Teahna Daniels of UT competes in the 100 Meter Dash at the NCAA Track and Field Championships West Preliminary at Mike A. Myers Stadium on Friday May 26, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Looking for the finish line: Texas’ Daniels wants to finish the way she started, with 60-meters gold

Posted March 6th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Two Longhorns are trying to repeat previous NCAA titles: Daniels in the 60-meters (2016) and O'Brien Wasome in the triple jump (2018).
  • After winning a national title as a freshman, Daniels has finished 10th at the last two NCAA indoors.
  • Edrick Floreal, Texas' new track coach, has been working closely with Daniels in an attempt to get her back on the medal stand.

Imagine a day where you’re the best you’ve ever been. Now, think about trying to get back there.

You’re Teahna Daniels, sprinting for Texas. Three years ago, you faced your first NCAA indoor championships. And because you were a teenager, your mind wasn’t cluttered with self doubt. You had no real sense of the pressure of competing at the NCAAs.

You ran a perfect heat in the 60-meter prelims, an unforgiving event that doesn’t allow for even the slightest of mistakes. The race was a crouching start, about 20 strides and then a stretch for the finish. That’s it, a quick combo of power, torque and acceleration.

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Then you won the finals and claimed an NCAA title. Your time of 7.11 seconds is the fastest ever run by a freshman, an American junior record and the fifth-best ever for any female competitor in the NCAAs.

Teahna Daniels of UT looks at the results after running in the 100 Meter Dash at the NCAA Track and Field Championships West Preliminary at Mike A. Myers Stadium on Friday May 26, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Expectations blasted off the charts. Then they fell back.

Three years later, Daniels — now a senior that has dealt with the death of her father, with illness and injury, with a change of coaches — is trying to arrive back to that fantastic career point. She’s won indoor Big 12 titles. But since she ran that race so effortlessly in 2016, Daniels has finished 10th the last two years.

“It can be a blessing and a curse, to win the whole works the first time,” said Texas coach Edrick Floreal, who took over the Longhorns men’s and women’s teams last June. “One day, you’re the next great Flo Jo, then before you know it you’re the little bit of a victim of that. It’s backfired a little bit on her.”

Floreal, as a star at Arkansas, won five NCAA titles in the triple jump from 1989-90 and competed in two Olympics. He’s married to a former Olympic silver medalist. He remembers what it took mentally to win and how competitors in his generation wanted and needed to prove themselves every time they were on the track. You couldn’t win if you didn’t try.

Texas sprinter Teahna Daniels competes in the 200-meter dash during the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, March 31, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But Floreal says this generation of athletes sometimes can dwell too much inside their own heads. They enjoy success. But what happens if that success never comes again? What happens when you’re talked up, then talked down on social media? Do you believe what you read on Twitter? Do you stop trying solely to prevent failure?

When Floreal talks to his runners, he’ll use “Flo Jo” as an example. The late Florence Griffith Joyner was the fastest woman in the world in 1988. He says kids today know her most for her fashion flair, not her speed. But she’s an icon, someone universally known.

That brought him back to Daniels.

“That pressure right there, it lands on the kid; oh my God, everyone is expecting me to be Flo-Jo,” he said. “Now she’s thinking she’s running every race like she’s Flo Jo.

“You take that stuff internally and they can destroy themselves,” he said. “We as coaches take that pressure off of her and not let that victory become a burden.”

Daniels has had to escape more than just self-doubt. Her darkest moments came 14 months ago. She’d had the flu and couldn’t work out. The indoor season was starting. On Jan. 25, she received the traditional call from her dad, William Daniels. She was his youngest child and he was her greatest fan.

“He told me, ‘Good luck, baby, I already know you’re going to do well,'” Daniels recalled. “He said he loved me and said, ‘see you at the finish line.'”

He died of a brain hemorrhage the next day. He was only 62.

By the end of spring, Daniels won the Big 12 outdoor title in the 100 meters. That was her highlight.

She says she’s in a pretty good mental place these days. Earlier this week, she acknowledged that she probably hadn’t concentrated as much on track as she should have the past couple of years. That’s changed, she said.

She and Floreal have worked on her starts by trying to bolster her mechanics and leg strength. Floreal wants her to become so powerful off the blocks that she’ll intimidate others in the race. Then he’s trying to get her to drop a hundredth of a second per step the rest of the race. It’s the difference between first and 10th.

Daniels will run Friday. No doubt she’ll be thinking most about the traditional call she would’ve received from her father. “I’ll see you at the finish line,” she’ll be able to hear him say.

“I always say my thanks, have my little talk with him,” she says. “I know he has a lot of love for me, he’s not leaving me alone. I’m in a pretty good space about everything.”

Maybe for Daniels, that’ll mean a win, a repeat of the best she’s ever been.

NCAA indoor championship

Friday-Saturday, Birmingham, Ala.

UT men’s qualifiers — John Burt (60m hurdles); Jonathan Jones (400); Steffin McCarter (long jump); Tripp Piperi (shot put); Alex Rogers (3000); O’Brien Wasome (triple jump); Sam Worley (mile); distance medley relay

UT women’s qualifiers — Gabby Crank (800); Teahna Daniels (60); Kynnedy Flannel (200); Ashtin Zamzow (pentathlon); 1600 relay

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