Jenna Prandini Is Returning To Her Old Self

The World Cup 200 saw Jenna Prandini dashing to victory in a PR 22.16. (MARK SHEARMAN)

She was never really away but sprinter Jenna Prandini is back after what she terms a “reset.” After a subpar ’17, the 25-year-old Californian has chalked up career milestones this summer: first Diamond League win (the London 200), a PR at the distance (22.16, same race) and the second USATF title of her career, also at 200 and following on a win in ’15. She also finished 3rd in the USATF 100, with her 10.98 there her first sub-11 since the ’16 Olympic Trials.

“I’m finally healthy now so I kind of just raced myself into shape this year,” she says, with her sights now set on the DL 200 final. “But I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable on the track and everything’s just so much smoother when I run.”

This month, Prandini won the NACAC 100 crown with a 10.96 that equaled her fourth-fastest clocking ever and was her fastest since ’16. Heading towards the winner-take-all August 31 DL finale, Prandini is tied for the 200’s points lead (28) with Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson. Among the sparkling cast of qualifiers in the half-lap the only sprinter Prandini hasn’t won against this year is the undefeated Shaunae Miller-Uibo.

Rio Olympian Prandini, one could assess, has not had a season like this one since ’15, when she turned pro early after the World Championships. That was the year in which as an Oregon junior she set a low-altitude 100 Collegiate Record (10.92), won the NCAA 200 and placed 2nd in the 100 and long jump, reached the World Championships 200 semis and won WC silver after running the third leg on the U.S. 4×1. Her feats on behalf of the Ducks earned Prandini T&FN’s Woman Collegiate Athlete Of The Year honor (and the USTFCCCA’s Bowerman Award).

As first-season pro campaigns go, the Olympic year, too, went swimmingly—although Prandini’s favorite sport besides track in her prep days was volleyball. Coached as she still is by Oregon sprint assistant Curtis Taylor, she placed 3rd in the Trials 200 (5th in the 100) and advanced to the Rio semis (4th) and closed out with a DL 200 3rd in Paris.

Last season was an exercise in frustration, a traffic tie-up due to an injury that took 5 months to diagnose before a stress fracture to the navicular bone in her right foot was pinpointed in the autumn. Both her times and competitive record took hits. “My foot actually started hurting right around [April’s] Mt. SAC last year,” she explains. “I basically ran all season with it hurting a lot and I went to a lot of doctors. We couldn’t really figure out what it was and I should have listened to myself, knowing that something was wrong. But because nothing was showing up on paper, I kept trying to train through it. They actually didn’t find my stress fracture until the end of September when I had sat out for so long [since the Lausanne DL in early July]. I was telling them, ‘My foot still feels the exact same, it should be healed by now.”

Prandini admits of the navicular, “It’s a slow-healing bone, an annoying one to hurt.” She had cracked the same bone before, in ’12. “It actually was the exact same thing. It was on a different side of the bone so it was the same kind of pain but it didn’t feel the same,” a feint by the nervous system that mystified medics. “Once I figured out that I had a stress fracture,” Prandini says, she and Taylor “just decided together that I would stay and do all my rehab and all my physical therapy at home [in Clovis, a Fresno suburb] and keep it consistent there because I couldn’t really do anything else anyway.”

Clovis’s warm climate—in fact, baking-hot but dry in the summer—was conducive to her early-’18 preparation, and Prandini adds that “one of the volunteer assistants from Oregon [Trevor Ferguson] got a job in Fresno at Fresno Pacific so my season just progressed. Curtis was giving me my workouts and [Ferguson] was helping me set everything up so it just kind of worked, and every once in a while I’ll meet up with Curtis and do my workouts with him.

“It’s been kind of a really weird year but we kind of just rolled with it and it’s been working so far.” The home environment offered other positives. “Right now in Clovis,” Prandini says, “it’s nice because my whole family’s there so I have all of them to hang out with. My little nephews, I get to go play with them if I’m ever bored. They’re at home so I know where to go to get some energy out, entertainment.”

Believe it or not, Prandini feels she derived some benefit from the injury. “It’s kind of hard to categorize,” she says, “but I got injured so I was completely able to reset and mentally reset. I just sat out and I couldn’t train but I could think about my races and watch what I was doing. I think it’s not been my technique [that was lacking], it’s just going out and executing the race that my coach wants me to run. So I think the injury was a blessing in disguise.”

In case you’re curious, Prandini has not necessarily relegated her long jump career—dormant since her 22-3¾ (6.80) PR took 2nd at the ’15 NCAA—to her memory book. She’s of a mind to give leaping another go. “That was the plan this year, actually” she says with a laugh, “but my jump foot is the one that I broke. So we shut that down but I would say yes in the future. I couldn’t tell you exactly when but definitely.”

As Prandini rolls toward the Diamond League Final, she says, “I know I’m in good shape and I’m ready to run fast and I know everybody else that’s lining up is ready to run fast too so I’m just excited to go out there and be part of that competition.”