YSU’s Collin Harden prepared to compete at Olympic trials
Sitting in a Sheetz parking lot last Wednesday, Oreo milkshake in hand, Girard native Collin Harden was ready to indulge in a sweet treat, something out of the norm for an athlete on a strict diet.
Two sips in, and the call of a lifetime came from Youngstown State sprinters coach David Townsend.
Harden is quickly racking up the frequent flyer miles. Just two weeks ago, he was competing in the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Now, the former 300-meter hurdle OHSAA Division II State Champion will return to Eugene for an opportunity to make the United States Olympic team.
“Got a call from Coach T (Townsend), said I made it, and then I just decided, well I guess I can’t drink this anymore,” Harden said with a short laugh “I didn’t finish it, but I’m glad I got the call to be here.”
With the aforementioned milkshake tossed aside, Harden finds himself gearing up for another national television appearance.
Harden earned All-American honors for the second time in his illustrious collegiate career with a time of 51.06 seconds at the NCAA championships, and now his name is alongside throwers Conner Neu and Bobby Grace as Penguins who have qualified for the Olympic Trials.
Running in Oregon’s newly built $270 million Hayward Field for the second time in the last month and battling against the best of the nation doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day, it’s business.
“My mindset is that it’s just another meet. Obviously it’s a very big stage, and I’m happy and glad that I’m in this position,” Harden explained about the trip out West. “But, I can’t psyche myself out. It’s just another meet. I’m going to continue to go out there, do my best and compete my best.”
“You actually don’t try to think about who you’re running against; it’s more the times. The times you have to compete against. Yeah, they’re good times, but I’m almost right there, so that’s all I really think about. I don’t think about who I’m running against, just staying in my own lane and staying focused.”
Harden’s personal best, along with the school record, is 50.21 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles.
For Townsend, it’s about assisting Harden with minor tweaks and adjustments with the goal of hitting the finish line before the 50-second mark.
“Right now, we’re on pace for that. It’s just a matter of putting it together in a race,” Townsend said. “What we do here in practice, we’ll run intervals of the times that he should meet at certain hurdles to run at that pace.”
“He made that decision consciously that he was going to finish strong, and he’s been managing the race a lot better in his mind, so it’s really a mind thing.”
The 400 hurdles mix speed and endurance, which is something that Harden has focused on during the offseason by incorporating distance running and plenty of aerobic exercises, similar to what middle-distance athletes utilize, into his routine.
Coming off another four-pack of Horizon League titles within the indoor and outdoor seasons, YSU head coach Brian Gorby has a feeling that Harden hasn’t quite hit his ceiling yet.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak last Spring, Harden gained an additional year of eligibility during the outdoor circuit, but didn’t compete during indoor like many athletes at the trials.
“From a competition standpoint, he started between March 25th-April 1st, whereas everybody else started out in January,” Gorby explained about Harden, who was only able to practice until the indoor season concluded. “I think that’s something else, there could be a little bit more of an improvement.
“Forty-nine (seconds) is the ultimate goal, and that could be there because he still competed in 50 percent less competitions than everybody else competing. A lot of them could be starting to fall and go down south in regard to peaking, because you peak real high trying to get there.”
A 2016 graduate of Girard, Harden is excited for the chance to represent the Mahoning Valley, which is something that has plenty of meaning to him.
“A lot of people from YSU have competed against Power 5 schools, in all the divisions,” Harden explained. “That just proves that we deserve to be there, we are there, and we should be there.”
“So, I’m happy that I’ve beaten who’ve I beaten from other schools, because it doesn’t matter what school you go to, it’s just about talent, it’s the local talent, it says a lot about the local kids.”
The opening round of the 400-meter hurdle Olympic prelims kick off at 10:32p.m. this evening, with NBCSN broadcasting the nationally televised event.