Going For Gold

Joe Walker waited in the Portland, Ore., airport Monday night for a flight back to Memphis. It's turning out to be quite a summer for the veteran coach.

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Walker wrapped up a 30-plus year head coaching career mostly at Ole Miss, with three years in the middle of that tenure as head coach at Florida. He traveled with several Rebels and former Rebel track and field stars to Eugene, Ore., for the Olympic trials. He will head to London for the Olympics later this month. Then he will continue his long and productive coaching career as an assistant at the University of Louisville, where his son, Joesph, is also a coach.

But in Eugene, Walker was still representing Ole Miss. On the flight home with him would be Isiah Young, who had a day earlier made the U.S. Olympic team in the 200 meters.

"Nobody expected him to make it," Walker said of Young. "That was outstanding and really a lot of fun."

Young crossed the finish line third in the 200 meters behind professionals Wallace Spearmon (Saucony) and Maurice Mitchell (Nike). Young's time of 20.16 bettered his own school record of 20.32 he set when he won the SEC Championship earlier this year.

"Isiah has really been coming on," Walker said of the rising Rebel senior. "I knew there was some greatness in there and he had a lot of potential. It's just happened quicker than I thought."

Highlighting the former Rebels at the trials was four-time world long jump champion Brittney Reese, a 2008 Olympian, currently the best in the world in her sport and the favorite to win gold in London.

"Brittany was able to come through as she was expected to do," Walker said. "She had a great, great meet."

Reese jumped an amazing 23 feet, 5.5 inches to win a fifth straight U.S. outdoor title on Sunday. That jump is the longest in the world this year in her sport.

Reese was able to overcome an injury at the trials.

"She hurt her foot, her ankle, really bad in the middle of the competition," Walker said. "She came back and weathered that storm, came up with a clutch effort on her last jump and showed once again that she's talented and tough as nails. That was a heroic effort on her part."

In addition to Young, who competed in the 100 meters and the 200 meters, current Rebels who competed for a spot on Team USA were senior Carson Blanks (400-meter hurdles), juniors Mike Granger (100 meters), Ricky Robertson (high jump), and freshman Sam Kendricks (pole vault).

Isiah Young
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Other former Rebel track stars in Eugene were Antwon Hicks (110-meter hurdles), Colin Moleton (javelin), and Lee Moore (400-meter hurdles).

"It's a long meet. We started out the first part of the week not doing well at all," Walker said. "We thought Ricky Robertson in the high jump had a really good shot. He just didn't jump well. Isiah (Young) and Mike (Granger) didn't run well in the 100 (meters). So we started off kind of on a down note. The last four days were super highs. Brittany and Isiah both had phenomenal meets."

Hicks finished fourth in the 110-meter hurdles, which was one spot out, and was .06 of a second from making Team USA.

"He ran really well. I'm so proud of him," Walker said. "He just barely missed it, but he had a great race. That's how competitive it is."

Walker said Young has a chance to do well in London, and Reese is, of course, predicted to win it.

"I think anytime you assemble the best in the world at anything, it's going to be competitive," he said. "You've got to have your best day on the right day. Anybody can win. They've put themselves in the mix. Brittany is the favorite. If she jumps the way she's capable of jumping, they can't beat her.

"Isiah's best race of the year was his last race," Walker continued. "I don't think you can rule anything out. He's a hungry young man that's got a good chance. It's his first Olympics and his first time to deal with all that, the pressure and all that comes with it."

For the veteran Walker, even through a busy summer, he's as excited about it all as he was years ago when he first experienced such highs.

"It's awesome for me personally," he said of seeing his students succeed at the highest level of the sport. "Once again I've got people in the Olympics. That's the thrill. That's the goal. It's the top of the mountain in our sport."

Walker also said it proves once again Ole Miss can compete with the best and will be able to into the future.

"It shows Ole Miss is a great place to come and train and that you can reach the mountaintop from here," he said. "That's something to build on and use and is all very positive. Winning never hurts in anything, so this shouldn't do anything but help the future."

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