Despite winning the hammer throw at the NCAA Championships weeks before, Southern Illinois junior DeAnna Price didn’t see herself among the top competitors at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Nearly three-quarters of the field at the event had graduated college, were aspiring Olympians and record holders.
“I don’t look at myself as a national champion,” Price said the day before the USA’s. “So many people congratulated me. I said thank you but I knew that I had to keep working, keep training. I had to keep my head above water.”
Price didn’t just tread water Saturday. She placed second against that highly qualified field to earn a spot on the U.S. team that will be competing at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing starting Aug. 22.
“I’m a young athlete who doesn’t have the experience but I do have the drive,” said a giddy Price after the meet. There was reason to be giddy.
Price’s throw of 72.30 meters was a mere .06 meters behind first-place finisher Amber Campbell. It was almost two meters further than Amanda Bingson’s. Bingson, a Nike-sponsored athlete who competes out of the New York Athletic Club, is both the current American and USA Track and Field Outdoor Championship hammer record-holder.
Price played the role of unknown until she threw. Showing her nerves, Price didn’t want her coach to tell her the distance of her practice throws fearing a less than desired distance would affect her. Being in this star-studded field was overwhelming enough.
“It was crazy going against (this field),” Price said. “I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. I was thinking ‘Oh my God I’m competing against (Bingson) and everyone.”
There has been a massive progression in Price’s skills in the last few months. She came into the NCAA’s with 67.72 meters as her personal record. She clinched the NCAA title with her third toss of 67.33. Having already won and with nothing to lose, Price had two more attempts and decided to keep throwing. In her fifth and final try she gained a spot in the record books. Her fifth toss of 71.49 meters is the now the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships record.
“I had thrown 68 and 69 (in practice),” Price said. “I keep practicing, kept driving and kept going forward. Then when I threw at NCAA I knew I had 72, 73 in the tank. It was just gonna depend on how I would get it out there (from a technique standpoint).”
Price approached the three weeks between the NCAAs and USA meet as if they were back to back.
“My teammates were competing after me (at the NCAA’s), so I got two days off,” Price said. “The next day after we landing (back in Illinois), I started the process all over again. If I take a day off, I have to make sure I work extremely hard to make up for it. It’s easier to take one day off from throwing than one day off from lifting, If you miss a day from lifting that can really mess with you.”
Price’s initial track aspiration was to run the 800, following in her mother’s footsteps. Ann Price, DeAnn’s mother, once held her high school’s 800-meter record.
“I wanted to get the record back for the family,” said Price, who played softball, basketball and volleyball in high school. “Then I met Erin Cooper and she continued telling me ‘You got to throw; you got to throw.”
Erin Cooper’s father, Gary Cooper, was a middle and high school throwing coaching of 17 years when he first met Price. Agreeing to give the hammer a try, Price’s first attempt went 24 meters, the equivalent of 79 feet. That distance was more than encouraging. Under Cooper’s tutelage, Price progressed but felt softball was what she wanted to focus on in college. That changed after she participated in three months of hammer training, set up by Cooper, at SIU.
“I was offered scholarships to other schools, scholarships for softball but SIU had a great throwing team and a great accounting department (her major) so I decided to take it. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Gary Cooper.”
Price has about two months to prepare for the IAAF World Championships. Again her mindset is that she has almost no time to do anything but train.
‘I’ll go home for a weekend. There is a family reunion,” Price said. “When I’m there I’ll probably head over to Gary’s place to practice. I don’t want to miss any time. When you are a thrower, your time is limited. I want to take the most advantage of it.”
That approach is one reason why she is so good. Not just one of the best in the country. Now she should be considered one of the best in the world.