Brianna Rollins: A Tiger on the Track

Brianna Rollins celebrates her 2013 World Championship 100-meter hurdles victory. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Entering 2013, the United States’ best hopes for World Championship medals in the 100-meter hurdles included well-known names such as Kellie Wells, Dawn Harper-Nelson, Queen Harrison and Lolo Jones. Few, if any, considered Clemson University’s Brianna Rollins - the NCAA runner-up the previous year - as a major contender  But 2013 was Rollins’ breakthrough season as she beat records and shocked observers on her way to not just making the World Championship team, but taking the gold in Moscow.

Slow Start

Rollins never participated in organized sports until she began high school. But she always knew she was fast - no surprise, since her mother, Temperance, was once a strong 800-meter runner. As a freshman at Miami Northwestern High, therefore, Rollins decided to join the track team. She ran at a variety of distances, and eventually did some triple jumping, but didn’t gravitate toward her mother’s event. Instead, she focused on the hurdles because they looked fun. Rollins persisted even though she continually banged her knees on the barriers.

Rollins enjoyed more success running the 300- and 400-meter hurdles than she did as a sprint hurdler in high school. As a senior in 2009 she won national championships in the 400 hurdles and the 4 x 400-meter relay. She twice earned Florida championships in 4 x 400 and gained one title each in the 300 hurdles and the 4 x 100-meter relay. She was also a state runner-up in the triple jump.

Eye on the Tigers

Rollins earned a track scholarship to Clemson University, where she eventually helped the Tigers earn eight conference championships. Rollins showed early promise despite suffering from a persistent back injury during her first two college seasons. She overcame the injury to win the NCAA 60-meter hurdles championship as a sophomore.

As a junior in 2012 she was the NCAA runner-up in both the indoor 60-meter hurdles and the outdoor 100 hurdles, and earned a gold medal in the latter event in the under-23 division at the NACAC (North American, Central American and Caribbean) Championships. She also finished sixth at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Going All-In

Despite her success to this point, Rollins admits she was not “all the way in” to track and field before her senior year at Clemson. The Olympic Trials seemed to be the wake-up call she needed, however, demonstrating how good she could be if she worked harder, on and off the track. Her decision to rededicate herself to her sport meant that opponents and record books were about to take a beating.

Rollins set an NCAA indoor 60-meter hurdles record of 7.78 seconds in early 2013, and went on to win her second indoor national championship. She was undefeated in the outdoor regular season, and then lowered her personal best from 12.68 to an NCAA record 12.47 in the national 100-meter hurdles semifinal. The mark didn’t last long, as Rollins won the national title in 12.39 seconds.

At the 2013 U.S. Championships, Rollins ran a slightly wind-aided 12.33 in her first heat and a wind-assisted 12.30 in the semi.

She then proved that the times were not flukes by running a legal 12.26 to win the final and set a new North American record. Rollins’ time was tied for fourth fastest in history, trailing world record-holder Yordanka Donkova (12.21 and 12.24 in 1988) and Ginka Zagorcheva (12.25 in 1987). As of 2016 her performance remains fourth on the all-time list.

Going for Gold

Just short of 22 years old, Rollins was suddenly among the favorites at the 2013 Moscow World Championships. She won her first heat and was the fastest overall in 12.55 seconds. She won her semi in 12.54 but she was only the second fastest competitor overall, as defending World and Olympic champion Sally Pearson ran 12.50 in the last semifinal. Pearson then took the lead in the final as Rollins started slowly. Although Pearson matched her season best of 12.50, Rollins ran her down and won the gold medal in 12.44 seconds.

Rollins reached the final of the 2015 World Championships but couldn't defend her title successfully, placing fourth in 12.67 seconds. She returned to a championship podium in 2016, however. At the World Indoor Championships in Portland, Rollins won her heat in 7.82 and was second fastest overall. She ran the same time in the final - and led midway through the race - but was edged at the line by fellow American Nia Ali, leaving Rollins with the silver medal.

Stats

  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches
  • Birth date: August 18, 1991
  • Hometown: Miama, Fla.
  • Personal best: 12.26 seconds (100-meter hurdles); 7.29 (60-meter hurdles); 23.04 (200 meters)

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