just have one word, no, two words: Faith and hard work,” she said. “They did it for me today.” She expounded on that a bit: “I was a little nervous coming in, because you know, much was expected from me, but before I get into it, I just want to say Psalm 43, Verse 5, ‘God is within me. I will not fail.’ Last time I was here for the Texas Relays, it didn’t end well, but God decided it was time. I was going through a little breakdown in the time of the transition between the indoor and outdoor, and I was just like, ‘God, don’t give up on me.’ He showed me today that he didn’t.”
That indoor-outdoor transition didn’t take long, as she hit a new level at the home National Relays where she lowered her PR all the way from 12.80 to 12.57. “It’s so surreal, I can’t believe I actually ran that time,” she said afterward, then she followed that up with the 12.55 at Conference. “That opened the door for me,” Brown said. “I knew if I had faith good things could come.” They came very quickly for the young Jamaican, who on the biggest stage in college sports, finally turned potential into a golden reality. ◻︎