“WHEN YOU COME OUT with a bang in your first race, it’s really encouraging because it sets up the season really well, gives you some good momentum,” says Talitha Diggs of her season opener at Clemson, where she surprised with her sprint speed, winning the 60 in a lifetime best 7.14 after a PR 7.19 heat, then came back on day 2 to blast a 36.12 for the 300 (=No. 3 among collegians all-time).
“It also shows you’re in good condition, good shape, and fall training went really well and there were some things that coach did right. I think the rest of the country was surprised by that 60, but Coach Holloway was not, so it was definitely good.”
The Florida junior is back for another season with the NCAA champion Gator squad, amid plenty of indications that both boss Mike Holloway and his 400 star did a lot of things right. Last season could hardly have gone any better. Diggs — a teenager throughout the campaign (she turned 20 in late August) — won NCAA 400 crowns indoors and out, captured the USATF title, and then at the Worlds a few weeks later struck gold leading off the 4×4 after making it to the semis in the individual race.
Of course, for Diggs as well as her teammates, the highlight of the season was being part of an NCAA-winning squad, both indoors and out. And breaking 50 for the first time with her outdoor win (49.99) stands out to her as well. She adds, “Just winning that USA title was probably one of my favorite moments, because it showed I could measure up with the best in the country and the world on the senior level. It was definitely a good confidence booster.
“You know, Coach Holloway and all the coaches, we had all worked just so hard the whole year. Just to have USAs go my way and be able to make my first World team was just phenomenal.”
Not that the season was a non-stop victory parade. She points to the Tom Jones Memorial, where she placed 3rd in 51.93, then the SEC (4th in 51.24). “I didn’t run as fast as I would have liked to, and I think that I was just not in the best mental space for the time. I was just nervous; I wasn’t really anchored, I’d say that’s the best way to describe it.”
With the NCAA still a few weeks off, she says, “That gave me time to anchor myself, in my faith and keep pushing. Eventually the races started going better. But it really, even at that point, wasn’t about that.
“I was just like, ‘Wow! I’m having so much fun doing this.’ I love being able to compete with my team. I love being at Florida. I love being coached by Coach Holloway, and just to be in this environment, I feel like it just really made everything around me better.
“I just really accepted and enjoyed the process. It’s definitely hard. It’s a long season, so to stay anchored the whole season is difficult. You’re going to have a couple races where you’re a little off or not in the place that you wanted to be, but you know, that’s a part of the sport and I love it.”
Diggs grew up with an innate knowledge of nature of the sport, due to her much publicized family tree, starting with mother, 4-time Olympian Joetta Clark-Diggs, as well as a couple of champion aunts (Hazel Clark and Jearl Miles-Clark).
“Honestly, I started track a little bit late,” she says. “Prior to that, I did every sport you could imagine. I did ice skating, I was an equestrian, I did soccer, basketball, everything. There was some time where I was like, yeah, I like these ones, but honestly, I did know that I was going to go back to track.
“Through my family, my dreams, and some of the intangibles, my personality, all those things matched up. I was like, I know I’m going to be good at track if I do it. I definitely had some other options and my parents never forced me to do anything, but I was like, you know what, I’m just going to do track.”
From the point she broke her first record at Saucon High (just outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania), the newspapers hailed Diggs as the daughter of a 4-time Olympian. That association, says Diggs, created a little bit of pressure, but that was external, not from her family. “It definitely is a little — not annoying, but every single time, no matter what I did, win nationals, ‘Oh, daughter of…’ or compete at Worlds ‘daughter of…’ [laughs]. It’s always going to be attached to me, but it’s something you gotta embrace.”
Diggs’ prep career started out solidly, but it didn’t scream gold medalist at first. As a frosh she ran 24.77 and 56.30. The next year she improved to 23.90 and 54.95. She still hadn’t won any State titles, but she confesses, “I didn’t really train a bunch in high school. I didn’t lift weights at all in high school, so I was really just a raw talent, I guess. Junior year, I just did a couple of different workouts and changed up some things.”
That shift made a difference, as she ran PRs of 23.88 and 52.82 to capture her first State titles. That put her in good position to head to Gainesville for her next challenge.
“It was a hard choice because I had a lot of different coaches and different relationships with a lot of different people involved. I knew it was going to be the right choice. I trusted the program. I felt at home here. I love the classes, I love the school, I love the environment. But I’m a 16-, 17-year-old kid, making this choice about where I’m going to be for the next four years, that’s never easy.”
To say she couldn’t be happier to be a Gator is an understatement: “Coach Holloway’s awesome. Obviously, he’s one of the best coaches in the world, between workouts and technique and just everything. I’ve learned so much on a daily basis. He’s really like another father for me. He takes everything very seriously, not just the track, but how we’re doing and how we’re growing at school. I appreciate that at every level.”
This season, says Diggs, not many changes are planned, though after her 7.14, she’s looking at doing more with the shorter sprints. “I’m obviously a 400-meter runner, but I’m a sprinter at the end of the day. Sprinting is one of my strengths, so I want to build on that as much as possible. I just want to have so much fun this year.
“Running the 60, it’s definitely one of those things. I love it. It’s really fun, it’s really technical. And I’m really an analytical thinker, so the 60 helps me in that space. I get to think about the different parts of the race, the start, the blocks and just the little things.”
Diggs, who has a double major in International Studies and Political Science, hopes to follow her NCAA experience with pro running, then a career in sports administration. Off the track, she says, while she loves to explore the world with her friends, “I’m also very big in my quiet space. I love to read. I love to go on walks. I have adult coloring books and I love to color. All those things were rooted in my faith. It honestly makes everything a lot better for me and puts a lot of things in perspective.”
With the ’23 racing season already started, Diggs says her goals are simple: “I just want to be me in every aspect. I want to be myself when I’m running on the track, I want to be myself when I’m in the training room. I want to be myself in every room that I walk in.
“I want to be a beacon of light and positivity and I want to do that in every part of my life.”
With that kind of mindset, the races tend to take care of themselves.