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UCLA's Janeene Vickers Has More Hurdles to Clear : Track: After starting as a sprinter, the track standout changed her focus to become one of the premier 400-meter hurdlers in the United States.


From the time that she first started competing in track and field at age 6, Janeene Vickers says she considered herself primarily a sprinter.

So when she first took up the hurdles when she enrolled at Pomona High School, Vickers said, she was not exactly enamored of the event.

Vickers said it was not until her senior year in high school that she started to shift her emphasis.

"That was when I was converted to the idea of being a hurdler," she said. "Since that time I've always thought of myself as a hurdler and I haven't looked at myself as a sprinter."

Since joining the UCLA track team four years ago, Vickers has seen her stock rise steadily in the event.

As a senior with the Bruins, the 22-year-old Vickers is regarded as one of the premier 400-meter hurdlers in the United States, if not the world.

UCLA Coach Bob Kersee said there is no telling what Vickers can accomplish as a hurdler in the future.

"She can win the NCAAs, she can win in the Olympics, she can break the American record and she can break the world record," Kersee said. "I think she can do all of that based on the knowledge that I have (about her). I think she's going to be one of the best of all time as a college athlete and as a (track and field) athlete."

The 400 hurdles has been her specialty--she is defending NCAA women's champion in the event--but her talents are not limited to that event.

In fact, Vickers already has qualified for the NCAA championships in five events. She has qualified with automatic clockings in the 100-, 200- and 400-meters and with provisional times in the 100-meter hurdles and 400-meter relay.

Kersee said in the final weeks leading up to the NCAA championships May 29 through June 1 in Eugene, Ore., Vickers will focus on qualifying (with automatic clockings) in the 400-meter hurdles and relays.

"That's our goal in the next three weeks--to try and qualify her for those three events--and we're going to give her every opportunity from here on out," he said.

Although Vickers will not compete in seven events at the NCAA meet--she competed in four last year--she said it serves a dual purpose to enter as many different events as possible during the season.

"It's an attempt to show my versatility, but it's also meant to prepare myself for the 400 hurdles," she said. "We want to get into the low 53s and in order to get that (time) I have to improve my speed."

Vickers said she concentrated mostly on the 400 hurdles early in her UCLA career because she was still learning the event. But as a senior, she said Kersee wanted her to concentrate on developing her strength and speed and build up to competing in the 400 hurdles.

"It's only these last two weeks that I've been working on the 400 hurdles," she said. "I think it was done it part to help me prepare better for the European hurdlers.

"Every time I've run in the sprint races, I've gone in three or four events in a day so I work on my speed and my endurance at the same time."

She said it is all part of Kersee's long-term course for progress that he set out for her when she first arrived at UCLA.

"I'm a progressive kind of coach," Kersee said. "I try to progressively bring an athlete around. Since she started here, she has improved her patience in me. She's trusted my ability as a coach and that has helped me develop her ability as a track athlete."

Said Vickers: "There were things that had to be learned about the 400 (hurdles) and there were things I had to learn about the sport and about the coach. But everything has fallen into place this year and that's why I've been so successful."

By implementing Kersee's strategy of competing in numerous other events in order to prepare for the 400 hurdles, Vickers expects faster times in the event in the long run.

Along the way, Vickers has also developed into a top-notch sprinter.

In fact, her qualifying time of 23.20 seconds in the 200 meters is listed as the fifth best in the U.S. this season.

That's not too shabby when you consider that it is a distance she has rarely competed at since early in her high school career.

"Over a six-year period, that was only the third time I've run it since I was a sophomore in high school," she said. "I ran it at UCLA (three) weeks ago and then the week before I ran it in 24.5."

It is not as if Vickers wants to cast aside her ability as a sprinter. She said she sees the sprint events as something to fall back on.

"Sooner or later, the opportunity will be there for me to do some speed work and I'll put the 400 hurdles aside and do some sprints and I think people will be surprised with what they will see," she said. "I was running well in the sprints before people even heard of me as a hurdler."

But for now, there is little doubt that the 400 hurdles is her focal point.

"Right now I have no intentions of concentrating on the sprints," Vickers said. "The 400 hurdles is still my best event. It's still my best event and it's still my favorite event and it will be until I retire."

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