Thousands of young athletes will travel to North Carolina this week to compete in the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic outdoor championships, which begin Monday at North Carolina A&T.
Local athletes will have a much shorter trip than those from California, Hawaii and New Mexico.
“It’s exciting to have the nationals in North Carolina this year,” said Chris Love, a coach with Raleigh-based Carolina Elite Track & Field Club. “It’s a great opportunity for our kids to compete against the best in the nation right in their own backyard.”
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Carolina Elite will send 70 athletes to compete in Greensboro, but several local clubs help make North Carolina one of the most competitive states in the country, Love said.
At least 10 local clubs will be represented at nationals.
“It’s a very competitive meet,” Love said. “You have the best in every state and every city coming down to compete in nationals. The opportunity to win in nationals is just like winning the Olympics.”
Carolina Elite broke four state records leading up to the national meet.
Noah Rogers topped the North Carolina 100-meter mark for the 8-and-under age group, David Sohn set a new 300-gram javelin throw record in the 11-12 age group, and Isaiah Bowman topped the 600-gram javelin throw mark for the 13-14 group.
The club’s 4x400 team of Tharon Adkins, Kyle Lipscomb, Matthew Garrett and Kailen Perry broke the state’s 9-10 age record.
To compete in the national meet, athletes must qualify at preliminary, association and regional levels of the USATF Junior Olympic Program. Athletes generally fall between the ages of 7 and 18.
Timon Edelen, 11, qualified to compete in three events: shot put, discus and mini-javelin. He is affiliated with another Raleigh Club, Junior Striders, which will send 17 athletes to the national meet.
“It feels good because you know you’re good enough to compete against the best,” Edelen said.
Vernia Wilson, head coach of the Junior Striders, has been with the club since 2000.
“It’s just amazing how you see the kids develop,” she said. “You can tell which ones are going to be special, but you never know there could be a diamond in the rough.”
Eight-year-old Nathan Leacock, another Junior Striders athlete who set a Junior Olympics record in the 200-meter for the 8-and-under age group last year, is preparing to compete again in the 200 and 400.
This time the 8-year-old is at the bottom of his age bracket, competing with athletes up to two years older.
“I expect competition,” he said.
“I just try to run hard and come in the top three.”
The USATF Junior Olympics will run through July 28.