June 26, 2008
By Austin Staton
Every four years, amateur athletes across the world prepare for their shot at glory. Many maintain hope to represent the nation they call home and compete for one of the most coveted athletic awards, a gold medal in the Olympic Games.
On a warm June evening at the Hart-Patterson Track & Field Complex, several Baylor Bears begin their daily workouts in preparation for the United States Track & Field Olympic Trials June 27-July 6 in Eugene, Ore. Baylor is known for producing such track legends as Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner, and has garnered the nickname 'Quartermiler U'.
As with every Olympic year, the Baylor family has high hopes. After clocking in with the 10th fastest 400 meter time in school history with a blistering 44.83 pace at this month’s NCAA meet, sprinter LeJerald Betters hopes to add his name to the elite list of Baylor Olympians.
Betters, a native Wacoan, has accomplished much in his two years at Baylor University— a four-time NCAA Champion in the 4x400-meter relay, three-time All-American in the open 400 meters, two-time Big 12 Outdoor Champion in the open 400 meters, and perhaps the most important of all, attainted membership into the exclusive “44 Club” with his performance at the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
With such members as Olympic gold medalists Michael Johnson, Jeremy Wariner, and Darold Williamson, Betters joins the “44 Club” as only the 10th Baylor Bear to clock a sub-45 second time in the 400-meter dash.
“It is a great honor,” the energetic Betters states. “I haven’t really got the full experience of how it feels to be in the ‘44 club’. I am happy and it makes my day a lot better knowing that I accomplished (this).”
Competing for a spot on the Olympic team might seem like a tall order for such a young athlete; however, Betters feels prepared to handle the challenge at hand.
“It means a lot knowing that you have seen the people (like Jeremy Wariner) that have done similar things, maybe even a little bit greater, but similar things. (Watching those) who are just as young and talented just makes me feel that I am in the same category as them and have the same chances and opportunities that they had.”
Although Betters has grown into a model athlete for Baylor, there were initial doubts to whether or not his talents as a two-time High School All-American would translate to the next level. The Waco High graduate still holds onto his roots and uses them as a driving force behind this season’s success.
“Being from Waco alone is just emotional. Every time I talk to my mom and my sister, they just get all emotional, just because I am from the parts of the town, where I didn’t see this as a future,” Betters explains. “When (the Olympics) is almost in your reach, it is something that you think about every day and something that you want to hold onto. My sister is real sick, just running for her (has been a motivating factor). I dedicated the season to her at the beginning of the year. I just want to represent Waco, and especially her.”
Since arriving on campus in the fall of 2006, Betters has not only developed into a world-class sprinter; he has also matured into a student-athlete.
“Just going to class alone builds a lot of character,” Betters remarks. “When you actually go to school and you see your GPA increasing, and you see your talent increasing, it all bounds together as one.”
This weekend at the Olympic trials, Betters will not be the lone Bear competing. Baylor teammates Quentin Iglehart-Summers, Robert Griffin and Justin Boyd will be looking to earn slots on the United States Track & Field team. For “Quartermiler U”, that is the expectation—greatness. For Betters, having teammates alongside at such an event only makes things more relaxed. “It just makes it a lot better. I am going to have people to talk to.”