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From Hardwood to Crushed Rubber

Filed by KOSU News in Feature, Local News.
June 5, 2012

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This is the second in our series looking at Oklahoma’s connections to the London Olympic Games. The first story reported USA Canoe Kayak has moved to the Oklahoma River, what was a dry bed no more than 10 years ago.


For many, a trip to the Olympics is the final step in the lifelong pursuit of a dream. From the early morning workouts to the late night planning sessions, it doesn’t stop. Then, there’s a two-sport star at Oklahoma State University. Return to a sport you haven’t played since high school, and next thing you know, London 2012 is a very real possibility….

23 year old Michael Young, less than 6 feet tall, can windmill dunk. The Del City native floats through the air with ease. And when you’re 5′ 10” or 5′ 11”, bragging about such feats seems the least you can do. But this isn’t about Michael Young: it’s his sister Toni. And yes, THAT Toni Young, the basketball star.

“I may have been jumping a month, that’s about it, and I was only practicing two days a week.”

“So altogether, about two weeks of jumping.”

Toni joined Oklahoma State’s track and field team after the women’s basketball team captured the WNIT Championship in March. In that short of a time, she’s come within an inch of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials. It gets better. The lanky junior broke her arm last year, forcing her to sit out track season. That put a pause on her development. In track, where athletes try to control as much as possible, some go on a set schedule hours before their race or event. Not Toni.

“I just got a routine like last week. I never had a routine, my routine was like ten minutes maybe. It consisted of a jog around a lap and then quick stretch and that was it. But now, my coach has coached me into a routine, takes like 30 minutes, it’s like the longest thirty minutes of my life.”

And in her few competitions so far, the bar has largely gone untouched when Toni steps up. Instead, it’s getting raised and raised. For her, jumping 6 2 will earn a spot at the Trials in late June.

“Everything that I do now is pretty much all talent, it’s like what comes natural to me, and I’m still trying to learn the form and stuff to get better.”

She’s easy going, friendly, eager to talk and share her story. So easy that it felt almost out of place to ask her questions, the so-called interview had really morphed into something resembling a Terry Gross conversation on Fresh Air. When I caught up with her a couple weeks ago, she was getting ready for NCAA Championships starting this week.

“I’ve never really had a high jump coach. I had a sprinter coach, but that really don’t count. So being able to jump that without a coach, I can only imagine like you know, after I figure all this out, how high I can jump with one.”

On top of a coach, finally, she has a whole other set of teammates cheering her on, those from her winter sport.

“They actually really excited about it. Lindsay Keller has been telling me for the longest, ‘You need to go jump, like you can’t waste that talent you know being able to jump.’ They all text me all the time, check up on me, see how I’m doing still. They’re all home while I’m still here practicing.”

But now that Oklahoma State is out for the summer, they don’t hesitate to needle her about the fact that she’s stuck on campus, even if it means a trip to the Olympics. There’s other people to impress too, a little closer to home. That pesky older brother…

“He texted me the other day, bragging about the windmill. Being 5′ 10” and seeing this guy do a windmill is pretty crazy.”

Well, I did the quick calculations and here’s what I got: practice for maybe 20 days, then at each meet, warm up for a half hour. Step up to the mark, and clear the high jump at 6′ 2”, and at the very least earn a spot in the US Olympic Trials? That’s pretty crazy too.

Toni’s next chance to qualify comes tomorrow, when the NCAA Championships begin. After finishing second in the Big 12 Championships with a jump of 6 foot one and a quarter, she needs to boost that less than an inch.

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