Wilson, Little carry their obstacle link to the top

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FAYETTEVILLE — Britton Wilson and Shamier Little, who train together at the University of Arkansas, make up half of Team USA’s four entries in the women’s 400-meter hurdles at the world championships.

“I think it’s amazing to go to the world championships, especially with my training partner,” Wilson said. “I’m looking forward to the competition.”

Wilson, a third-year sophomore for Arkansas who transferred from Tennessee, capped off her college season by winning the 400 hurdles at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon on June 11 when she ran 53, 86 seconds.

Two weeks later, back at Hayward Field in Oregon, Wilson finished second at the United States Championships in 53.09 to break his own school record. Little took third place with a season best 53.92 as the two earned automatic berths for the World Championships, which begin Friday and run through July 24 in Eugene.

Sydney McLaughlin, NCAA champion in Kentucky and gold medalist at the 2020 Olympics, won the US title by lowering her world record to 51.41.

“It was a really special moment for me,” Wilson said of her first team at the World Championships. “Honestly, I was just excited to be in the final and to be in this race in the first place.

“Coming second was really amazing. I was super excited. Turning around and seeing Shamier jump up and down made me even more excited to be on the team with her.

Along with McLaughlin, Wilson and Little, Dalilah Muhammed will compete in the 400 hurdles for Team USA at the World Championships after receiving an injury waiver.

The first round of the women’s 400m hurdles is Tuesday.

Muhammed, a former Southern California star and 2016 Olympic gold medalist and 2020 silver medalist, missed the United States Championships with a hamstring injury.

Little, a three-time NCAA Texas A&M champion and 2015 World Championship silver medalist, has been training in Arkansas since 2018 with Razorbacks assistant Chris Johnson, who coaches the sprinters and hurdles of the Arkansas. His personal best of 52.39 last year ranks fifth on the all-time U.S. list.

“It’s hard to train alone, especially in the 400 hurdles,” said Little. “So knowing you’ve got this fiery youngster like Britton is like, ‘OK, there’s no slippage.’ I like to be pushed.

“This year I was worried – am I going to have someone pushing me? Then Britton came on the scene and we saw his talent develop.

Little, 27, said she sees similarities in her career path and how Wilson, 21, has progressed.

“I kind of see myself in her,” Little said. “She made her first world team as a sophomore in college, and it was the same for me. It was just really cool working with her and Coach Johnson.

Johnson said he feels lucky to work with two hurdlers who will be competing at the World Championships.

“Obviously it’s something we’ve been working on all year,” Johnson said. “The most important thing was to stay healthy and keep them focused on one game at a time, one training session at a time and not get ahead of us.”

Johnson, in her 11th year at Arkansas, recruited Little when she was a high school star at the Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago, but chose Texas A&M.

“Getting turned down is always tough,” Johnson said. “But as a coach, we are used to it. Everyone is chasing the same athletes. Me and her college coach [Aggies assistant Vince Anderson] are really good friends.

“Obviously I thought Arkansas would be a better choice, but I thought she made the right decision at that time for her. The second time around was fine. She was more mature, she grew up a little more, and I thought that coming here in the days when she did, I was probably better suited than she would have been as a varsity athlete.

Little, a volunteer coach for the Razorbacks, said she decided “it was better for me to completely change my scenery” when she started training with Johnson.

“He was recommended to me by my coach at A&M,” Little said. “He’s amazing. A very, very good coach. He’s tough on us, but he knows when to soften up with us and he makes us laugh.

Wilson flourished working with Johnson after her stints in Tennessee weren’t as good as what she ran in 2019 as the Virginia Gatorade Female Track Athlete of the Year at Mills Godwin High School.

“When we spoke during the recruiting process on his transfer, I told him what it would be like,” Johnson said of training at Arkansas. “But I don’t think initially she really understood what it was about.

“Over time she really learned who I am and the coach I am. I know I can be very, I guess intimidating might be the word. Britton says I was scary,” added Johnson with a laugh. “But I am very demanding.

“The talent was still there. I think it was fair to be able to train the way she needed to train and her confidence grew as the season continued to build, and that’s where we are.

“Every athlete is not made for every coach, so I think Tennessee just wasn’t for him.”

Wilson, who set the Arkansas 400 hurdles record five times, said she benefited from Johnson emphasizing strength and endurance in the workouts rather than the speed training that was put forward to Tennessee.

“At the start of the year, I told him he was scary,” Wilson said. “But I think getting to know him, and him getting to know me, has definitely been a big thing for our athlete/coach relationship.

“The practices, I don’t want to say now that they are scary, but they are hard.”

Luckily for Wilson and Little, they can lean on each other during practices.

“Having someone here like Shamier is really great for me,” Wilson said. “It’s been good learning the ropes with her.”

Little said she and Wilson keep each other motivated and take turns leading workouts.

“The days we feel the worst are the days we still have to work like we feel our best,” Little said. “We even help with follow-up.

“One day I was about to pass out and I felt Britton reach out, untie my shoes and take them off. She’ll bring me my bottle of water, and some days I’ll take her bottle of water as she completes a rep.

“We really care about each other.”

Wilson’s best time this season ranks third in the world and Little ranks 10th.

“I think it’s possible for both of us to get on the podium,” Wilson said of her and Little finishing in the top three and winning medals. “I think I can go faster and Shamier can go faster.

“We have a lot of positivity and good vibes.”

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