JUST ABOUT ON TOP OF THE WORLD, that’s where 400 hurdler Shamier Little was at age 20. She had won the silver medal at the World Championships in Beijing. NCAA Champ, USATF Champ, Pan-Am Champ. She ranked No. 2 in the world after that ’15 season, and her upside was huge.
Life can be unpredictable, though, and the next few years did not pan out the way her 20-year-old self had imagined. Instead of Olympic glory in Rio, she followed up a PR 53.51 NCAA win for Texas A&M with a DNQ from the semis at the OT in her first pro meet.
The next year she ran 52.75 —a mark that still stands as her PR — to make the WC team, but got stuck in the semis in London. She led the World Rankings in the no-championships year of ’18, but in ’19, her 53.91 at USATF was only good enough for 4th.
However, the Shamier Little that close observers have been watching this season appears to be a different beast altogether. Of course, there are the obvious changes in appearance: gone are the glasses and the trademark hair ribbon. Now she’s modeling close-shorn hair and says, “I’m completely trying to ditch the glasses at this point in my career. It’s a rebrand, a rebirth. It’s a new Sham, and I love it.”
Yet the more important transformation has come on the track. First a series of flat 400 PRs culminating in a then-world leader 49.91 in early April. Then there was her alleged first venture into the 800, which she won in 2:04.39.
Wait… alleged? She reveals she raced the distance once before. “Coach was going to put me in it back when I didn’t even do more than 400 for a warmup lap, this was back when I was transitioning into the group. I was like, ‘No sir, enough of that.’ I ran like a 2:16 and walked off the track. This was indoors and I’m looking for whoever was in charge of the times. I was like, ‘I don’t want that going in there and going on that IAAF report card,’ so they ended up wiping the record clean for me.”
In her 2:04 effort, Little passed halfway in a scintillating 57.71. “I saw the clock and I hurried up and looked away because I didn’t want to, ‘Oh my God, a 57!’ I just looked away and finished my race and did what I had to do. But yeah, that was going pretty fast. Looking at some of the elite 800 women, they come through in 57 and go 1:55 or something. I’m like, ‘Ooh! That’s how fast I was coming through? That’s crazy.’
“Actually, I had a pretty strong finish. I brought it home like my fitness and my program were on the line. But it hurt. In the [following] days, my chest was burning like nobody’s business. The 800 is a different type of pain than the 400H. It’s apples and oranges. That coughing, that bronchitis cough, like I can’t deal with it.”
In any case, it looked like Little emerged from her winter training with more strength than ever. That she confirmed on May 09 at Mt SAC, when she opened up her hurdle campaign with a world-leading 53.65. Not only was it her fastest-ever opener by more than 2 seconds, only two other runners in history have ever run that fast that early: Sydney McLaughlin with a 53.60 on 4/26/2018, and Dalilah Muhammad with a 53.61 on 5/3/2019. The two fastest performers ever, Muhammad and McLaughlin will headline a formidable list of U.S. entries at the OT. (Continued below)
Still only 26, Little explains that she is a completely different person than she was on the Beijing podium nearly 6 years ago: “I was a child. Even now, going to the SECs and seeing all the athletes running around, these are like kids. But when I was there, I felt like I was just grown. You couldn’t tell me nothing. I was definitely young. My understanding of the race, of everything, was so much different.
“There were some people that used to know me in college and they’re like, ‘Yeah, Sham, this ain’t the old Sham.’ Your brain is not even fully developed at 21. So I’ve finally reached full brain development,” she says with a laugh. “I’m still the same old me, but just older and wiser.”
The disappointments have shaped her, she relates. “It’s adversity. That’s kind of what makes you a successful athlete is facing adversity and overcoming adversity. I’ll take the L, and it sucks in that moment, but I always know that I’m going to bounce back harder. Like, in that moment, I never want to feel this way again. And the next time I go after something, I never feel that way again — even if I take another L and feel a new way — I know that I never felt the other way again. I’m a very resilient athlete and I’ve always loved that about myself.”
She has been working hard in Fayetteville with Arkansas assistant Chris Johnson: “He’s played a very pivotal role. Shoutout to coach Johnson. That’s my dog. We rocking and rolling.” She explains further, “He’s very, very observant and worked hard on figuring out how we mesh. He brings out the best in me.”
Training, she says, “is not considerably different, but like Coach Johnson says, ‘I never give you more than I think you can take.’ He’s kind of like, ‘Up this some more.’ So it’s similar to what we’ve been doing, but it’s a little more volume, a little bit more pressure. It’s not anything too drastic. I’m now able to handle the workload as opposed to when I first got here, I was struggling with that workload. It’s crazy looking back to some of the workouts for me 4 years ago. I couldn’t finish them. Fast forward to now, that’s half of the workout, you know? I’m able to take on more and I’m excited about that.
“I’m glad that my training is progressing and my mental focus is progressing, my strength, my speed, all of that.”
She recently quoted rapper Kendrick Lamar on her Instagram, “This is mental and physical, I won’t sugarcoat it.” She explains, “This is perfect, because track is literally 80 to 90% mental and the rest is physical. You could be in the best shape of your life, but if you’re not ready to do what you’ve been training to do.
“Some people think you can just go out there and run and that’s not the case at all. You need to have your mental and your physical. Especially for the 400H, with the trials and tribulations and the stuff I’ve been going through and how I’m coming out strong.”
Of her first hurdle race in nearly 2 years, she says, “That’s how I’ve been training and focusing on running my race. I’m really pleased, not super-satisfied. I felt like it could have been a little faster, but you know, it shoulda, coulda, woulda, but I’m excited. That was good with putting things together and seeing where I’m a little rusty and all of that.
“When I finished, I sat and I reflected, like, ‘Dang, the races that I was building into over the course of [past] seasons is what I popped off my season with. That just goes to show where I am fitness-wise, where I am mentally.”
Reminded that she’s in an event where many of the experts have been spending the past couple of years talking about two names and she’s not one of them, she calmly says, “I cannot control what other people say or who they choose to set their eyes on. I only focus on me and the progress I’m making and who notices, notices, and who doesn’t notice, doesn’t notice. That’s not going to stop me from doing what I do best.”
With the Trials and Games approaching at lightning speed, Little warns, “I’m nobody to be slept on at all.”