Featured photo: Randolph Ross Jr. and father Duane Ross celebrate after Ross Jr. qualifies for the Olympics on June 20. (photo by Erin E. Mizelle, A&T Athletics)
A slice of Greensboro is headed to Tokyo next month for the 2021 Olympics.
On June 20, four track and field athletes from NC A&T State University ran in the Olympic Team Trials, with one qualifying for the US men’s 400-meter Olympic team after coming in third. Sophomore Randolph Ross Jr., 20-years-old, finished with a 44.74 time in the men’s 400-meter final at the University of Oregon to capture his spot representing the US next month. His fellow Aggie, senior Trevor Stewart, finished fourth in the men’s 400-meter final with a time of 44.90 and will be a part of the men’s 4×400-meter relay team. Two other Aggies — graduate student Akeem Sirleaf and junior Daniel Stokes will run for Liberia and Mexico, respectively. On Monday, Ross Jr. and Stewart, along with Ross Jr.’s father, the university’s track and field coach Duane Ross, held a press conference to answer questions and reflect on their achievements.
“Of course we had a very exciting weekend and anytime you can put an athlete on the Olympic team, that is just history in the making,” said Coach Ross. “It is very, very hard to make the Olympic team. Trust me, I know.”
Ross won the Bronze Medal at the 1999 World Championship in Athletics in the 110-meter hurdles and competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. He has been the director of A&T’s track and field team since 2012.
“This has been a dream ever since we’ve been growing up,” said Ross Jr. “This is as far as it gets in the track and field world.”
Stewart, who has been at A&T since 2016, says he’s seen the program grow into the powerhouse it is today, adding that his and Ross Jr.’s accomplishments will help elevate HBCU’s to the national conversation.
“This is definitely a big moment, not just for me but for HBCUs as well,” Stewart said. “This is going to project us farther into the public view and it’s going to be something to watch.”
Both athletes talked about how their training schedules had to be tweaked during the pandemic and how they had more off time than they normally would have. They also didn’t get an opportunity to compete in either the 2020 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships or the NCAA’s outdoor season because of the pandemic. Still, they talked about staying focused and using the extra time to train for the Olympics, which was postponed one year.
“What I mainly had to do was stay focused and run my pattern and remember who I am,” Stewart said. “It actually got more intense. We had more on the line. We had to double down and refocus and in different ways, stay motivated.”
Ross Jr. echoed Stewart’s notion that the training was more intense coming into the trials.
“The usual two months we have before break, it turned into three or four, so you had a lot of athletes coming in more out of shape than normal,” Ross Jr. said. “And considering how long our season was going to be coming in this year, we had to increase our strength to make it through the rounds this year, so strength training was one of the key factors that we worked on this year along with the intensity and the level that we had to work at to compete with these times and these athletes in this program. So overall, things looked easy. But in the inside, we were going through it at practice and we still are.”
One of the remarkable things about Ross Jr. and Stewart’s times during the Olympic trials was the fact that just nine days earlier, both athletes participated and won titles at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field, where the Olympic trials were held a week later. During that event, Ross Jr. won the 400-meter race with a 43.85 time, the fastest time in the world this season and the second-fastest time ever posted at the NCAA championship meet. Stewart and Ross Jr. also competed to win the 4×400-meter relay.
Now, going into the Olympics in July, both Ross Jr. and Stewart said that they’re going to take the next week off, but then it’ll be time to get back to training. Ross Jr. in particular says he’s going to listen to his dad’s advice because he’s been the one coaching them to success all these years.
“Listening to him has got us this far so obviously he knows what he’s talking about,” Ross Jr. said. “But going into that big stage and witnessing the energy is going to be very different. Seeing the television cameras, the crowds, I know it’s going to be different from anything we’ve ever experienced. I know there’s going to be distractions…. So, when it comes to training and locking in to competition, he’s been in that position so he knows what to do so just listen to him.”
Throughout the call, the father and son duo were asked about the significance of Ross Jr. qualifying for the Olympics on Father’s Day. The coach responded that it was one of his proudest moments as a father and his son explained that it’s going to be hard to top. Then, Ross responded with the one goal on everyone’s mind: “Now bringing that gold medal home in Tokyo, that right there, that might give this one a little bit of a run, so let’s try to get that gold medal.”
The Olympics will take place from July 23 to Aug. 8 in Tokyo.