A Move From The 800 To The 400 Pays Off

Charokee Young — here en route to a dual-meet record 50.00 — has emerged as the NCAA 400 favorite. (ERROL ANDERSON/THE SPORTING IMAGE)

“AS A CHILD in Jamaica, we raced everywhere. If our parents sent us out to the store to buy something, if I was on the road or in the district and I would see one of my friends, it would be like, ‘Hey, I’m going to the shop, let’s race!’ And we’d just race up there.”

That’s how it all started for Texas A&M 400 star Charokee Young, who adds, “It was actually something that we found fun and it became something — ‘I’m trying to have bragging rights because I’m faster than you.’ And then you’d get to school and they’d have a sports day, and it was still like that same rivalry: ‘Oh, I’m the fastest, I’m going to beat you at this, I’m going to beat you at that.’

“It’s the culture I grew up with and I formed a love for the sport and competing, racing, winning.”

After graduating from Kingston’s Hydel HS in ’19, Young boasted bests of 52.48 and 2:06.02, as well as a Penn Relays 4×4 win with her teammates. For the Aggies, she offered a boost in the middle distances, coming in a year before Athing Mu.

“I was recruited for both events,” she says. “When I came here, they asked me what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t really sure because in high school, you could do the double, but in college it’s pretty hard to do a 4/8 double. When I got here, I was in-between what I wanted to do, so I told them I wanted to work with the 800 group to get a lot of strength in. I liked going back and forth between the 4 and the 8.”

Working with A&M assistant Milton Mallard during that first COVID-abbreviated season, she placed 3rd in the SEC Indoor 800 in 2:05.80 and also knocked out a 52.92 on the relay.

While Young didn’t exactly have a love–hate relationship with the 800, she says, “In high school I ran the 800 because I ran the 4×8 one time and I was just really good at it. After that I was kinda stuck in it. I liked it, but I loved the 400. The program that I got in high school for the 800, it was more of a 400 base, and then they would add a little bit of 800 workouts here and there.

“But when I got to college, it was the real 800 workouts and it was just really, really hard, and I didn’t like it.”

After a year with the 2-lap group, Young asked to concentrate on the 400, and started working directly with longtime Aggie head Pat Henry. Last year, her first on that program, produced plenty of highlights. She placed 3rd in the NCAA Indoor (51.41) and 5th outdoors (51.13, after running a PR 50.85 at the West Regional). At the Jamaican nationals, she finished 8th in 52.10 — good enough to make her an Olympic alternate in the mixed 4×4.

While she didn’t get to race in Tokyo, she says of the experience, “It motivated me to come back this year and try to work harder to make sure the next time I can cement a spot on the team. The experience was really awesome—just to be there in that environment was inspirational, seeing everybody go out there and compete and all on the world stage.”

One of the added benefits was that Young got to spend time talking with one of her heroes, Elaine Thompson-Herah (“She’s very motivating”).

Young spent much of her off-season in Jamaica and did the workouts Henry sent her. “I was learning a lot of new stuff, everything was kind of new to me. Last year I feel like I did really good.”

On the surface, her ’22 indoor campaign didn’t look all that different than what she had done the previous year. Despite winning her section at the SEC, she placed 4th overall with her 51.28. Her 51.61 at the NCAA only netted her 7th overall. However, she notes that the difference was happening in training: “I was applying a majority of what I learned last year into this year.”

It showed at her first outdoor meet, the Texas Relays. Running third leg in the 4×4, Young split a jaw-dropping 48.97, putting the Aggies into the lead in one of the fastest collegiate races ever, though Texas prevailed in the end, 3:22.94–3:23.30.

Of that breakthrough, she remarks, “I know I have the ability to run really fast, but I just didn’t know I’d run that fast so early.”

A week later, she lined up for the open 400 in the dual against the Longhorns, and blazed a world-leading 50.00 that also rates as the fastest dual-meet clocking ever.

Of looking up at the board, she recounts, “I was surprised, but I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised that I actually did it, but I knew I had the ability to do it.” She adds with a laugh, “50 looked good but 49 would have looked better! But I was like, ‘It’s OK. I’ll do it again.’”

That moment came 2 weeks later at the Jones Memorial in Gainesville. By halfway Young had made up the stagger on Indoor champion Talitha Diggs of Florida. After that, it was just a question of how big her margin would be. She crossed the line in 49.87, beating the field by more than a second. Another world leader, it made her the No. 4 collegian of all-time.

“I felt a lot more confident than normal,” she says, “coming off that 50-flat. Usually, whenever I race, I have a little bit of doubt or I get really nervous. But I just felt really confident and ready to just race and lay it all out there.”

With an eye to the big collegiate finals as well as making the Jamaican team for the World Champs, the 21-year-old Sports Management major says, “I just hope to keep getting personal bests and keep getting better in little areas. Hopefully that could give me a lot more improvement on what I’ve already done.”