TAMPERE, Finland – Among a sea of 1,400 athletes representing 157 countries, Florida State’s Cortney Jones and Jayla Kirkland are about to test their formidable athletic talents against the best from around the globe at the IAAF U20 Championships.
The six-day meet, which began Tuesday, will begin in earnest for the young Seminole track stars on Friday with Jones competing in the preliminary heats of 100-meter hurdles and Kirkland scheduled to line up in the heats – and hopefully – the semifinals of the 200-meter dash.
As a part of the 79-member contingent representing the United States, Jones and Kirkland enter the competition with great expectations.
A sophomore from Conyers, Ga., Jones is wearing the USA kit for the first time in her career. She owns the fastest time of anyone in the field this season (12.86), which she ran in the semifinal round of the NCAA Outdoor Championships, where she placed third. Though she finished second to USA teammate Tia Jones (12.89-12.91) at the USATF Junior Championships last month at the University of Indiana, Jones is the third-fastest U20 hurdler in history.
Jones’ appearance comes seven months following knee surgery, and a the end of a pair of collegiate seasons which saw her claim three first-team All-American honors.
“With the rehab from the surgery and everything after that, I wasn’t expecting to do what I did,” Jones said, reflecting on a year where she put her own physical discomfort behind her and repeatedly rose to the occasion when the stakes were highest. “It was always what I knew what I was able to do, but after everything that happened with the injuries, I wasn’t expecting it to happen this year.”
Kirkland, a freshman who earned All-American honors as a member of FSU’s 4×100 relay team, appears to be rounding into the form which led her to previous Team USA appearances in 2015 and 2016. She owns the No. 8 200-meter time in the world after finishing second to Oregon’s Lauren Rain Williams (22.84-22.91w) for USATF Juniors silver.
In addition to the 200, the Birmingham, Ala. native is also scheduled for duty on the USA’s heavily favored 4×100 relay, though she will likely be held out of that race until Saturday’s final.
Like Jones, Kirkland has overcome injuries to earn her place on the world stage. It’s been a long road back to elite status following a hamstring injury which ruined her appearance at the 2016 World Juniors in Poland.
Healthy now, she is eager to make amends for her last stint with Team USA and return to the form which netted her a bronze medal in the 100-meter dash at the 2015 World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia.
“I’ve grown tremendously,” Kirkland said. “I’m really thankful for the journey that I’ve gone through. It’s just making me stronger. Seeing my teammates succeed, I’m so proud of everybody – Ka’Tia [Seymour], Cortney, Trey [Cunningham] – feeding off that success, I know I can be where they are. It’s just amazing.
“The adversity has helped me grow, because I just feel like I can handle tough situations and overcome adversity.”
Keeping tabs on the tandem throughout the competition, at least live, will not be easy for those state-side.
Jones’ preliminary round of the 100-meter hurdles is scheduled for Friday at 2:35 a.m. (ET), while Kirkland’s 200-meter preliminary follows at 5 a.m. The 200-meter semifinals are slated for 1:02 p.m.
Saturday’s schedule will include the hurdles semifinals at 6:55 a.m., the 200-meter final at 8:05 a.m. and the 4×100 relay at 9:04 a.m. The 100-meter hurdles final is set for Sunday at 6:35 a.m.
NBC Sports Gold will provide a recap of each day at https://www.nbcsports.com/gold/track-and-field/schedule and live results can be monitored at https://bit.ly/2J98I9M.
As always, you can monitor the progress of the Noles via Twitter @FSU_Track.